Well, hello there! I made a red curry with haddock for dinner… (version of @RealSimple recipe)

I won’t bore you with the myriad of reasons/excuses I have for not posting for months (hint: engagement, work, general life…), but I’ve been feeling rather guilty about it as of late…

I’m making more of a conscious effort to cook at home, rather than eat out at restaurants (see earlier mention of upcoming wedding to understand the need to fit into a wedding dress and save some cash). Now, I love to cook, but I’m the first to admit that I can get stuck in a culinary rut. So, I’ve resolved to try at least one new recipe each week, to try and keep things interesting!

This week, I was inspired by a recipe featured in the June issue of Real Simple magazine: Green curry with halibut and corn.

Real Simple Green Curry recipe

One slight problem: there was no green curry paste at my local grocery store. Just red. Rather than scrap the whole recipe, I decided to just substitute… I also opted for haddock rather than halibut (it was on special).

This was actually a really easy recipe to pull together: minimal prep work and cook time. I also cut the fat a bit by substituting the coconut milk with light coconut milk… The red curry added some heat to the dish, but that was balanced out nicely by the natural sweetness of the coconut milk and the corn. It also looked pretty appetizing:

IMG_20150614_172322I found it needed a bit more salt added (and I’m not someone who tends to add salt to my food), but once it’d sprinkled on a bit of extra seasoning, it was perfect! Kevin also really enjoyed it, so based on the ease of prep, I’ll definitely be adding this one to the recipe collection. ๐Ÿ™‚

We also had plenty left over for lunch (bonus!)

OH, and for anyone out there who has dietary restrictions, this recipe is also gluten-free.

 

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A feast with some heat at Jincheng Chinese Cuisine

There once was a lovely little Schezuan restaurant nestled into a tiny space on Blowers Street. Known to all who worked in the Argyle Street vicinity, Hungry Chili was one of my personal favourite places to go for lunch. They had this *unreal* spicy chicken lunch special (I actually think that it was called Numbing Chicken). A bed of rice was topped with a mountain of tender chicken morsels, cashews (if memory serves me correctly), carrots, onions, hot chilis and a tastebud-tingling spicy sauce. Oh, and there was also a spring roll.

This was a lunch that made my eyes water (have I mentioned that I love spicy food?!)

I was pretty bummed when I found out it closed, a few years ago, and have been on the lookout for a new Schezuan spot to fill the hole that Hungry Chili left in my heart.

At long last, I think I’ve finally found it.

On Christmas Eve eve, Kevin and I navigated the slippery downtown Halifax streets and made our way to Jincheng Chinese Cuisine, a new spot that opened up recently along Dresden Row.

Their website describes, in detail, the story behind their name and the cuisine they offer (but brace yourselves: the website is a bit rough.. though it does contain the most important thing: their menu).

The space is clean and appeared to be freshly-painted, but the decor was spartan. I take that as a good sign, because it means their focus has been on the food.

The server seems a bit confused when we initially arrive, and it may be because not many people were braving the cold and venturing out to eat so near to the holiday. We were eventually offered a seat and menus, and our drink orders were taken promptly.

I was disappointed that there was no green tea available, and settled for water, instead. Kevin ordered a soda.

I started with an order of Wonton Soup (with filled with ground pork & Chinese vegetables; $3.99):

Wonton Soup

The broth was flavourful without being fatty, and the wontons were perfectly wrapped packages of pork… I cheerfully scooped up the last dregs of the steamy broth as people trod by on the streets below our window, bundled up against the cold.

Kevin opted for a plate of the dumplings (flour-wrapped nappa cabbage, pork, ginger and garlic), which appeared to have been panfried ($7.99). I was a bit worried when I saw they were fried, because that can sometimes dry them out. But once I snagged one from his plate and bit in, I was relieved to find them still tender and juicy inside. (Note: This dish included around 8 dumplings. Kevin just couldn’t wait until I took a picture, so it seems like a small serving):

Dumplings

For our mains, Kevin decided to try the “Red Bull Climbs Green Mountain” (aka beef with Chinese broccoli; $15.99) with a side of rice, because, let’s face it, who can resist a name like that?! Brilliant. His eyes almost popped out of his head when this landed on the table:

"Red Bull Climbs Up Green Mountain"

Gorgeous. Let’s just say that Red Bull managed to climb Green Mountain, no problem.

After popping each morsel into his mouth, Kevin was still left with an impressive puddle of savoury sauce, which he readily admitted he was tempted to slurp up. Manners got the better of him, though, and he resisted making a spectacle of himself (thanks, dear!)

I was equally enamoured with my Gongbao Chicken (the server allowed me to order the lunch special, which included a side of rice, and is only $10). One bite, and I was in heaven:

Gongbao Chicken Special

I was transported back to the days of the Hungry Chili: chunks of fresh, sauteed peppers and onions, the crunch of nuts (albeit, this dish features peanuts and not cashews), and plenty of chicken bits. Tastebuds pleasantly tingling, I found myself reaching for a gulp of water after just a few bites.

Dinner for two, including taxes and tip, came to around $50. While the service and decor could be amped up, these guys are dishing up some of the best Schezuan food in the city, and that’s enough for me.ย I will DEFINITELY be back for seconds.

Jincheng Chinese Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Some sweet heat at Cha Baa Thai (#Dartmouth)

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Did you know that there’s a Cha Baa Thai on “the other side of the bridge”? Yep, neither did I.

That is, until I started working in the area. Turns out, this is quite a popular lunch spot for the worker bees in Burnside.

According to Google (the most reputable source around), the second location actually opened in June 2010. So it’s not new. But it’s new to me!

I’ve only been twice since I started working in the area (which I think shows remarkable self-restraint, on my behalf). But last Friday, after much debate, friends and I finally settled on Thai for our lunch date, and I recommended the Burnside location of Cha Baa Thai (since they were gracious enough to come and meet me!)

We arrived at 1 p.m. to a packed house: people lined up, waiting for tables, and another line stretching down the counter of people waiting to pay.

I groaned inwardly, then noticed my dining companions had already snagged a table. ๐Ÿ™‚

Then, we settled in for a (long) wait. After what seemed like forever, we realized we had gotten lost in the shuffle, so I sidled up to the counter and politely informed the server that we had been sitting and waiting for about 20 minutes. She was apologetic, explaining that they had gotten a larger than usual lunch rush, and immediately popped over to our table to take our orders.

I quickly settled on the Masaman Curry Beef lunch combo: tender strips of beef served in a creamy, rich and spicy masaman curry sauce, loaded with chunks of tender sweet potato, onions and peanuts ($10). ย The combo comes with a bed of rice, and a fried spring roll, which really is an ample serving, and great value for $10. The dish is plated simply and thoughtfully on a large white plate, allowing plenty of room for mixing up the beef mixture with the rice.

One of my friends opted for the Panang Curry Beef, which I had the first time I visited Cha Baa Thai in Burnside. It’s another beef stirfry dish, but it’s tossed in a red curry with a hint of lime, and served with green beans and peanuts. Again, this combo is served with a side of rice and a spring roll…

The third at our table opted for the Cashew Chicken combo, which consists of stir-fried chicken and veggies in a chili paste sauce, served with rice and a spring roll, as well. In hindsight, I probably should have ordered this, as well, because I suspect there’s far fewer fat/calories in the non-coconut milk-based sauce, and it looked equally delicious:

We all cleaned our plates, which I always consider to be the true sign of a successful meal. The low spot in the experience was definitely sitting unnoticed for so long, but our server made up for that failing as soon as we spoke up. And, the 20 minute wait gave us some time to chat and catch up! So, it wasn’t the end of the world…

I’ll definitely return (though I’m going to try and refrain from visiting *too* often!). And a note to my Halifax friends: See?! Burnside isn’t that bad! ๐Ÿ˜›
Cha Baa Thai on Urbanspoon

Some comfort food courtesy of Truly Tasty on Quinpool (@karlaonquinpool)

Ramen Noodles (with pork medallions, 1/2 hardboiled egg, loads of noodles and corn; $10) The lunch special also came with 2 dumplings, which I neglected to photograph. Sorry!

It’s been a rainy & gray few days in the Halifax area. But I’m not complaining, because I know how badly farmers in this region need the water for their crops.

Still, this is the kind of weather that is much easier to cope with if you have a nourishing bowl of soup: A big, hearty dish that feeds your body and soul, warming you up from the inside out.

Real ramen soup (not the kind that you buy in those cheapie little packets, my Mr. Noodle-loving university friends) is just the ticket for a drizzly day. And thanks to a new restaurant that opened recently on Quinpool Road, Halifax now has access to the real deal.

Truly Tasty opened this summer, offering an assortment of housemade dumplings (pan-fried and boiled, depending on your preference) and delicious noodle dishes.

The menu certainly isn’t extensive, but sometimes, I think simple is best. It usually means the kitchen has these dishes down right, and whatever you order will be good, and good on a consistent basis.

My friend and I opted to try the lunch special ($10) on our visit, which included a big bowl of the House Special Ramen. The broth was rich but not too fatty, and riddled with oodles of fresh, chewy ramen noodles and savoury medallions of BBQ pork floating on top. The yolk from the seasoned hardboiled egg added another layer of creamy flavour the dish, and I soon found myself scooping up the dregs of the big (beautiful) bowl, with my spoon.

The lunch special also comes with your choice of beef or pork dumplings, of which I chose the former. I neglected to take a photo of the dumplings (sorry!), but can attest that those perfect, crispy little pockets were bursting with big flavour. I could have eaten more of them (and I plan to on the next visit!)

We finished off with a small dish of their ice cream (me, green tea; my friend, mango), which was creamy and light, and a refreshing way to end our belly-warming meal.

Indochine, anyone?! Yes, please! (@IndochineHfx)

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Most of you know about my passion for Thai cuisine: The fresh flavours of lemongrass and cilantro; the odd kick of chili; a cold, perfectly wrapped shrimp salad roll; and, of course, a steaming bowl of tom yum soup.

I’m not even hungry right now, and writing about my favourite Thai dishes makes me want to sharpen a pair of chopsticks and head up to Hamachi Kita.

But I’ll restrain myself (for now); This actually isn’t another ode to Thai cuisine.

I recently discovered a new (to me) Vietnamese joint. Tucked away in the lower level of that newish building next to the YMCA on South Park Street, you might never notice the tiny storefront of Indochine Bahn Mi. I know I hadn’t.

In fact, I haven’t heard much about this place. Which strikes me as odd, because it’s pretty damn good!

They describe their menu as “a unique fusion of Asian inspired flavours that will satisfy the palates of ethnic food lovers, vegetarians and those seeking a healthy alternative to traditional fast-food.”

Since discovering this little gem two weeks ago, I’ve actually visited twice to indulge in their beef pho (for all you Vietnamese newbies, it’s actually pronounced “fuh.” See here for a ridiculously detailed explanation, including audio).

I add a dash of hoisin sauce and sriracha, stir it up, and inhale deeply to appreciate the bright aroma of the broth. First, a bite of vermicelli noodle, cilantro and bean sprouts *crunch*… take a few slurps of the broth. Then, another deep breath.

Hearty, not heavy, this is the type of soup you should feed your body when you’re having a bad day, or are sidelined with a nasty cold. It’s nourishing.

On my most recent visit, I opted for the BBQ chicken Banh Mi combo, with the beef pho, for $8.50. So, in addition to the fragrant soup, I also ordered a 1/2 sandwich on soft, fresh multigrain baguette:

Toasted and topped with a zippy house-made citrus mayo, tangy pickled carrot and daikon, and sweet cucumber and cilantro, this is a seriously refreshing sandwich. Definitely not your average sub.

My dining companion that day (Dad) was seriously hungry when we visited, so he opted for a bowl of the beef pho, AND an order of the Shrimp & Spring Roll Bowl ($9.95):

I would argue that the name of this dish is actually pretty confusing: nary a bowl is in sight, correct? Aside from that, I can find no fault with the food: A tightly-wrapped spring roll is neatly sliced on the bias and presented with plump, marinated shrimp on a bed of lettuce, cilantro, noodles, carrot, cucumber and bean sprouts.

Their website (which mysteriously does not display the letter “n” on my browser, at least) boldly claims that “Vietnamese is the new Thai.” Now, I’m not sure any other Asian cuisine will top Thai in my books, but the more subdued flavours of Indochine Bahn Mi do come pretty close! ๐Ÿ™‚

Major sushi noms at #Dartmouth’s new all-you-can-eat sushi joint

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I’m all sushi-d out (at least, this week). Between work and home reno stuff, I didn’t have a whole lot of time to cook last week, and one night, I just couldn’t bring myself to make another sandwich.

We decided to venture to a new all-you-can-eat sushi spot on the Dartmouth side of the bridge. For those of you who are as unfamiliar with Dartmouth as I am, I promise that this place is actually easy to find: go over the MacDonald Bridge (the one off North Street) and hang a left on Wyse Road (that’s the first street that intersects after the bridge tolls). When you see a deli on your left-hand side, slow down and look to the right: you’ll see a new building, and that’s where Genji Sushi is located.

Random side note: The parking is a little screwy because they share the lot with other tenants in the building, and there seem to have maybe been some issues with this <?>, but according to a sign posted on their front door, if you park in the gravel part of the parking lot, you’re good to go.

Inside, they have plenty of space to spread out. Seriously. You could play touch football in there. I didn’t really get a good chance to poke around on the other side of the restaurant, but I didn’t notice any big tables. Since they clearly have room, I would love to see them add a huge booth for groups. Anyone who has visited the legendary Sushi Village in Whistler, B.C. knows what I’m talking about: a big ol’ table, but one that’s sunken, so you have to take your shoes off and climb down into it. It’s also surrounded by Japanese Shoji screens, which add some authenticity (and privacy) to the space. Like this:

Just a suggestion, but I think it would make for a kick-ass place to bring a big group of friends, or even an office party!

Other than the absence of a big, cool group booth, this space definitely works: the decor is modern but warm, as they enclosed their warehouse-type ceiling (complete with sprinklers, pipes, etc…) with dark planks.

To my knowledge, they’ve only been open for a few weeks, so I was expecting some hiccups with the service. And while there were a few, they weren’t major: Two servers came over to introduce themselves, take our drink orders and explain the ordering process. What was slightly more annoying — actually, it was more stressful than annoying — was that we waited at our tables with stomachs growling for quite a while, and then were inundated with a wave of dishes that took up every inch of our tabletop. Oh well, that’s all-you-can-eat sushi! ๐Ÿ™‚

We managed to carefully arrange the dishes as they landed on our table, and the empty ones were promptly taken away.

While I’m not going to go through EVERY single dish we tried, I will say that I absolutely loved the chirashi (or Chirashizushi, which meansย  “scattered sushi”). It’s essentially a bowl of sushi rice topped with the chef’s pick of sashimi and garnishes; the one at Genji was delicious (and kind of beautiful, as well):

We also ordered some veggie tempura, and while I didn’t taste it (I’m trying to be on my best behaviour and avoid fried foods), I have NEVER seen tempura broccoli, and felt that this was worth mentioning. Have you tried tempura broccoli before?!

We also ordered plenty of roll sushi, which was all nice and tightly rolled (no sloppiness here) and carefully presented:

Speaking of which: their plating was generally beautiful. See? This is the beef tataki (and in case you’re worried about the whole raw-meat thing: tataki, which means “pounded” or “hit into pieces”,is actually seared very briefly over a hot flame or pan, then marinated in vinegar and sliced thinly and seasoned with ginger. And no we didn’t get sick from eating it):

And while tataki doesn’t phase me, Genji’s seafood crepe freaked me out a bit. It was basically a thicker-than-usual crepe, topped with what I think was ponzu and these very strange flakes. What was really freaky was the fact that the flakes MOVED. I think it was probably the heat of the crepe causing the flakes to react, but they were actually visibly waving around. Even Kevin thought it was weird. I tried one piece (it was actually pretty tasty), and he ate the rest:

All-you-can-eat dinner for two came to around $55, which really isn’t bad at all. The quality of the sushi is solid, and while the service isn’t completely smooth, they are nothing if not attentive. ๐Ÿ™‚ Well worth a try, especially if they build one of those big ol’ booths!

Genji Sushi on Urbanspoon

Modern Orchid delivers (kind of, at least where it counts) @modern_orchid

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I ticked another place off my 2012 list! I’ve got to say, I’m a bit disappointed with my progress so far, but hey, I’ve been busy.

I was not, however, disappointed with my first experience at Modern Orchid. Offering flavours of authentic southeast Asian cuisine (Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese and Filipino dishes), Modern Orchid adds some much-needed diversity to Halifax’s Asian cuisine scene. And while I happen to think it’s great to be able to pick and choose between curries, chow meins and more, I do think they may be running the risk of being overly ambitious with the size and scope of their menu. I snagged one of their take-away menus when I left, and it’s lengthy. Like, overwhelmingly so. In the appetizer category, there are 19 different options (including french fries; WTF?). That’s just silly.

I couldn’t seem to find a website for the restaurant, which means my Googling skills were subpar, or they don’t have one (I’m pretty sure they just don’t have one). And on that note, an aside: Any new restaurant should seriously consider investing in a website. Sure, they can be expensive, but basic sites are actually pretty easy to build (or have built, if you aren’t technically inclined), and add a tremendous value to your business. Why? Well, there are lots of restaurants to choose from, especially in cities, and people like to have a peek at the menu before they trek out to your business, especially if your business is located all the way out in Dartmouth Crossing. Also, in Modern Orchid’s case, they seem to be pretty social media savvy (read: have a Twitter and FB page), so why no website?

Anyways, I seem to have veered off topic, so let’s get things back on track again, shall we?!

The space is clean and modern, much like the name: dark flooring, white walls, black leather chairs, and fake orchids adorn side tables. Sleek; I like it. Not so much a fan of fake flowers, but hey, I know how hard it is to keep orchids alive. There are four very large canvas close-ups of the same flower, hung at different angles. Pretty cool.

Their decor features orchids and other (fake) flowers

But after I’m seated, I’m a bit bummed to find that my table teeters precariously (wobbly tabletops are a big annoyance of mine; they are something that will consistently bother diners, and something wait staff should be paying attention to and adjusting as necessary). Oh well. I try and mentally block it out and flip through the menus.

The lunch menu’s Express Combo is straightforward and offers good variety without being overwhelming: a main dish, curry veg soup, green salad, spring roll, plus your choice of steamed rice or french fries (seriously, french fries need to be taken OFF of this menu. No joking) for $10.95. I choose the rice (obviously) and the spicy coconut beef.

My very friendly server (who shared a knowing look with me when I brought up to the topic of the aforementioned french fries) is very friendly and attentive. She brings over water before she takes my order (good move), and then brings the soup out shortly afterwards.

The lunch special starts with a bowl of curry soup

The soup is kind of *meh*: There’s a bit of warmth from the curry, but no real depth or substance. Still, a good way to warm up for a meal, and really, anything heavier would likely be too filling. The presentation is beautiful (big fan of the bowls).

My main arrives a few minutes after the server takes away my soup bowl:

Spicy coconut beef with rice, spring roll, and salad; $10.95

Again, beautiful presentation! Neat, tidy, appetizing. But how does it taste?

Fabulous! The spring roll is perfection: obviously cooked in hot, fresh oil, the wrapper is thin and perfectly crisp, chock-full of vermicelli noodles, cabbage and other perfectly-seasoned veggies. I could have eaten a whole plate!

The salad, I’m sad to say, was an entirely different story. If you’re going to bother to do something, do it right. Chopping up some romaine lettuce and carrots and dumping some chili sauce on top as “dressing” is not very appetizing.

I did, however, save the best for last: the spicy coconut beef was divine. Chunks of tender beef and still-crunchy veggies swim in the sauce, a rich, creamy concoction with just a slight hint of heat (to be honest, I would ask for a bit more spice next time). I folded the accompanying rice in by the spoonful, and savoured every . single . bite. *swoon*

My spicy coconut beef dish was creamy with a bit of a kick, and loaded with tender chunks of beef

Sure, my experience at Modern Orchid wasn’t perfect, but this dish was more than enough to make me overlook the wobbly table, unwieldy menu and that sad, sad salad.

Modern Orchid Southeast Asian Cuisine on Urbanspoon