Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Chestnut Tree Wing Night

Have I mentioned the cafeteria in the building I work is the best ever? That's because we have amazing kitchen staff like the ones in the photo above: Jenny, Malcolm, Nathan and Rahman. It's also because this awesome crew were bringing us Wing Night.

Coming into the dinning hall in the main dinner section, you take a plate of wings and then you have your choice of sauce: Hot, Honey Garlic and BBQ.

Of course, Nathan prepared a special sauce for people like me who need heat. Above is the giant pot of his "Scotch Bonnet Hot Pepper Sauce" - which looked like a delicious vat of heart burning lava.

When Nathan saw me coming, he made sure to have an extra big plate of wings for me, as well as a side of curly fries.

I love curly fries. They are fun - I think that basically sums them up. A little crispy, a little soft. I really love spiced curly fries, but these natural style were good for dipping in all the wing sauces I had on my tray.

When I worked here several years ago, the wings were really good. But clearly things have just gotten better. The chicken was marinated, then dusted in flour and spices and finally deep fried. Handed out dry, they remained crispy and you could add as much or little or combo your sauces.

The wings themselves were a 'large-medium' sized wing. The wing was juicy, fairly meaty with a nice crispy skin. Plus the flour dusting made them even more crispy.

The chicken was tasty to eat just on it's own. But I'll be honest, I was here for the sauces on the wings. I took a sampling of all the sauces. Some of you visual keeners will notice that there was a 'honey garlic' written on a container, but I don't consider Honey Garlic a valid wing flavour.

I should also mention something about my utensil improvisation. A tray only holds so much, and I didn't want to ladle all my wings together in a variety of sauces, so I looked to have them kept separate. But bowls take up way too much room, so I used drinking cups to keep the sauce, and an extra one as a water bowl for cleaning my hands.

Most of the sauces are commercial sauces. Without naming names, this Hot sauce was a classic sauce used universally in making Buffalo wings. Vinegary and cayenne based, this was a tasty little bit of heat.

The BBQ was a brand readily available in Ontario grocery stores and many restaurants. I go back and forth on this brand as sometimes I really enjoy one of their sauces and others I don't care for. This was a bit too sweet for my liking.

Finally, this suicide sauce was made from scratch and full of love. Nathan started by sweating an onion in oil with 3 cups of crushed red chili flakes, and 12 small scotch bonnet peppers (whole peppers chopped up), and at the last adding 1 cup of chopped garlic. He then adds 5 litres of hot sauce, 4 cups of cayenne pepper, 1 cup of white vinegar and 4 cups of water. That is simmered for 30-45 minutes, then adds a large immersion blender to puree the mix. Now keep in mind that is for a huge batch to feed a lot of people.

This was a great sauce because it was full of so many layers. I was first hit with some smokiness, then the savoriness. The spices each came alive as did the garlic. And don't forget the kick. A nice warm heat - it didn't burn my lips, but it did build up in the mouth and throat. It was a really great tasting sauce that was thick and really coated the crispy wings well.

Oh, I guess there was some other sauce that some people put on their wings. I don't know why they would go this route when there was suicide sauce, but whatever. I just have to accept some people don't like heat.

Wing Night is probably one of the most popular nights in the Caf. I was lucky to have several people joining me for wings . . . even if I disagree with their choice of sauce.

Above left is Kat, my partner in fighting crime at work. She was enjoying her HG wings! Above right is                Maansi, a vegetarian. So no wings for her. But that didn't stop her from sampling the suicide sauce!

Top left, Melanie had to wait a while to get some wings (big line up). She got them, but they didn't last long! Top right is Jemy, who tore her wings apart. I'm not hyperbolizing, she individually pulled apart the wings bone by bone and dipped the chicken in her sauces.

Finally, Nishant went for a mixing of sauces for his wings - HG and hot sauce together. Doesn't he look like he enjoyed his meal? I know I sure did.

Almost everyone avoided the suicide sauce, but Maansi really enjoyed it. So Nathan was super generous and brought both her and I a jar each! And the best part is the heat seems to be growing each time I sample it. Recently I made homemade tortilla chips and used this a dip and as a dip boy does it pack a wallop.

Wing Night in the caf with good friends a good food. Can it get any better? I just hate waiting for the next wing night to come around in the rotation . . .

Monday, 27 September 2010

THE BIG SLICE (The Return . . . Again) ~ Toronto ON


At the beginning of the new Millennium I had an idea for a website. I would review the various restaurants and pubs that I went to and rate their wings. This way I could keep track of where I went and also inform the public what was good and what wasn't.  But my HTML skills were extremely limited, and scanning photos was a pain, and it just didn't go anywhere. Flash forward five years, and blogs were becoming all the rage. As was digital photography. Finally I was able to realize my dream of posting what I eat to the world.

It was a bumpy start. The technology was not proving as user friendly as I expected and it took a while to get the first post up. That post was a photo-less dual review. Half of the review was about frozen wings, and the other was my first restaurant: The Big Slice. Then one year later I had things more figured out, and I did a better review of The Big Slice . . . Again. Well, I decided to come back in 2010 and see what had changed.

It was late at night when I walked in, and the only thing physically that changed about the place were the prices. The crowd was people coming from or to the bars, students, and those interesting folks that only seem to come out at night. It was before midnight, but the staff were still pumping out giant pizzas for slice sales.

So how big are the slices at The Big Slice? While I did have a tasty giant pepperoni slice while I waited for wings, I didn't have my camera with me. So I 'borrowed' the above photo from which is not
Photoshopped. They really are humongous slices. The largest pizza they sell is 21" but the slices come from a dinosauric sized 25"!   I love their pizza because the crust is thin and chewy, the sauce light and the cheese cheesy. My fave, just the way I remember it.

The big question is, would the wings be different?

Testing out a new SCORE formating/image. I don't know that I like it . . . at least in this format. What do you think?

The wings still come in the circular foil pans, floating in sauce. One big difference though is that the wings are breaded now before deep frying.

The chicken is really large and meaty. I'm not going so far as to say jumbo, but this is a big wing. Yes there is breading, but it was a lot of chicken meat that was nice and tender. The downside to the wing is the breading in the take-out role, as they had almost no crispiness left in them by the time I got home.

The sauce was the same as I remember, which is Frank's Red Hot I'm pretty sure. After deep frying I watched the pizza guy pour generous amounts of sauce on and then toss and toss. It's vinegary/tangy goodness with just a bit of heat. Yes I would like more heat, but this is a simple, tasty wing.

FINAL SCORE:  Not a lot has changed at The Big Slice since I left - but the wings sure have. Bigger and breaded, I think I like these more than the old ones. Same sauce, but more flavour with the breading, they still do a good wing and a great pizza slice. But it's best to eat the wings in store when the chicken breading is still crispy, not the more mushy product they eventually become.  6.5/9

The Big Slice
385 Yonge Street

Thursday, 23 September 2010

New Ho King - My Favourites

Some of my fondest food memories from my first year of university involve sitting around the residence common room with friends, talking about life, and eating take-out Chinese food. Specifically from a place called New Ho King.

New Ho was delivering to our building every night - several times a night. Everyone seemed to order from New Ho. People would go hall to hall seeing if anyone wanted to go in on an order together. Might have also had to do with the fact that they had a 'Late Night Menu' with some seriously cheap but quality fare.

There were two main dishes that I ordered from NHK: Shanghai Noodles & General Tso Chicken - two dishes that I had never experienced before in my small town Chinese food experience. But I fell in love. And they were on the Late Night Menu, which was a bonus.

Being back in the city, and looking for some late night take-out after a long day of seminars. I went online to see if I could see if they still had a late night menu. Their website didn't have a copy, but I found one searching the net (however, since ordering a couple of weeks ago, they have a new website with both menus). The only difference from then and now is that you have to order $20 minimum. So I found myself ordering a lot of food that I had for days later.

Shanghai Noodles. I love this dish. Udon noodles, my favourite. Cabbage, strips of pork, shrimps. And then I add a lot of hot sauce.

This is a big tin of food. Udon noodles rock because of they are big, chewy and go well in stirfrys. Overall this is a mild offering, but with my added hot sauce, its just a very satisfying dish.


General Tso Chicken. Crispy battered tender pieces of deep fried chicken, tossed in a spicy and sweet sauce, nestled in a bed of rice. This was the first place I tried it and no other place does it the same.

I love this dish. The sauce really makes the dish. As I said, its spicy with a little bit of sweet. This isn't your North American red sauce that comes with chicken balls. But I have no idea how to recreate it. And tossed with the chicken . . . heaven.

So I still needed to order another dish. And I don't think I had ever had their chicken wings, so I ordered some. These were pretty standard Cantonese style wings. Dusted in a little flour and cornstarch (I think), then deep fried.

These were some really big wings. They were crispy, meaty wings. A little salty.

But I got bored with the plain wings, so I ended up adding some hot sauce. The wings changed from crispy to soggy very fast. They were still good mind you, but not as crispy.

So the food was as good as I remembered it. I know that I can still get decent Shanghai Noodles and General Tso chicken. And big crispy wings. It may not be 'authentic' Chinese food, but it is authentically good.

New Ho King
416 Spadina Ave, Toronto ON

So what is your favourite dish from your local North American Chinese?

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Buffalo Chicken Salad @ The Chestnut Tree

So I am back in Toronto now, at a new job. However I'm back working at the same place I did when I left Toronto (working in student life at the University of Toronto). It's great to be back on so many levels, but one of the best is access to one of the greatest cafeterias ever. There is a real dedication by the chef team to have tasty and healthy options. One night for dinner, I was happy to discover their Buffalo Chicken Salad.

Every day the cafeteria has hundreds of options, with not only large salad bar, but they've added since I left 'Greens & Things;' a salad station where a chef personally tosses a salad with some 'premium' toppings and dressings. So what would be available on their Buffalo chicken?

Above is the list of toppings: lettuce, BBQ chicken, blue cheese, bacon, jalapeños, red onion, carrot, celery.

Once you pick your toppings (all in my case), you have your choice of two dressings. Usually printed off, here they have quickly printed the two choices: Chipotle Tomato Vinaigrette and Creamy Blue Cheese. I went with the Chipotle Tomato.

Here chef Farhad is adding the toppings to the mixing bowl. I made sure I got extra jalapeños. 

There was a pretty big line up as this is often a popular station.These students have it good. I have it good!

My salad in all its glory. While I am a carnivore first and foremost, if more veggies tasted like this, well I don't know how to finish that sentence, but I'm sure I would eat more.

There were so many layers of flavour. Crisp and fresh vegetable, savoury meats, zesty dressings. There was some heat from the jalapeños. And the chipotle tomato dressing really added a spicy but fresh taste. Every bite was delicious.

Now as much as I loved the salad, the name was inaccurate - there was no actual "Buffalo" sauce or chicken involved. But the concept and the flavours were there. Diced celery and carrot that you would find on the side of wings. The actual blue cheese, usually found for dipping the wings. The heat from chipotle and jalapeño. Chicken for, chicken. And bacon . . . well bacon is just awesome.

It may not be 'authentic' Buffalo Chicken, but this hot wing inspired dish was a brilliant garden any wing lover would enjoy. Residence life in my building is good.

Cajun Wings ~ recipe or review?

A growingly popular wing flavour on menu's these days is Cajun. Most often than not, it is a dry rub tossed into freshly fried wings. Well heck, I can do that too. I have some Club House Cajun seasoning in my spice cabinet. Why can't I make some Cajun wings?

When I was starting to make these wings, this was just going to be a recipe post, but it turns out it is a product review at the same time. Well not really a review, but just me telling you that I like and use Club House Cajun. No they didn't pay me to say that (no one pays me to say that). I just want to be up front with my awesome readers.

I am not Cajun, have not had the pleasure of being immersed in Cajun culture, and the closest I am is to anything authentically Cajun is JB. So I don't know if this is a good representation of what Cajun spices are, but if I was to guess, the peppers and vegetables listed seem like they should fit.

Opening the cap, you get a deep, earthy smell. There is no dominant odor in the mixture, but the onion/garlic combo is identifiable. The looks is also earthy brown tones and muted reds and yellows. It makes me think of fall . . .

My split wings were deep fried naked. Nice crispy skin, tender meat. Then it was time to season them.

Swooosh! Around the bowl they went. Because the wings were fresh from the fryer, the spice mixture stuck to the wings really well.

Stuck to them well, but not evenly, and with some left at the bottom of the plate.

And then the taste test. No I haven't actually made my own Cajun spiced wings before - I do use the spice when doing Beer Can Chicken, but have yet to officially do it with wing. But I was happy at the results. The spice really complimented the crispy skin and the chicken meat. A very mild heat from the pepper, but a lot of flavour accompanied this dry-style wing.

Oh and I also made some garlic bread. I cheated and used store bought garlic butter. I don't care, it was good.

Dry-style wings are good - but after eating a few, I needed some sauciness. So I broke out some Buffalo Wing Sauce and tossed the already coated wings. With this simple but brilliant move, I went from tasty town all the way up to flavour country.

The hot sauce really complimented the Cajun spice. This marriage of tastes really utilized their strong points: savoury complex seasoning with spicy, wet sauce. I think this was a great in between wing that would satisfy those who like hot and spicy wings and those who like mild and flavourful. At my next dinner party (make that my first wing party) this will probably be on the menu.

Club House Cajun