Thursday, October 30, 2014

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Happy Halloween!

Halloween is a fun time of year when our kids dress up in fun costumes and go trick or treating door to door.  It is also a great time for treats for not so little ghosts and goblins.  One of our family’s favourite traditions is to go to Lester’s Farm and pick out our pumpkin.  We pick out a nice round pumpkin and bring it home to carve.  My favourite part is not the carving of the pumpkin, but in roasting the delicious pumpkin seeds and enjoying them as a healthy, tasty snack.

The greatest thing about roasted pumpkin seeds is that you can make them any flavour you choose, salty, sweet, spicy, you name it.  One idea you can do is coat the seeds in your favourite popcorn seasoning before roasting.  Here is how to roast pumpkin seeds


Roasted pumpkin seeds



Pumpkin seeds                 Salt

Water                   Seasoning (optional) I used 2 tsp chilli powder, 2 tsp brown sugar for my 2nd batch



1)      Scoop out seeds and pulp from pumpkin

2)      Separate the seeds from pulp by rinsing seeds in a strainer under running water

3)      Soak the seeds overnight in saltwater (1/4 C salt, 3C water)

4)      Take seeds out of water and place on paper towel

5)      Sprinkle salt over seeds (or coat seeds in seasoning by tossing in a bowl)

6)      Put seeds in frying pan (no oil needed) and cook at low-med heat, stirring constantly until seeds become dry and turn a golden color


It is important to soak the seeds overnight because it breaks down enzymes in the seeds that make them difficult to digest.  Soaking in salt water also brings out the flavour in the pumpkin seeds.




Enjoy and have a safe and happy Halloween!

Friday, October 24, 2014

National Bologna Day

October 24th is National Bologna Day!

Bologna, or “baloney” as it is often pronounced is a very popular luncheon meat in North America, made from finely ground meats and fat.  Bologna sausage got its name from the city of its origin, Bologna, Italy. 

There are different kinds of bolognas which are made with different ingredients;  German garlic bologna, which adds garlic to the mixture, Halal bologna, which does not use pork products, instead using beef, or chicken, turkey or lamb, Lebanon bologna, which is cured and dried like a salami to name a few.

Bologna is to Newfoundland as Spam is to Hawaii.  Locals have coined it as the "Newfie Steak". We consume 1/3rd of all bologna products sold in Canada, and given we have a population of about 500,000, that is quite a lot of bologna!  When I first heard that there was a bologna cookbook out, I thought to myself, “I bet you that the author is a Newfoundlander” and he is, Chef Kevin Phillips hails from Cape St. George. 


As a Newfoundlander, bologna is near and dear to me.  I have so many great memories of having breakfasts on the weekend of fried bologna and eggs, a nice treat from the quick cereal and toast during the week.  I have had Barbequed bologna, bologna sandwiches, appetizers and casseroles.  If the recipe called for ham, in a pinch bologna would work.  The bologna in Newfoundland is a variant of the rag bologna, as we call it, the wax bologna due to being coated in wax during processing.


To celebrate this exciting holiday, I have made up a bologna recipe using bologna and another one of my Newfoundland breakfast favourites, toutons.  Enjoy!




Bologna Eggs Benedict on a Touton


1 Slice Maple Leaf bologna

1 Poached Egg

1 Piece Pan-fried touton dough

Hollandaise Sauce



Hollandaise Sauce:

3 Tbsp Butter

2 Egg yolks

½ tsp White vinegar

1 Tbsp Water

Salt & freshly cracked black pepper to taste



Start by taking a palm sized amount of flattened touton dough and pan fry it in both sides

To make the hollandaise sauce, melt butter in a small steel bowl over a sauce pan of simmering water. Add egg yolks, vinegar, water, salt & pepper. Whisk continuously until the sauce begin to thicken and turns a pale yellow, about 2-3 minutes. Set aside.

Next we have to poach an egg. In a small sauce pan, bring 2 inches of water to a simmer and slowly drop in the egg and let it cook slowly until the surface is cooked and the middle is runny and soft.   

Heat a large frying pan with 2 tbsp of oil on medium heat. Place a small piece of touton in the pan along with the bologna. Let it fry for about a minute and turn over the touton dough when it starts to rise and brown and continue to cook for another minute. Also flip over your bologna until its crispy on both sides.

Plate the crispy touton dough. Drizzle with molasses. Top with the slice of bologna and poached egg. Spoon the hollandaise sauce over the egg and let it cascade over the bologna and touton dough.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Magic Wok Restaurant

Last night, my wife and I were invited out to dinner by a good friend of ours.  Our friend suggested we go to Magic Wok, a popular Chinese restaurant downtown St. John’s.  Magic Wok Restaurant has been in business for quite some time and has built up a great reputation in the city.  I remember first going there years ago with my parents for dim sum, at the old Magic Wok, which had burned down in 2001.  It was a great old charming building and a friendly atmosphere.  The new building is larger, more open and bright with modern yet distinctly Chinese décor.  The friendly atmosphere remains as warm as it ever was. 
The Menu

We arrived to the restaurant at 7pm to find the dining room buzzing with activity.  “Is there a special occasion tonight?” I asked the waiter, to which he replied “no, this is a typical Saturday night”.  Our host had called ahead a few days prior and reserved a table, so we were seated immediately.  The waiters came over and took our drink order immediately.  We looked over the menus, which had pictures of the signature dishes and were written in English and Chinese.  Our friend had pre-ordered the Peking Duck, which came as 3 courses (You need to order this dish in advance).  The first course was crispy duck skin with shrimp chips, pancakes, scallions, cucumber, chili sauce and hoisin sauce.  The second course was a duck bone and vegetable soup and the third course was a delicious duck stir-fry.  We also ordered flambé beef, captain chicken, shrimp and broccoli stir-fry, braised beef, a pork rib dish, won ton soup and steamed rice.

At the beginning of the meal, the waiter brought out our roasted duck for our approval before bringing it back into the kitchen to prepare into the 3 courses.  It looked elegant, with silver frills on the feet.  We were so in awe that we forgot to take a photo until the duck was brought back into the kitchen.  The first course that came out was the duck skin course.  This course is a fun dish you make your own duck skin pancake rolls with.  First you take your pancake and place the skin in it, then veggies then sauce, roll it up and enjoy.  It is a social dish best enjoyed with friends. 
Crispy duck skin

The crispy duck skin course

The next course was the soup course, where we enjoyed duck bone soup and won ton soup.  The wonton soup was good, but the duck soup was excellent.  The baby bok choy in the soup complimented the subtle flavor of the duck.  The broth was flavorful, but not too salty or overpowering so it could bring out the duck flavor.

duck bone soup

The captain chicken is Magic Wok’s take on sesame chicken, a sweet and tangy but less spicy version of General Tso’s Chicken.  The noodles were crisp and light, and the chicken was crispy yet sweet and tangy.
Captain Chicken

The shrimp and broccoli stir-fry was next to come out, the shrimp were juicy and the broccoli was tender but not too soft.  The sauce had a nice seafood taste to it, but was not too salty.
Shrimp and Broccoli
The braised beef was next.  It was so tender that it melted in our mouths.  This is one of my favorite rustic dishes that I enjoyed as a child.  I was not disappointed with this dish.
Braised beef
We then tried the pork rib dish.  The pork was very flavorful and the veggies were grilled to perfection.  The onions and choy had started to carmelize, but were still juicy with a hint of sweetness.
pork ribs
The last dish to come out was the most impressive; flambé beef.  With this dish, you get a little bit of a show with your tableside service.  The waiter brings out the beef on a sizzling platter, then pours vodka on it and lights it on fire.  After the flame burns off the alcohol and died out, the waiter then adds the sauce.   The beef was delicious, juicy and sweet.

Flambé beef
Our last course was dessert, we had coconut balls.  They were unlike standard dessert fare and reminded me of dim sum dessert that we would get in Toronto, sweet but not as sweet as Western desserts.  The homemade treats were coconut, fried in a crisp shell and rolled in powdered sugar.  The waiter told us that they were not ordered often, so they were a sort of best kept secret at Magic Wok.
coconut balls
The signature dishes ranged from about $10-$20 each, which is quite good for an upscale Chinese restaurant.  The flambé dish, which would have to be my favorite, was $18.99 plus tax, and worth it, given the little show and tableside service you get.   You also get decent size portions. There were 6 of us in our party, and there was plenty to eat and leftovers to take home.
We were served by multiple servers over the duration of our meal, this proved to be very effective during peak hours; instead of waiting for our section waiter to become available to bring us our food, as soon as the food came off the line, the next available person would bring it out asap.  The servers were also all very friendly and fast. 

I would recommend Magic Wok for anyone wanting to not only have a tasty meal during an evening out, but who would also enjoy the unique dining experience of dim sum and flambé during the same meal.  I definitely recommend the flambé beef, it will not disappoint.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Chef Michael Smith's Family Meals

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!  I hope everyone had a wonderful long weekend.  On Saturday, I went to Chapters and met Chef Michael Smith, who was there for a book signing.  His newest cookbook is called Family Meals and I grabbed a copy to check out.  I chatted with Chef Smith for a few minutes and he was telling me about a few of his upcoming projects.  For a celebrity chef, he seemed quite down to earth and genuine.  I took a few photos, and man he is tall!  I am 5’11” and next to him I look very short.

I decided this week I would do a review on the cookbook Family Meals and try out one of the recipes.  The cookbook itself is a large softcover book, with easy to read print.  The layout is attractive and colourful, with large glossy full page photos of the finished meal on every second page.  Ingredients are listed on the side of the instructions for easy reference.  The meals themselves are fun, easy recipes that would suit a family restaurant, or a bar and grill as they would a family dinner table.  With recipes such as “Moroccan-Style Cinnamon Cumin Lamb” and “Street Tacos”, there is definitely a recipe for everyone in the book. 

As you may know, I am a diehard fan of Chinese food and Chinese style cuisine, so when the recipe “General Tso’s Chicken Wings” caught my eye, I decided to try it out as my first meal from the cookbook.  The instructions were simple and easy to follow and the chicken wings came out crisp and the sauce was tangy and sweet just as I would expect from one of my favourite take out places.  One thing I noticed in the photo in the book is that there was a brush with the sauce on it, and the instructions described tossing the wings in the sauce.  I decided to do both for my photo; I first tossed the wings in the sauce, I then brushed some of the left over sauce in the bowl onto the wings, to appear like the photo in the book.  It is not necessary to do this when preparing them at home.  The wings were decidedly a success as my wife and guests were raving about them all night.  I was impressed with this recipe as it turned out the way it was intended, and the photo of my wings looked very close to the wings in the photo.  I recommend this book for easy to follow fun meals.  The meals are not overly artistic or “fancy” but they are good for everyday enjoyment.

General Tso’s Chicken Wings  From Chef Michael Smith’s  Family Meals

For the baked wings:

  • 1 cup (250 mL) all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp (10 mL) baking powder
  • 2 tsp (10 mL) sea salt
  • Lots of freshly ground pepper
  • 4 eggs
  • 24 whole chicken wings or 48 assorted flats and drums
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) cornstarch

For the finishing saucy touches:

  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) white sugar
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) ketchup
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) water
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) white vinegar
  • 2 tbsp (30 mL) toasted sesame oil
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) your favourite hot sauce
  • 2 inches (5 cm) or so of frozen ginger, grated (about 2 tbsp/30 mL)
  • 2 tbsp (30 mL) soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp (30 mL) cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) sesame seeds
  • 4 green onions, thinly sliced

Preheat your oven to 350F (180C). Turn on your convection fan if you have one. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a non-stick baking mat.

Get the wings going. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour baking powder, salt and pepper. Thoroughly whisk in the eggs. Tumble the wings into a large bowl and sprinkle evenly with the cornstarch. Toss evenly, coating every surface, nook and cranny with the powder. Pour the egg mixture over the wings and gently toss with your fingers, evenly coating the works. Neatly array skin side up on the baking sheet. Bake until the wings are tender, lightly browned and crisp, 1 hour or so.

Meanwhile, build the glazing sauce. Into a small saucepan, measure the sugar, ketchup, water, vinegar, sesame oil, hot sauce and ginger. Heat gently. In a small cup of some kind, stir together the soy sauce and cornstarch until dissolved. Pour the slurry into the simmering sauce, stirring gently as it thickens into a shiny sauce. Remove from the heat.

When the wings are done, transfer them to a large bowl and pour the sauce over them. Toss lightly once or twice, add the sesame seeds, and toss until the wings are evenly coated. Plate the proceeds and sprinkle with the green onions.

Serve and share!

Makes 24 full wings.