edible adventures from the centre of the universe

22 October 2006

Review: Asa Sushi

Since we moved to Toronto, Dave and I have been searching for a great sushi restaurant in our neighborhood. There are plenty of kickass, inexpensive sushi joints downtown, like our favourite HoSu Bistro, but we just couldn't find a clear-cut winner in our neck of the woods. That is, until one of Dave's coworkers suggested Asa Sushi at Jane and Bloor (18 Jane Street).

Asa Sushi occupies a clean, bright space with light wood screens dividing most of the tables -- you get a lot of privacy from fellow diners. The open sushi bar is manned by a stern-looking fellow in traditional garb (presumably the owner) and the adorable, super-friendly waitresses are quick to greet you when you enter.

The menu at Asa includes teriyaki and soup/noodles, but we're all about the sushi and maki when we visit. The maki selection is huge, with a lot of really creative rolls. There's a large selection of vegetarian maki, as well as some non-traditional deep-fried rolls. In addition, there's the usual tempting nigri-sushi offerings. It's really difficult to choose what to order!

One of our favourite dishes has been the 12-piece tempura, which is crispy and light and includes some unusual items such as salmon and asparagus along with the more standard prawns and vegetables (all for only $4.95!). I am also a huge fan of the vegetable tempura maki, which is at least 2 inches in diameter, and is stuffed with tasty vegetable and onion tempura. The yam tempura maki is similarly huge, with big chunks of yam tempura rolled up inside-out style and sprinkled with nutty toasted sesame seeds. Delicious. On our most recent visit, a ninja roll was ordered ("Ninja Roll!" exclaimed our devestatingly cute server), and it came drizzled with both a sweet teriyaki-style sauce as well as a very spicy cream sauce, making for a great, interesting contrast of flavours.

Prices at Asa Sushi are low, and the servings are large. Complimentary green tea is refilled frequently, and every meal is started with a green salad in Japanese orange dressing (which I find is more bland at Asa than at other places I've been). The combination of great value, friendly service, and maki variety found at Asa make it a winner in my book, and I'm ecstatic that we finally found ourselves a go-to neighborhood sushi joint.


09 October 2006

Embrace your Inner Dillweed

At my grocery store, you can only buy fresh dill in huge bunches. Since most recipes call for, at most, 1/4 cup of dill, I'm usually left with a lot of leftover herb which ends up rotten at the bottom of my vegetable drawer. With my most recent dill purchase, I was determined to not let this happen. I scoured my cookbooks for dill recipes, and ended up finding two that sounded perfect in the same book: Once Upon a Tart... by Frank Mentesana and Jerome Audureau. I have posted about this cookbook before, but I have to reiterate what a great resource it is. The photography is beautiful and the recipes are simple, yielding delicious results.

The two recipes I decided to try, with minor adjustments, were "Cheddar-Parmesan Scones with Fresh Dill" and "Creamy Carrot soup with Fresh Dill." Both turned out fabulously, and neither were difficult to throw together. The soup was creamy and savoury, and the scones light, fluffy, and full of cheesy flavour. The secrets to these two recipes are complete opposites: the soup should be pureed as much as needed to achieve a perfect, silky texture, and the scones should be mixed as little as possible to maximize their resemblance to little clouds.

Cheddar-Parmesan Scones with Fresh Dill

2 and 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder
generous pinch cayenne
1/2 tsp salt
8 tbsp (1 stick) cold butter, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
3 large eggs
1/2 cup cold milk
2 tbsp chopped fresh dill
2 cups grated aged white cheddar
1/3 cup grated parmesan

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees, with a baking rack positioned in the centre. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl with a wooden spoon.
3. Add the butter to the dry ingredients, and use a pastry cutter to combine just until the mixture looks like moist crumbs. Do not overmix! (alternately, use a food processor to mix the butter with the dry ingredients, pulsing just until the mix looks like moist crumbs)
4. In another small bowl, beat the eggs slightly and whish in the milk. Stir the cheeses and dill into this mixture.
5. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry, and stir with a wooden spoon just until no flour is visible.
6. Use a 1/2-cup measuring cup to scoop up the dough, and plop it onto the baking sheet, leaving 2 inches between scones.
7. Place the baking sheet on the centre rack in your oven, and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until golden and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
7. Let scones cool on a wire rack for a few minutes (until they won't burn your mouth), and then dig in! These scones require no extra butter -- eat them plain, or with a little honey. They'd also go great topped with scrambled eggs!

makes about 8 scones

Creamy Carrot Soup with Fresh Dill

1/2 big yellow onion, finely chopped
1/2 tbsp butter
1/2 tbsp olive oil
1 lb. medium carrots (4-5), peeled and coarsely chopped
1 small yukon gold potato, peeled and diced
2 cups vegetable stock
2 tbsp chopped fresh dill, plus extra for garnish
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 cup light cream

1. Warm the oil and butter over medium-high heat in a large soup pot. Add the onions and a pinch of salt, and saute for 5-10 minutes until the onions begin to reduce in volume (reduce heat slightly if they start to brown). Then, reduce the heat to low and continue cooking onions for another 10-15 minutes, until they are tender and translucent.
2. Add the carrots and potato to the onions, and cook for another 15-20 minutes.
3. Add the stock to the vegetables and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for 30-40 minutes until the veggies are very tender.
4. Turn off the heat, and use an immersion belender to puree the soup in the pot until silky (alternately, a food processor may be used to puree the cooled soup in batches).
5. Warm the pureed soup over medium heat, and stir in the dill, salt, pepper, and cream. If the soup is too thick, add some stock or cream to thin it out. Ladle into warm bowls, top with some fresh dill, and enjoy!

serves 2