edible adventures from the centre of the universe

30 January 2008

Review: Westwood Grill

Since we moved to Toronto three years ago, Dave and I have been on the hunt for a reliable local Chinese delivery joint with delicious food -- in the High Park area, this is a rare commodity. Until last week, we had settled for pretty good, but annoyingly bland Chinese take-out from a friendly little place down the street. Then we discovered Westwood Grill (519 Annette St).

The menu at Westwood Grill is large and varied, with enough flavour offerings to curb almost any craving. It also has many more veggie and seafood dishes than your typical Chinese restaurant. Last week, Dave and I decided to order a wide sampling for delivery: veggie fried rice, salt and pepper crispy tofu, broccoli in garlic sauce, General Tao jumbo shrimp, and sesame jumbo shrimp. I was told our food would arrive in 45 minutes, but it was on our doorstep in 30 -- a nice surprise.

The portion sizes at Westwood Grill are very generous, so we found ourselves in front of a mountain of food after we unpacked the delivery bags. Everything smelled amazing, so we dove in immediately. The most basic dish we ordered, the veggie fried rice, impressed with an absence of frozen mixed vegetables -- the savoury rice was mixed with big chunks of fresh veggies and tasty egg. The broccoli in garlic sauce was perfectly cooked, with a bit of bite, and the sauce was deliciously garlicky but not overpowering. The salt and pepper tofu pieces were little bite-sized spicy flavour explosions, and the General Tao shrimp dish included massive prawns in a fantastic spicy, sweet, and savoury sauce -- highly recommended. The only disappointment for me was the sesame shrimp, which came in a creamy sesame-based sauce that I found to be a little dull.

I'm ecstatic that Dave and I have finally found a nearby delivery place that rivals some of the best Chinese take-out I've ever had the opportunity to taste. I can't wait to try more of Westwood Grill's huge menu.

9 pony expresses out of 10


17 January 2008

Tampopo: Meh.

Widely considered to be the best food movie of all time, I finally got around to seeing Tampopo before Christmas. I think my expectations were set too high going in, because I have to admit I was a little disappointed in this cute foodie flick.

The story in this "noodle western" loosely revolves around the proprietress of a ramen shop, Tampopo (Japanese for "Dandelion"), and her quest for the perfect bowl of noodles. I say "loosely" because there are a number of bizarre food-related sketches peppered throughout the movie that regularly interrupt the main story. These include charm school spaghetti-eating lessons, and the funniest/grossest sex-food scene ever put on film.

One of my problems with the movie is that Tampopo is depicted as a helpless half-wit who requires the help and instruction of a group of men to make a decent bowl of ramen. Additionally, all of her recipe improvements are directly stolen from other chefs -- she has no original ideas whatever. As such, Tampopo basically floats through the movie like a puppet and when she finally makes the "perfect" bowl of noodles, it doesn't feel like much of an accomplishment.

While I had issues with Tampopo, I had no problems with another character: the food! The sensuality of eating is a major theme in this film, and the director's love of food is clear. There's no way you can make it through this movie without some of your favourite snacks.

I'm glad I watched Tampopo, but my favourite food movie of all time (Babette's Feast) made it through the battle without a scratch. In fact, there are several I would place above Tampopo in a Top 10 list: Big Night, Eat Drink Man Woman, God of Cookery, and even Ratatouille.

For any animal lovers, beware that there is a live turtle execution in this film.


10 January 2008

Cookbook Challenge #4: Happy New Year!

I hope y'all had as great a holiday season as I did! With almost a month off of work, Dave and I headed south to enjoy the beautiful island of Maui. We had an amazing time, and ate a lot of fantastic meals. I'll be posting about many of them in the near future -- stay tuned!

With the return of the daily grind comes a desire for simple, easy-to-prepare dinners. There's nothing simpler than a slow cooker and, happily, my brother gave me a copy of Fresh from the Vegetarian Slow Cooker by Robin Robertson a few years ago that I had yet to use. Since Hoppin' John is supposed to bring luck in the new year, Robertson's slow cooker version seemed appropriate.

This recipe was easy to throw together, which you would expect from a slow cooker cookbook, and it was divine to come home to a fragrant pot of bubbly beans and tomatoes after a hard day at work. My expectations for this dish were low, because most of the vegetarian slow cooker recipes I've tried have come out bland, bland, bland. Not this one. Diced green chiles give the comforting beans n' rice a heat that warms you from the inside out, and I added some red chile flakes for an extra kick. Even the notorious bean-hater Dave cleaned his plate. What a great (and lucky!) start to the new year.

Slow Cooker Vegetarian Hoppin' John

2 tbsp olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 celery rib, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp dried thyme
large pinch red chile flakes
3 cups cooked/canned black-eyed peas
one 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes, drained
one 4 oz can diced green chiles, drained
1 cup veggie stock
8 oz vegetarian sausage, crumbled
3 cups cooked brown rice
salt & pepper

1. Heat 1 tbsp of the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, thyme, chile flakes, and a dash of salt & pepper to the pan, and saute until the onion is soft and translucent. Add the garlic, cook for one minute, and remove from heat.
2. Transfer onion mixture to a slow cooker. Add the black-eyed peas, tomatoes, chiles, and stock. Season with salt & pepper, cover, and cook on low for 4-6 hours.
3. About 15 minutes before serving, heat the remaining oil in a pan and brown the veggie sausage. Add the sausage and rice to the slow cooker, stir to combine, and season with salt & pepper to taste. Enjoy!

serves 4