Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Oh, My Ballz!

Who knew that going to the Taiwanese night market at Metro Square (Steeles and Warden) that those 3 words would be what stuck with me most. But the origin of those 3 words and why they would stick in my head will come later.

For those of you who don't know Taiwanese night markets are market areas set up in public spaces filled with vendors (mostly food vendors). So should the opportunity arise for you to go to one, go with an appetite.

We arrived at late evening (which is one reason the quality of photos degrades, as my camera doesn't take the best night pictures, the huge crowds being the other). After trekking through the mall area to get to the market grounds (and being harassed by several stem cell research volunteers) we got to the over crowded market. The first thing to notice, was the much talked about scent in the air. Coming off Taiwan's national, and infamous dish, smelly tofu. Now there could not be a more appropriate name for a food, as this stuff stinks to high hell. I mean buckets of animal shit rotting under the sun. A smell so sharp it cuts like a winter wind. We made quick to pass this area (with huge lines at each of them).

We got around to the other side, and found the meat skewer stands. Now that's what I'm talking about! Fantastic skewered meats roasting over charcoals, seasoned in proprietary blends of cumin and chili powder, and what ever else. We immediately got in line for 8 lamb skewers (for the seemingly high price of 10$).
The skewers were well spiced, well cooked, and very tasty.
Next my friends Jack and Jill (yep that's right) went to get Japanese style octopus balls. I went to get some clams, which were sold out so I got mussels.
The mussels were cold when we got them I had a few and went to get something cooked. I went to get some grilled squid, whilst my friend Kel lined up for more skewers. Jack and Jill were still no where to be found.
The squid was chewy, not very well spiced, and cold. Not that pleasant.
The second patch of skewers, this time a variety of chicken, beef, and lamb, were under spiced, but still tasty.

At this point in the evening, whilst still waiting for Jack and Jill to return, Kel ventured out to find some more stuff. Sometime later Jack and Jill returned with the plate of deep fried octopus balls. Now some of you may be thinking, is this what he meant by 'Oh my ballz'? No it isn't keep reading. Hah.
Very tasty, at first (since I didn't know what they were) thought it was a sweet thing, but when I tasted it and it was savory thought it to be chicken. Although on my second I realized it was in fact the Japanese treat of octopus deep fried in batter.

Now Kel has still been missing for sometime since Jack and Jill returned. So they ventured out to get (to my dismay) a dish of stinky tofu for us to eat. About half hour later, and still no Kel, Jack and Jill return with 2 containers of stinky tofu. Now, I'm not usually one to pass up trying something, but from the fact I could smell it through the closed container, I had my reservations.
Fortunately Kel returned in the nick of time with 2 large pineapples, filled with juice.
2 hulking pineapples filled with juice. Mmm Mmm Mmm. Delicious. Just what I need, a tasty beverage to wash down what was one of the most offensive smelling foods I've ever eaten. I worked up my courage and plowed a massive piece of stinky tofu into my mouth. Now at first it didn't seem so bad, hardly any flavour. But the more I chewed, the more the taste came out. And the more the taste came out, the less I wanted to swallow. The more I started to swallow the more I wanted to vomit. It tasted exactly like it smelt. Eventually after 5 minutes of chewing I swallowed, and quickly washed down with pineapple juice, but nothing could get the taste out. If you eat stinky tofu, and enjoy it, I say kudos to you. This was one delight, I could not delight in.

After finish the pineapple juice, Kel and I decided to walk the market grounds and see what we might find.

Yes this is it! The moment that made my night folks. If only I could have captured the sound of the Chinese guy outside it yelling "Oh! My Ballz!" into a microphone in a bad Chinese accent to draw attention.

On the loop back around we stopped for bubble tea at a stand next to a stinky tofu stand, it was a long wait. We got a mango kiwi slush each, although they forgot about mine a few times, I think they just wanted us to soak in the stinky tofu aroma.

After which we met back with the rest of the group, and it was time for dessert.

Dessert was something I had been quite curious about since seeing the vendor name on the website. Marbolicious, stir-fried ice cream.

Now I'm not exactly a stranger to deep fried ice cream, but stir fried? Now that's a new one.

It seemed they had cast iron plates that they were placing the ice cream and toppings on, and using to large spatulas to rotate the ice cream. Although I admit, due to the crowds it was hard to actually see what was going on.

I ordered the fruit explosion, consisting of frozen shaved berries. Now I'm not exactly sure how stir-frying it helped the flavour, maybe it was just a gimmick. But I know this, it sure was tasty.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Summer Burgers Part 2, Mojito's, and Home Pickled Jalapenos

I cooked up the second patch of burgers at a friends place. We cooked them up and served with mojitos.

The mojitos were made with lamb's rum, simple syrup, mint and lime. Roughly 8 mint leaves muddled, 2 oz rum, 3 oz syrup, a half lemon squeezed, topped with ice.
The burgers were fairly simple, more apple wood smoked cheddar, bacon, homemade pickled jalapenos (pickled in vinegar, water, with cilantro, garlic, onion, cauliflower, carrot, peppercorn) (the cauliflower is in there to pickle spicy to make olive salad for muffaletta), jalapeno buttermilk ranch, and grilled portabello slices.
The jalapeno ranch was made with 1 cup mayonnaise, 1/2 cup sour cream, 1/2 cup buttermilk, 2 cloves garlic, 2 jalapenos, 1/4 red onion, 1/4 bunch cilantro, processed, then fresh cracked black pepper was stirred in.

Summer Burgers Part 1

So with summer hear and my BBQ in somewhat working condition I whipped up some burgers.

The first set of burgers I did were steak house style. The patties were made with 2 lbs ground beef, 1 lb ground pork, and 1 lb ground veal, with spices and worcestershire. I also baked off a few buns.
I then worked on the toppings, firstly the panko breaded red onion rings.
Whilst these fried I went out and threw on the burgers and bacon on the grill. After flipping the burgers I added some thick slices of apple wood smoked bacon. (I should have also been grilling some portabello mushrooms to throw on top, but I forgot.)
With the burgers done I topped them up, burger, bacon, onion ring, followed by homemade horseradish mayonnaise (about 2 tbs horseradish into 2/3 cup mayonnaise), and then other traditional toppings (lettuce, tomato, pickle)

A nice big tasty burger, really wish the portabello had of been on it.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The First of Many

When I was younger I used to own an Iguana. Unfortunately being an impetuous kid, I really couldn't take care of the poor thing. I didnt know what it needed passed a heat lamp, a tank, and food. Neither at the time did I have a computer to research things such as heat rocks can burn your pet reptiles. After a couple years of taking poor care of it, I eventually gave away the iguana to a person who adopts unwanted pets.

I beg you please, if you are going to get any animal, at any age, please do your research. If you are reading this then you have Internet access and NO EXCUSE NOT TO. It is best for you, and your pet alike. Make sure you know how to, and are able to provide the required habitat for what ever animal you purchase.

At the time I also gave away my interest in reptiles. An interest which came back a few years ago. It was an interest that continued to grow, and after a whole whack of research on the Internet, and in pet stores I decided to purchase my first ball python last month. I bought her from a breeder at the last Mississauga Reptile Expo.

So without further ado, this is my ball python Betsy (working name).

I say its the first of many as I am considering breeding them.

If I do purchase more, I will be making a new blog to monitor their progress.

Other reptile interests I have and am considering in the future are; Australian water dragons, frilled dragons, poison dart frogs (only made poisonous by their native diet), and several other lesser interests I'm still researching.

On a side note I have a bunch of stored photo's from events, dinners, and other such things here in Toronto that I'll be typing up this week.

Monday, July 12, 2010

In the Trend of Scottish Goods

On a recent trip to the grocery I found a beverage I wanted to try at the Scottish festival, called Irn Bru. So naturally I picked up a bottle. I also picked up a few strange fruits I (mostly) hadn't sampled previously.

I got home and after sufficiently chilling the Irn Bru, I popped the top and drank away. I must say, I don't know what I was expecting, but it wasn't this. Neither was it a pleasant (or even unpleasant) surprise. Mearly a surprise when the bland nearly flavourless sugar liquid passed my lips. If you must try it, go for it, I don't however recommend it, unless you live somewhere where it costs a reasonable price (I believe it had a 2.50$ price tag).

I then began to sample the fruit, first up was the custard apple. I cannot recall the actually name (I believe it was in Spanish).

Now this was interesting, not at all what I was expecting in sight, smell, colour, taste or texture. A sweet scent, with a flaky, almost fish like texture, with the taste of cotton candy. I would definitely eat this again.

Second up I tried a Mangosteen. No idea if that's the proper local name, although I doubt it, it is however the only name I know it by. Another first for me. I couldn't for the life of me figure out how to properly open it, so I gave it several stout whacks with a chefs knife. Eventually it gave way and opened.

This was a truly awful experience. It looked like a oyster - and worse yet, tasted like a rotten lychee. It also had a chewy unappealing texture. I'm not sure if it had gone off, either way I wont be trying it again (as I have no clue how to tell if they are ripe or even gone off).

And finally I bought a couple prickly pears. The cactus fruit which I first consumed in the Nevada/Arizona desert, picked right off a cactus. Which my friend Chris paid the price for when he had tons of needles embedded into his hand.

These were nothing from what I remember. Purple on the outside (I think ours were green) and bright red on the inside. A almost bitter flavour, hard to describe what it actually tastes like. Lots of seed I kept spitting out. All and all an interesting fruit, I would recommend it if you haven't had it before. And if you pick them yourself for the first time, beware of needles (they look like hairs).

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Kickin' it in Kincardine

As the debate rages on as to whether its pronounced Kin-car-din or Kin-car-deen, I'll tell you a story of my Canada Day weekend at the Kincardine Scottish Festival.

Late Friday evening we decided to drive up to Kincardine to go to the Scottish Festival. After a belaboured journey, involving pit stops, and getting lost in Guelph trying to locate a liquor store, we reached Kincardine (roughly 11:30pm). Upon arrival we came to the realization that we had no idea where the camp site we were planning to stay was. We tried asking the officer at the DUI stop, but he was briskly whisked away by an emergency bar fight call - I was starting to like the town already. It was at this point we figured we would just grab a motel. Sometime after finding out all motels in town were booked at the closest one with vacancies was in Hanover (approx 45 minute drive), we went back to the provincial map to look for provincial parks to set up camp in. We found one small place call Inverhuron, and made trail. We arrived around 12:30 and crossed our fingers we could find a camp site in the dark. After some driving we found one. Made camp, and got out the beers. After having a few and the time reaching about 2 in the am, we made rest to get up and get to the Scottish Festival bright and early.

We got back to Kincardine around 9 am, and went straight to the festival. The first thing we noticed, was almost as far as the ear could hear and the eye could see, bagpipes were everywhere. People were walking out of their homes clad in kilt, sash, and pipes. We entered during the first 2 events, Solo Pipping competition, and the Girls Highland Dancing competition.
Hunger quickly prevailed over sound and sight alike, and we took leave to the Fireman's Pancake Breakfast just around the corner. The team of Kincardine Firemen and women were out there in the morning sun grilling away, at a scrambled egg station, a sausage station, and of course, the pancake station. Also tending to the buffet of course. The breakfast was 6$ for coffee, orange/apple juice, 2 sausages, scrambled eggs, and 2 large pancakes.
Everything was quite surprisingly good. Who knew firemen could cook like this. Whilst not the most difficult to cook food, everything was fairly perfectly cooked. Nice golden brown pancakes, juicy wonderful sausages, and fluffy eggs (they needed a bit of salt and pepper).

After breakfast it was back to the festival, this time to wonder up and down the vendor area. If ever you need a kilt, this is certainly a place to look. Lots of Celtic knick knacks, Robbie Burns commemorative plates, clothing, hats, instruments ranging from bodhrans, to tin whistles, British Candy shops, and more. I ended up purchasing a tin whistle, and new cap, and some Highland Toffee for my mum.

After which we took in a bit more of the dancing, enjoyed a ginger beer, saw some more pipes, then returned to the car to put away our loot, and head over to the Highland Games competition.
We arrived to watch these beasts of men and women around 1 or 2 pm, right when they were getting into the spirit of heavy lifting. Running male and female competitions simultaneously; the women were throwing a 28 lb metal ball in the air over a metal goal line. Every time they succeeded, the bar would be raised a foot higher.

The men were hurling for distance, using first 56 lb, then 28 lbs. The winner for 28 lbs, won with 77+ ft.

The next female event was played with a short pitchfork, and a bag of twine weighing 12 lbs. They would grab the bags with the fork, and hurl them backwards over their shoulders to get over the goal post. Again, every time they made it over, the bar would be raised by a foot.

Next up for the men was the hammer toss. They would spin around in the same spot with a large heavy hammer, then release throwing for distance.
Next up the men split into 2 groups, one on the high toss (the 42 lb balls), and the others on the caver. The objective of the caver being to hoist up a giant log, run with it, toss it, and try and flip it over as straight as possible. The groups then switched, and the men who were doing the caver, came to do the high toss (with 56 lb balls!).
And last but not least, the people with the best seats in the house, in no short reason due to self serve liquor and the no-cost nature of them, I present - The Irish Cheap Seats.
A group of native Kincardinians (presumably Irish), on their back patio, with friends and neighbours alike, getting a view of the highland games for free, with coolers of tasty beverages. If booze access, and free seats weren't enough to make me jealous, there easy access to sunburn preventing shade and indoor space certainly was.

Having had enough of the sun we made our way back yet again to the festival grounds. This time we took a walk through the clan section. Where I looked up the long lost family name from my mums side of Fergus. And my friend looked up his long lost family name of Forbes. We then went for a little late lunch at the small strip of food vendors.

We stopped by the green van and got a poutine and a cheeseburger, Kel got a poutine from Cook de Fries. The poutine I purchased had flavourless gravy, grated cheese (and little of it), and fries taken right out of the freezer into the fryer, tasted hollow and flavourless. A complete let down. The cheeseburger has a thin piece of meat, and a thin piece of cheese. Tasted ok, for 4$ still a let down. Kel's poutine had more flavour, but still loses points for grated cheese. The gravy and fries were good though.
My Poutine.
Christina's Cheeseburger.
Kel's Poutine
Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned by bad poutine (as can be noted by the insincere smile of disappointment). Ok, I'm probably exaggerating. Hell hath no fury like a foodie scorned by bad poutine. That's better. What kind of shit is grated cheese on a pountine. What kind of fucking idiot do you have to be to not know the difference between grated cheese and cheese curds. Grated cheese, on fries with gravy is just that - grated cheese on fries and gravy, NOT-FUCKING-POUTINE. This is completely unaccept-- Sigh, I'll leave it there before it turns into a full fledged rant. Back to the story.
After lunch we came to the realization we had no where to sleep again. So we jetted back to the camp grounds to get our spot (they wouldn't take phone reservations and only had 3 left). We got there around 5:50, and quickly set up camp.

We returned promptly after setting up camp. We got a quick round of beers in, and almost as soon as we sat, but mere feet away, the championship pipe band came in to play a victory round.

After which we were treated to the 2nd and I believe 3rd place bands.

Around 9 after digesting a significant amount more beer, the leading bands began to play. First off was Needfire, from Texas. (Excuse the photos, it was dark, I was far away, and getting a little sloppy).

After putting away a few beers and being thoroughly entertained by the energetic Needfire, Poor Angus from Hamilton, ON took the stage.

Another excellent act, leaning more toward the folk side. Furthering the folk rock was the Glengarry Boys, from Glengarry, ON.

The older, drunker Highland Dancers.

They were also the closing act, finish off around 1am, ladies and gents I danced till I nearly collapsed. The fiddler (whom, whilst I don't mean to be presumptuous, I believe had either ADHD, or a big bag of blow before preforming) really managed to bring the energy.

We returned to camp, had a few more beers and then shuffled off for the night.

We awoke rather early, made our round of taking down the tents, packing up, visiting the facilities and throwing out the trash. All done by around 10am, we were left with a full day. We started by going to the beach within the park right on Lake Huron. Never having been to Huron before I was pleasantly surprised by clear (and clean) waters, sandy shores, and relatively vegetation free bottom of the lake.
If you look closely at the wave you can see a loons head. It was fishing about whilst we swam.

The water was exceptionally cold, yet amazingly soothing on my sunburns.

Ouch. (I havent had a good nights sleep since).

We took a good dip, and got thrashed around by the waves a bit. Took a nice stroll up and down the beach, and then decided it was time for lunch.

We ventured back to Kincardine, and found a little pub on Harbour St. called Erie Belle. This quiant little Fish and Chips pub, was semi-busy (maybe busy for a small town, I dont know, I dont now or ever have lived in one).

Me and Christina split the seafood deluxe platter, consisting of fried shrimp, fried popcorn shrimp, crab salad, fried cod, chips, and coleslaw.

Kel had the fried cod and chips.

I must say it was a great pleasure to be able to order fish and chips and not be completly let down. Far too often in Toronto do you get either over cooked fish, or under cooked batter. It was nice to have nice crisp batter with wonderfully flaky cod.

So no matter how you pronunce it, if you have a high tollerance for bagpipes, the Kincardine Scottish Festival can present a good deal of fun. I plan to return to Kincardine next year if I'm in Ontario. I hope this encourages some of your to come and visit too.

Your faithfull (and burnt crispy) narrator, Tim, the Devils Advocate.