Dinning in during Covid-19 – Paramount Review

Paramount has always been one of my favorite places to go to for Middle Eastern food in Toronto. I fell in love when I first visited in 2013.

Luckily enough, I now live a couple of steps away from one of their locations in North York. Located right on The Shops at Don Mills. It was and still is one of my go-to places for a Friday night dinner.

When the pandemic lockdown started back in March, I would be ordering from Paramount three times a week, at the most, and always by phone. Their website was only there to check the menu depending on your location as well as the prices. Depending on the location, there would be deals that could be discussed once you called to order. Paramount would also be available to order from UberEats or SkipTheDishes. I used this service once, and the app chose the Scarborough location instead of the one close to me. So, after that, I decided to not use the apps anymore. It is always nice to talk to someone on the phone anyways.

Last Friday I decided to order from Paramount and was surprised that there was an “Order Online” option on their website. Even though I was certain that it was not going to work, I clicked in and started putting together my order. When I was finished and clicked on “Place Order,” I got the notice that ordering online was not available at the moment. Well, I tried -I said to myself- shrugging my shoulders. I proceeded then to call the restaurant and place my order just as I always do.

I got my usual order of 6 pieces of Falafel as my starter and decided to try the Chicken Saj Wrap for the first time as Take-Out. I had this dish before while dinning in but never had it before outside of the restaurant. The wrap comes with a side of French fries and a small salad, enough for one person. The Saj bread is crunchy but thick enough to hold the chicken juices. I loved the chicken. The cut pieces of chicken roll perfectly with the wrap while falling apart when you take a bite. Is it bad that it falls apart? Or maybe I just enjoy being a messy eater? We will never know. The chicken is well-seasoned, juicy and toasty on the inside. And while the chicken was the protagonist of the night, the side of fries was insipid, all I could taste was the oil. I ate them, of course, after sprinkling some more salt to them. I can never say no to French fries.

To finalize my meal, I had 3 pieces of Falafel and saved the rest for the next day. I liked the falafels because they were compact, the ball stayed together as I was eating them. They can be dipped comfortably in the garlic or sesame sauce without it falling apart on your sauce. I recommend you try it for yourself.

Overall, aside from the disappointing fries, I like Paramount. Their menu is inclusive of serving one person all the way up to a family of 6. The price ranges depending on the item, but I found that the average price for an entrée for one person is $20.

Rain and Prosecco day

It was the third Sunday of November in Toronto. The day was gloomy and so was my energy. I talked to my mom and dad while laying down on my couch through Facebook Messenger and my brother joined after. So far, typical Sunday for me.

I was thinking about what to have for lunch/dinner and had to go out and get some groceries anyway. I picked up the dark beer I was going to use for my Sauce Espagnole and roamed around the wine aisle. I was in a celebratory mood since it is my birthday month, so I grabbed a bottle of Ruffino Prosecco as well, which I am sipping on as I am typing this. While, of course, being aware of the time since the pork loin is in the oven right now.

I am braising a pork loin with Sauce Espagnole. It is my first time making this recipe. And the truth is that I thought it was going to be harder to make because of the long list of ingredients. It was not. The whole thing took about 90 minutes to make. A bit messy, yes, but worth it. I also sliced my thumb mistakenly while trying to slice the carrots. That part is a bit blurry; I just remember seeing my finger covered in blood. Not a big deal, I cleaned it up with a bit of alcohol, put a band-aid on, and went back to the kitchen.

I baked the pork for 40 minutes along with the Sauce Espagnole and I served it with leftover quinoa and half avocado. I drank the remaining of the beer while Dash and Lily from Netflix was playing in the background. The sauce was rich and the pork a bit on the dry side. And because I was drinking the same beer that I used for making the sauce, it mixed perfectly with the whole meal. I was satisfied. It was comfort food on a rainy day.

I posted this recipe on my highlights called Food@home on my Instagram profile if you would like to see how it happened.

Cheers.

Let’s Talk About Pizza – Oggi Beyond The Meat

I would like to consider myself a pizza connoisseur. I could even say that pizza is my favorite food and I think my friends would agree with that.

I was at Costco on Saturday and started thinking about what I was going to have for lunch. I was done with my shopping, so I started walking down the gigantic aisles of Costco frozen goodies. I knew I wanted pizza, but I was not willing to wait in line for it. I walked by frozen fruits, beverages, ice cream, even the coffee aisle and I could not find frozen pizza. I was about to just give up and go home.

When I found the pizza fridge, my eyes opened wide and the fridge had a shiny aura. I followed the imaginary lights to the fridge and skimmed through all the types of frozen pizza. I was looking for a specific one until I found it. The cauliflower crust, beyond the meat made by Oggi. I have heard and read about it for weeks and I was willing to try it. So, I did not think twice and got it. It is $12 and the box has 2 individual pizzas. I think that is reasonably priced.

I drove home excited while my stomach rumbled. I turned the oven on as soon as I walked into my house and started to unpack. Read the instructions on the pizza box while trying to get the pizza out of the plastic wrapping. My first impression was that it looked like any frozen pizza -the vegetables, the meat, and the cheese as well as the crust. It was colorful- the white from the crust at the bottom and the dark red from the Italian (beyond the meat) sausage. However, these were not regular ingredients. Everything that was put in this pizza is all plant-based.

Anyways, I baked the pizza for about 15 minutes and waited for it to cool down before slicing it. Once I sliced the knife through the crust it went in smoothly, however, the ends of it were too crispy that it crumbled. I took a plate and served myself four slices. I took my first bite and the first thing I tasted was the tomato sauce. It was rich, thick and with a pinch of oregano after taste. The crust was not as crunchy and you could not taste the cauliflower at all, which is a good thing for picky eaters. It tasted almost like a real flour crust which was surprising to me. The beyond the meat pieces of Italian sausage was too chewy. At this point, I realized I probably overcooked it. The vegan cheese camouflaged among the rest of the ingredients and was tasteless. I knew it was there because you could see it, but taste-wise did not make a difference.

Overall, I was surprised at how good it was. I had plant-based pizza before and it was a fiasco, which is probably the reason why I was not expecting much from Oggi. However, even though I overcooked it because I did, this plant-based pizza can trick you into thinking you are having the real thing.

The Feelings of Food

Have you eaten something and then feeling strange minutes after? And this could go both ways. Strange-good when you feel full of life and ready to take on the world. Strange-bad when you just want to lay down and sleep for a whole week.

Is that how foods are feeling when you eat them? I wonder…

Greener vegetables bring a sense of freshness to our bodies and provide a field full of space for other nutrients to get into our bodies. On the contrary, flours, sometimes can make us feel like we just got a shot of energy or can also make us lie down on the couch Sunday night with our bellies pointing to the ceiling. It will, of course, depend on how much of it you have but the first bite is always the one that counts.

If you think about it, green vegetables are grown out in open fields with direct sunlight and lots of water. Nobody will ever be in a bad mood under direct sunlight and water, right? Why do we, humans, then love going to the beach? It is the exact same answer for both scenarios. It is freedom. That is how I feel when I am at the beach.

Flours though, are kept in the dark. No direct sunlight, no water. They can last months, sometimes years, in the pantry if stored properly. This darkness that is part of the flour can be seen in the foods we eat that are made with it. Pizza for example, will have you wanting to take a nap, in general, and I think is because the flour used to make the pizza, once it enters our body, it wants to shut us down, it wants us to close our eyes and get into a dark place, literally.

I am not an expert in the matter. Not at all. But by spending too much time at home and having to cook my own meals most of the time, I have learned the types of foods that make me feel better throughout my day.

Do you agree? Do you think what we eat affects our mood/feelings?

It Is Time For Comfort Food

Summer is gone and the winter months are fast approaching. The days are shorter, and with that, our appetite keeps growing.

Why is it that when it gets colder and darker, we feel like eating more? It is probably our body burning more calories to keep us warm. But I could be wrong.

Last week was one of the coldest weeks, at least for me. I felt like eating soup. A dark, rich and creamy liquid full of nutrition. I was following a recipe from my Culinary Arts class, and even though I did not have all the ingredients, I added some of my own. I was making Minestrone Soup.

Ingredients for the soup

Once I started making it, the soup turned into a red liquid and it surprised me. I have never seen or had this soup before, so I did not know what to expect. Later I realized that the color was from the tomato paste that was burning at the bottom of the pot. I added the vegetables and cooked them in the homemade chicken stock that I have made weeks before. I only had black beans at home, but I could not add them, I was afraid my soup was going to turn black. Instead, I added a shredded chicken breast that I had in my fridge.

After about 30 minutes, the soup was done and ready to be eaten. I waited for it to cool down before serving it and am glad I did. The flavors had come together, and I could taste every one of them. I served the soup with crumbled crackers, Asiago cheese and red pepper flakes.

The shredded chicken breast gave it a cream-like consistency while the red pepper flakes mixed smoothly with the sweetness of the tomatoes. The Asiago cheese highlighted the chicken flavor from the stock and the crackers combined with the vegetables made me feel like I was having al dente pasta with tomato sauce.

The warmth of the soup reminded me of home. It made me think about going to my grandmother’s house on Sundays and having soup for brunch. That night I had two bowls of soup. I was satisfied and was ready to lay down in front of the TV. This is how comfort food should make you feel.

Grateful For Pie

Just before I started baking, I was already salivating and tasting the cinnamon in the apple sauce. This was my first time in ten years making apple pie.

To be honest, I am more of an apple crumble person and not just because it is easier to make, but because I like the crunchiness of it all, versus apple pie where you just enjoy the filling and the sometimes soggy crust. The soggy crust is a memory from my last Thanksgiving.

Unlike last year, when I celebrated with my closest friends and my family in a big condo party hall, this year Thanksgiving Day was different. The people that were celebrating with me could all sit in an 6-seater dining table. It was a small group of people, easy to feed and to surprise with a homemade apple pie.

This was an experiment for me and not because of the apples, but because of the crust. I wanted to make an easy, yet savory crust that would leave my guests in awe and wanting more. It took me exactly two days until I found the easiest crust recipe. I made the crust the day before just in case something went wrong. Nothing happened, fortunately, and I did not even have to get my hands dirty. All I used to make the crust was a food processor, flour and butter. I got the recipe from this website.

I was nervous but excited, not just because of how it was going to taste, but I was afraid the crust would not cook and that would have been a disaster.

I peeled and prepped the apples for the filling using a recipe from the same website and everything was coming together perfectly. I was listening to a Disney baking playlist from Spotify and sipping some Sauv Blanc. It was truly a good day. I baked the pie for an hour, it cooked to perfection and the crust came out to be one of the best that I have done in my entire life.

I was desperate to taste it once it was ready. I think I burnt my finger trying to taste the apple sauce from the side of the baking dish. I brought it over to the house where I was having dinner, and everyone was excited to taste the pie.

After finishing with the turkey and the stuffing, the pie was brought the table to be enjoyed with a side of vanilla ice cream. It was succulent, and the crust was the protagonist that night. Everyone loved it and had seconds, just to enjoy the marvelous crust.  

So, if there is something that I am grateful for this year, is the people that got to share the pie with me, and of course grateful for the well-cooked and delicious pie.

Steak and Yucamole

The foggy mind, the crawling of my stomach and the faded voices coming from a conference call.

I kept thinking how lucky I am to have to ability to be working from home. But my stomach kept rumbling and that was distracting. I could not focus on my work. I was wondering what was on my fridge and what I could put together for a quick dinner.

The truth was I was craving guacamole, but I was also craving fried yuca. Luckily enough I had both.

I took a quick break and decided to start peeling the yuca so that it could cook while I was still working. Brought the water to boil, cut the yuca into small pieces and threw it in the boiling water. I then decided to start cutting the vegetables to put into the guacamole -onion, tomato, red pepper and garlic – thinly diced and put it in a bowl. The yuca was still cooking. It took more than forty-five minutes for the yuca to be ready. I was starving at this point. I threw the yuca, the vegetables and the avocado all together in a bowl. I called it Yucamole.

I started eating but still was not satisfied. I needed it protein.

I opened the fridge and found a thawed steak. I quickly heated a frying pan and cooked the steak. The sizzling coming from the pan made my eyes watered. Or maybe it was the onion from the yucamole that I was still tasting.

Once the steak was half-cooked, I cut it in small pieces and seasoned it with salt and pepper. I was too hungry to experiment this time. I let it cook for ten more minutes and that was enough. A pale brown color on the outside while pinkish on the inside. It was juicy, peppery and ready to be eaten.

I was eating too quickly standing up in the kitchen, so I decided to plate the pieces of steak and some yucamole and sit at the table to have a proper dinner. I was satisfied by the end of the meal. The plate was empty. The conference call had finished at this point, so I was ready to enjoy the rest of my evening.

The Golden Trio

The sizzling of the frying pan, the humming of the kitchen fan, the crispy yet sweet smell of bacon and cherry tomatoes cooking is freshening my apartment as I am typing this. The crawling of my stomach signing feed me now woman is what made me step away from the keys for a short period of time.

The cherry tomatoes cooking with the grease of bacon

Once I finished eating, I decided to get back to writing while sipping on a black cup of coffee that I brewed while I was still cooking. The coffee is strong, sour, foamy as I feel the warmth of it on my palate. This is now my second cup of the day.

Today’s breakfast, or I should say brunch, as it is now past noon was 2 eggs, 4 slices of bacon, 6 cherry tomatoes, half avocado and a couple of slices of Buffalo Gouda. Heavy, yet a satisfying meal that will keep my energy in check until at least dinner.

Avocado, eggs and bacon are to me the perfect way to start the day. The gouda and the cherry tomatoes add to the trio a touch of sweetness and springiness to it all. And here is why; the greasy and salty taste of bacon is balanced by the sweetness of the tomatoes. The tasteless and smoothness of the avocado hide the salt and highlight the crunchiness of the bacon. The eggs are just the perfect addition as with their pungent and earthy taste serve as a break to the other complicated mix of flavors. And cheese, well, who doesn’t love a piece of chewy and smelly gouda?

A Delish Fish Dish

On Saturday afternoon I decided to take a drive and ended up at La Bella Managua. This restaurant has one of the best fried fish in Toronto. Once I got a table, I immediately asked the waiter for the fish of the day. He said that it was Robalo. I did not think twice about it and told him that I was going to get it. The fried fish was served with a side of fried raw plantain, avocado salad and fried yuca for an extra cost.

The time went by so slow as I was sipping on my cold water while waiting for my fish.

As the waiter approached the table, my eyes opened as wide as my mouth when I noticed that the fish tail was almost hanging from the plate. The waiter smiled and said: –Here you go miss, enjoy! I smiled back and thanked him.

I took a deep breath as I was pleased by the look and smell of the fish that was put in front of me. I was already tasting the juiciness of the meat in my head as I was grabbing the fork. I used the fork to cut through the crispy skin to reach the white and smooth fish meat. I took the lemon wedge that was placed on my plate and squeezed the lemon juice out of it onto the fish. I blew a bit as the meat was still hot and took my first bite. The skin of the fish was salty and oily while the meat just dissolved in my mouth without much effort. I was delighted.

I started to devour the fish so quickly that I did not realize I was even eating the bones. The bones were so small and cooked so well that you could bite into them without realizing it. The saltiness of the skin mixed perfectly with the juices from the meat and the lemon juice resulted in a party of flavors in my mouth. I was in paradise. The fins and tale were cooked to perfection that I had to eat them as well. They were so crispy I almost felt like I was eating chips.

Once I was done with half the fish, I decided to then taste the avocado salad. The avocado was cut in small cubes and it was so smooth that I could smash it with my own fork. I could also taste the slipperiness of the oil that was added as dressing as well as the freshness of the thinly cut tomatoes. The salad was served in a bed of mixed greens that absorbed the juices from the vegetables. The greens were wet and chewy and no longer crispy when I got to them.

The raw fried plantains were a bit bland that I had to add salt to them after my first bite. They were chewy, soft and a bit on the sweet side, it almost felt like eating a salty marshmallow. The fried yuca next to the plantains was presented in small cubes and fried until reaching a golden color. To me, they were perfect. The soft and delicate taste of the yuca took me back to the plains of Venezuela. I envisioned my grandmother peeling the yuca and throwing it in a big cauldron that had boiling water in it, where the yuca was cooked slowly using wood. The intriguing thing about yuca is that the taste does not match its looks. A yuca looks rough and hard on the outside, however, it tastes is smooth, delicate and silky.

My plate was almost clean at this point. I was so focused on enjoying the different flavors I did not realize the fish was gone, all of it. I even poked the eyeballs out and ate them. They really do not taste like anything, but they are juicy and tough to chew. It feels just like eating a mint but with a fishy taste.

Friday Mood

Today is a good day. Friday is always a good day.

On Fridays I’m always listening to music and thinking what I’ll be ordering for dinner. I usually don’t cook on Friday night, specially now, during quarantine, since we cannot go out to eat or hang out with friends, I’ve figured out a way to have a good time at home.

Below is a list of songs that I have saved on a playlist for Fridays night at home and that put me in a good mood.

I have only chosen these 5 because they were under the “most played” on my Spotify. So I guess I listen to them even when is not Friday!

I could keep adding more, but I will do more of these posts in the future for sure.

Happy Friday everyone!