Thursday, November 01, 2012

Halloween! (And Sansotei Ramen review) (And Dia de los Muertos!)

I took yesterday off of work to prepare for Halloween and I just BARELY MADE IT.  Seriously, pumpkins were being lit, I was yelling at the Dotytron to throw the Big Yam outside and dinner clean-up still had to happen by the time the first kids started knocking on our door.  I don't know how you do it if you don't take a vacation day.  

These are my pumpkins this year:

Golias from My Big Big Friend.  My one Halloween concession for the Big Yam was this pumpkin.  He was so happy when he saw it!  He also insisted on bringing the wet, slimy, pumpkin-smeared paper template I used to the drop-in centre with him.

Prince because I like to keep things thematically sound.

I was pretty crazy productive yesterday, so that made things worth it.  I banged off a batch of snickerdoodles, made a double recipe of pie pastry for the freezer, made yesterday's dinner and tonight's dinner, made a lemon meringue pie, went to the drop-in centre, carved 2 pumpkins, and squeezed in a trip to Kensington market and back for a (fruitless) search for Day of the Dead decor for dinner tonight.  Oh, and I also made a last-minute batch of pumpkin butterscotch blondies because if there's one guarantee in life, it's that rainy evenings make me yearn for something warm and homebaked.

I took the Big Yam out trick-or-treating.  He didn't really get it.  He was just happy to be outside after dinner for a change.  He walked up to people's houses and when I coached him with, "what do you say?" he said, "please!"  It was pretty cute.  But I can tell you that I wasn't about to go traipsing around all night in the wet and cold so we were out for about 20 minutes and then headed home (20 minutes in toddler trick-or-treating time is like, 5 houses).

On Tuesday I went to see Thomas Keller speak with JJ (the Discerning Coyote's big sister).  Thomas Keller was a bit of a robot.  He's not really a cook anymore - he's a restauranteur, and the interviewer was lobbing really soft questions and he was answering them in a really boring way - it was all standard stuff: "learn from your mistakes" "practice" but delivered in a paternalistic, vaguely patronizing style.  I wasn't a fan, but it was fun to go and get the cookbook, and hang with JJ.

Beforehand, I took advantage of the time in between work and the start of the talk to check out this ramen place that's had Toronto ramen aficionados all abuzz, Sansotei Ramen.  The last time I tried to go with Dr. Rei, they ran out of broth and posted a sign on their window (which is pretty hardcore, in my humble opinion).  There are also frequent line-ups.  I got in around 5:20pm and sat down and looked at their slim menu.  I'm a purist (as everyone who knows me is already aware) so I almost always get a tonkotsu ramen or a shio ramen.  I'm not a fan of Kenzo-style "king of kings" or spicy ramen with corn and stuff.  It's just not for me.  Anyway, this place caters to purists.  Your choices are tonkotsu, tonokotsu shoyu, shio, or miso ramen.  There are 3 or 4 other items.  I ordered the zangi (bits of fried chicken thighs) and the tonkotsu and it was without a doubt the best ramen I've ever had in my life.

The ramen noodles were perfectly cooked, still chewy and al dente.  The egg was divine, with a gorgeous, golden runny yolk.  They serve their ramen with fungus and a tasty piece of rolled pork shoulder.  But the broth - the broth was perfection!  Sweet, milky, creamy with all the rendered goodness of pork bones long simmered.  The pork shoulder was juicy, rich, and ever-so-slightly smoky tasting.  The balance of seasoning was on point - unlike so many other places, it wasn't too salty.  At Kinton, they thwack the extra fat on top, but I didn't notice this here, which means that the broth is less rich, but more tasty for it.  The zangi was crisp, juicy, but a bit paltry for the $4.50 price tag.  I couldn't think of a more satisfying meal on a rainy day.  I also can't wait to go back with the Dotytron in tow.  The flavour of that broth and the juicy, fatty pork haunt me.  I loved the chewiness of the fungus.  With ramen places opening up at the rate of one a week in Toronto, that Japanese font (that Guu brought to TO) is really getting a workout!  

Last night's dinner: wild mushroom barley risotto with a poached egg and bacon.  Salad of fried green tomatoes (properly breaded this time) on dancine lettuce with bacon and buttermilk-chive dressing.

Today is the Day of the Dead!  We are observing this year to remember Poppa and Poppa D and my Kung Kung.  I set up a little altar in the living room with photos and candles.  We will eat posole and I made a lemon meringue pie (Poppa D's favorite).  We will hopefully talk about them and remember them and laugh and hope that their spirits come back for a visit and a nosh.  I love Dia de los Muertos.  I think it's such a wonderful idea - to celebrate and laugh and remember the dead fondly instead of being all super-white person repressed about it and burying our feelings.  The dead do walk among us, and just because they're no longer occupying a flesh-based dimension, doesn't mean that we shouldn't invite them into our homes.  I'm going to get on the ball and order some proper decor for next year.  Sugar skulls and skull candle holders and those beautiful tissue paper cut-outs garlands and the like.  If the weather wasn't so rotten we'd be doing something at Poppa D's grave, but we might save that for this weekend instead.  

Here is a photo of those butterscotch pumpkin blondies.  I made them to rid my fridge of a tupperware of leftover pumpkin puree from Thanksgiving pie making.  I tinkered with the recipe a bit and came up with something I really enjoyed.  It's quite light, and not dense like a brownie/blondie is.  I added an extra egg and doubled the amount of pumpkin and changed the chip type from my base recipe.  It's like a soft, mushy (but in a good way!!!) pumpkin square with warm, spicy, toffee notes.  I think my messing with the recipe resulted in a lack of that crackly top that you usually get with blondies/brownies, but I've been getting rave reviews for this, so I've attached the recipe below.

Happy Dia de los Muertos, everyone!


Pumpkin Butterscotch Blondies
makes 20 squares

1 stick of unsalted butter
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/3 c. white sugar
1 t. vanilla extract
1 c. pumpkin puree
2 eggs
1 c. flour
1 t. salt
3/4 t. cinnamon
1/4 t. allspice
1/4 t. cloves
1 c. butterscotch chips

- melt the butter in a small saucepan and cook until the milk solids are caramelized and the butter smells nutty and toasty (do not burn!)*
- whisk the butter with the two sugars until well combined.
- stir in the eggs, pumpkin, and vanilla.
- add the dry ingredients.
- fold in the chips.
- pour into an 8" square baking pan lined with two strips of parchment paper laid crosswise with overhang.
- bake in a 350F oven for about 35-30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
- let the blondies cool for 15 minutes, lift out of the pan with the help of your parchment overhang and cut into 20 squares.

*note: the original recipe called for browning the butter.  I didn't notice that I could taste the browned butter so I think you could easily omit this extra step.  

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