Thursday, May 05, 2022

Dispatches from the front: A surrender in the chip war of 2022?


A few weeks ago, news broke that the standoff over pricing between Frito-Lay and Loblaw that had stripped chip shelves bare at Loblaws, Superstore, Independent Grocers and Shoppers had ended. I asked, tongue in cheek, who won?

After a recent visit to my local Shoppers, the winner was clear. And I don't think it was Canada's largest grocer -- who still owe me my gift card for fixing the bread market.

The heart of the dispute was that Frito-Lay wanted to raise prices and Loblaw thought their proposed increases were not justified by increased costs. So, for a rare occassion, I sided with Loblaw. Stick it to the man, other man.

Well, keeping in mind Loblaw already marks up groceries at shoppers a lot, a bag of Lays went from $4.20 before the war to $4.90 now. Looks like a win for big chip to me, unless they wanted an even bigger increase.

On the good news front, peace in our time has brought us Flaming Hot Cool Ranch Doritos. What a time to be alive.

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Thursday, December 23, 2021

Eating off the Hill: Seafood with a harbour view at Toscano's Mediterranean Grill

While I have let up somewhat on my don't eat seafood unless you can smell the salt air rule over the years, I do still like to maximize my seafood opportunities when on either of the coasts. And finding myself in the Comox Valley for Christmas, dinner at Toscano's Mediterranean Grill for some good West Coast seafood was on the menu. You can even see the Comox Harbour out the window -- when it's not pitch black so early in the evening...

There were some interesting pasta and other grill options on the menu, but as discussed, I was here for seafood. For my starter I went with the Lemon Chili Garlic Prawns, described on the menu as Wild-caught red prawns sautéed in chili, garlic, and lemon butter.

Topped with microgreens, they were served in a sizzling skillet, which kept them piping hot as I worked my way through. The lemon wedge was hidden by the greens so I didn't see (and use) it until I was half way through. While well-cooked and flavorful, I would have liked a bit more chili heat. Still, an excellent starter.

For my main, while I was tempted by some seafood pasta, I went for a more fish-forward main: Pan-Seared Steelhead, described on the menu as Fresh steelhead with polenta, grilled vegetables, carrot puree, orange caper beurre blanc, Eatmore Sprouts microgreens.

Very nicely plated, and a good serving of fish. My only down-note would be that the veg was a bit too charred (ie, burnt) in some places. Otherwise an excellent dish. The fish was cooked nicely, flaky with a nice sear. Tasty sauce. For me the surprise standout was the polenta, that was so creamy and delicious with an excellent toast on top. Every bite was delicious.

Will definitely be eating more fish before I leave.

Dairy Queen blizzard for dessert not pictured. 

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Tuesday, November 09, 2021

Eating off the Hill: Rotisserie chicken dinner with my air fryer

 As mentioned a few weeks ago, I bought an air fryer. And while I quickly tried the usual air fryer favourites like like chicken wings, tendies, sammies and tater tots, this model also featured a rotisserie function which I was eager to try. And for Sunday dinner last week, I did just that.

My roast chicken experience is limited to spatchcocking for roasting in a cast iron pan. I've gotten good at that, but that method doesn't require trussing. For rotisserie it's a necessity, so I consulted the Google machine and YouTube, having secured butcher's twine, and gave it a shot.

I thought I had it in good shape, then once I put it in the fryer and starting the spinning, the wings were all flopping around. I took it out and tried to secure the wings with trial and frustration. Putting it back in again, now the drumsticks were flopping. More twine and profanity later, it was tied down and, having rubbed the chicken in olive oil and seasoned it with salt and pepper, I left it to spin.

The recipe I followed recommended 60 minutes at 350F, and I was able to quickly able to welcome the smell of roasting chicken -- but without the heat given off by a full-sized oven -- and without the need to pre-heat.

I kept an eye on it, especially as time ticked down, to make sure it didn't burn. I needn't have worried; it came out with a beautiful golden brown at 60 minutes, and was up to temp. I took it out and tented it in foil to rest, happy to find juices in the pan for a homemade gravy.

Platting with sautéed gnocchi and mushrooms and my chicken gravy, chop salad on the side, it was a tasty Sunday dinner accomplished in less time than it would have taken to roast it in the oven. Leftovers for days, and the opportunity to replenish my homemade chicken stock supply. And Farm Boy had whole chickens on sale yesterday, so I already have the next roast chicken in the freezer.

Will be another chance to improve my trussing technique...

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Friday, November 05, 2021

Trying Air Canada's new Ottawa to Toronto Island service

For years, Porter Airlines has had a lock on the Toronto Island Airport, aka Billy Bishop or YTZ, flying  Bombardier Q400 turboprop aircraft to points in Eastern Canada and the Northeastern United States. Air Canada's only service from the island was to Montreal.

That changed on Halloween, when Air Canada announced it would run four round-trips daily between the island and Ottawa. I head down to Scarborough for work every few months and usually fly Porter, because it's much easier to fly through the YTZ and get out to the borough than it is to go through Pearson. But if I could build up my Aeroplan points AND have the convenience of the island, that's a win-win.

So, needing to head down to the borough this week, I booked the new Air Canada service. Like Porter, they operate the  Bombardier Q400 turboprop aircraft on this route under the Air Canada Express banner.

On Thursday, I was on the 8:30 PM departure out of YOW. An Air Canada flight to Pearson leaving a little earlier had a decent size crowd board at the next gate over. My waiting area was empty, but eventually two other people came. Turns our, there would just be three of us on the flight.

The gate agent personally delivered us each new boarding passes as, due to the low passenger count, we had to be seated in the back of the plane for weight and balance. And instead of a booming recorded by zone boarding announcement, she just walked over and invited us each to board at our leisure.

And I was first off the plane...

I was curious to see if they'd match the Porter onboard service. While I'll have to wait for the flight back to see if they're offering wine, for the breakfast flight they did have the snack basket, and I was encouraged to take all I would like. No problem with my Diet Coke either -- full can for the win. Love the Biscoffs. Good bar was tasty. Packaged croissant so-so.

Breakfast of champions

Two flight attendants for the three passengers, and we both left and arrived early. Very bumpy descending through the clouds on the approach, as it often is flying into the island, but once below the layer the landing was smooth.

The Town of Trenton and CFB Trenton

All in all it was what I hoped for -- Porter with Aeroplan points (wasn't that supposed to happen though?). I'm sitting on 200k+ from my IT journalism days, so happy to consolidate. They'll be my regular for this route, as long as they operate it -- with passenger loads like this, it may not last long...

UPDATE: My afternoon snack selection during the return flight, which had a pax count of 10 or so.

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Monday, November 01, 2021

Eating in Montreal: A feast at Maison Publique

 A weekend away was always in my post-election plans, and when I decided on Montreal, having a fantastic meal was at the top of my list. Often I would just dash in for a hockey game and eat at the St. Hubert next to the Bell Centre, but this trip was going to be different.

While, of course, the high-profile (and undoubtedly excellent) Joe Beef and Liverpool House immediately came to mind, with a Friday night as my only free dinner option securing advance reservations at either hot spot -- unless you're bringing Barrack Obama with you -- wasn't possible.

After much research and consultation, I settled on Maison Publique -- and I'm quite happy I did. Especially after I learned chef/owner Derek Dammann is not only a fellow BCer, but a fellow Vancouver Islander, hailing from Campbell River.

It's a very small, unassuming pub-like spot on a residential street that was quite a long taxi ride from my hotel near McGill. But as we pulled up and the driver saw where we were going, he said "Oh, this place is really good." -- a good sign.

After checking vaccination passports, we were shown to a table that was conveniently right under the menu, which is only written on chalk squares on the wall. Since my French vocabulary usually trends to more pedestrian fare, our excellent server was happy to walk us through the options, suggesting four to five plates shared amongst two people would be an excellent meal.

Given that the menu was in French and on a chalkboard, I won't be able to accurately describe every dish we had. But I'll let the pictures do the talking.

We began with what was probably my favourite of our dishes: the mushroom toast. I was a bit sad I had to share it, and tried to slow myself to savour every bite. A delicious medley of sauced mushrooms, on a delicious fancy mayo on toasted rye. Divine.

Next we had our second vegetarian dish, a delicious pumpkin-stuffed pasta. Delicate homemade pasta, flavorful pumpkin filling, cheese and a balsamic drizzle. I could have eaten two plates myself. My only though would be some nuts would have added a nice textural contrast. But really good.

Moving on to the meat courses, up next was baked cod with vegetables and a sauce that I forget but was quite tasty. The cod was amazing soft and tender, like butter. But I was a bit disappointed. I would have liked some crisp or roast; it was a bit bland and unseasoned and relied too much on the sauce.

I tried for a few minutes to find an angle to capture just how massive this lamb leg was. It was huge. The two of us did out best but couldn't quite finish it. It was expertly prepared, the meat tender and delicious. I'll admit I'm not a big lamb guy, but this was pretty good, and the showcase of our meal.

Finally, I did manage to save space for desert. A slice of cheesecake with red wine prunes, if my memory of the server's translation is correct. It was fantastic. Graham cracker crumb, which to me is essential to cheesecake but is often overlooked. The cheesecake itself as divine, creamy and smooth and close-your-eyes delicious. Fruit topping a nice complement.

It wasn't cheap -- definitely a #TreatYourself meal -- but the food and service were excellent and it ticks the boxes for what you want from a fancy meal out -- quality ingredients well-prepared for dishes you couldn't make yourself. Definitely recommend a visit when you're in Montreal.

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