Spicy Beef Chili

Tomorrow marks the first day of fall, and while every cafe and restaurant has you convinced that pumpkin spice-flavored everything is the answer to all our problems, I’m leaning in a different direction. No disrespect to squash-flavored caffeine, but I’d rather go for a warm, comforting bowl of chili to herald the changing season.

This spicy beef chili is time consuming but oh so worth it. Bonus: the heated leftovers taste even better.

Spicy beef chili

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 pounds chuck steak, cut into 1/2-inch dice
salt and pepper
1 pound hot Italian sausages, casings removed and meat broken into small pieces
1 small white onion, chopped
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon paprika
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
One 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 cup water
One 15-ounce can pinto beans, drained
One 15-ounce can cannellini beans, drained
One 15-ounce can kidney beans, drained
Shredded cheddar cheese, chopped green onions, and sour cream, for serving

1. In a large pot, heat the oil. Season the chuck with salt and pepper. Add half of the chuck and cook over moderately high heat until browned, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the meat to a plate. Repeat with the remaining chuck. Add the sausage and cook until browned, breaking it up with a spoon, about 4 minutes. Add the sausage to the diced chuck.

2. Add the chopped onion to the casserole and cook over moderate heat until tender, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in the chili powder, paprika, cumin and the chuck, sausage and any accumulated juices. Cook, stirring until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and their juices and the water. Cover and sim-mer over moderately low heat for 1 hour.

3. Stir in the beans and simmer uncovered until thickened, about 15 minutes. Season with salt. Serve the chili in deep bowls, passing the cheese, scallions, and sour cream on the side.

The Parish Cafe

Fancy an authentic po’ boy but can’t make it to Louisiana? How about Healdsburg instead? Seriously, some of the best New Orleans cuisine I’ve had this side of the Mississippi is in none other but Sonoma County. Go figure.

Blackened catfish po' boy

The Parish Cafe is only a couple of years old but it’s already garnered a following. Wanting to stay on the healthier side, I ordered a blackened catfish po’ boy and it did not disappoint. Fresh-tasting and full of spicy flavor, I could have easily been eating this in NOLA. The Parish Cafe’s lunch menu is primarily po’ boys but next time, I’m also going for the specials, like the gumbo and muffaletta.

Beignets

Any airs I had about being healthy went out the window when our group ordered a plate of beignets to share. Now, this might be blasphemy, but these beignets were actually better than any I’ve tasted in New Orleans. It took every ounce of self-control to not order another plate of these.

The Parish Cafe is open only for breakfast and lunch, so go early. And while the menu isn’t all Creole or Cajun, their Louisianian transplant chef has made sure it’s all New Orleans and all delicious.

Toronto, Day Seven

When I travel, I try to take it easy on my last full day in a new city. So on our seventh day in Toronto, Nishan and I enjoyed a lazy morning before heading over to Khao San Road for a Thai lunch. Named after a street in central Bangkok where the chef grew up, Toronto’s Khao San Road is in the middle of the city’s entertainment district and exudes a hip, laidback vibe.

Bangkok-style pad thai

We started with the Bangkok-style pad thai. Flavored with tamarind, shallots, chives, fish sauce, peanuts, and lime, this was easily some of the best pad thai I’ve ever tasted.

Pad gra prao

We also had a plate of the pra grad prao. I usually cook this dish with chicken, but here, we ordered it with beef and topped with with a fried egg. A wonderful choice. After all, everything tastes better drizzled with runny yolk, especially when it’s combined with chili, garlic, and basil.

Royal Ontario Museum

Afterwards we took the metro to the Royal Ontario Museum where we checked out their special exhibit on Mesopotamia. My favorite thing about the museum, though, was the building itself. Originally built in 1912 in a Neo-Romanesque style, the museum added a deconstructivist crystalline-form in 2007 made of glass and aluminium sitting on top of a steel frame. The crystal’s walls do not touch the sides of the heritage buildings.

Nuit Blanche

Later that evening, we were lucky to catch Nuit Blanche, an annual all-night or night-time arts festival. Toronto’s Nuit Blanche included private and public art galleries open all night long, with the center of the city itself being turned into a de facto art gallery, art installation, and performance space. The evening even included a special installation of Ai Weiwei’s Forever Bicycles.

Whether or not we realize it in the states, Toronto is a world-class city. There’s just so much brewing beneath the surface.

Toronto, Day Six

We woke up on our sixth morning to a rainy and cool Toronto. I can’t think of anything better than ramen to eat on a drizzly day, so Nishan and I made our way to the downtown core to Santouka Ramen. Based in Japan but with outposts all over the world, Santouka specializes in Hokkaido-style tonkotsu broth and chewy, perfectly cooked noodles.

Shoyu ramen

Salmon roe rice bowl

I got a bowl of the shoyu ramen and a salmon roe rice bowl. Nishan got the shio ramen and you know what? Both were incredible, but the shio was better. Who knew the humbly-named salt ramen could taste so perfect? My rice bowl was wonderful, too: fluffy dashi-infused rice topped with thin shreds of egg and salty orbs of roe.

Once we were fortified, we took a walk along nearby Yonge Street, one of the longest streets in the world and also Toronto’s main street and major shopping district. We popped in Eaton Centre too, if only to admire what the US has yet to achieve: classy, pretty malls. It didn’t even really feel like a mall, except for the ginormous flagship Hudson’s Bay department store. I can’t believe I have fuzzy warm feelings towards a mall.

All that mall-ing can make a person hungry (again), so we ended our day with an order of Montreal smoked meat poutine from Smoke’s and a gin rickey from the Library Bar at the Fairmont Hotel. It may not have been the healthiest end to our day, but it sure was a delicious one.

Toronto, Day Five

If you told me that the dim sum in Toronto is better than San Francisco’s, I wouldn’t have believed you unless I tried it for myself. And that’s exactly what I did and it turns out Toronto wins (insert Drake joke here). Nishan and I headed over to Lai Wah Heen for a decadent dim sum brunch on our fifth day in the city and even though it’s been nine months since we visited, I can’t get these luxurious morsels out of my head.

Soft bean curd sheet dim sum

We started with a soft bean curd sheet dim sum with mushrooms and truffle. This was perfect but amazingly the broth was the best thing about this dish. I want to drink this truffle-laden broth for breakfast every morning. And lunch. And dinner.

Beef mouse and mandarin peel rice roll

We also had the beef mousse and mandarin peel rice roll. Ethereal, savory, and ever-so-slightly citrusy. Delicious.

Minced chicken and truffle dumplings

Next we had the minced chicken and truffle dumplings. My only regret is that this didn’t taste more like truffles.

Crystal jelly

We finished our meal with a plate of crystal jelly with wolfberries. I love these types of textures and the cool, clean flavor was a perfect ending to our dim sum. Oh, Lai Wah Heen. I can’t wait until we meet again.

St. Lawrence Market

After brunch we took a break and headed over to St. Lawrence Market, one of the best food markets in North America and also where I tried my first pecan butter tart. Butter tarts are quintessentially Canadian and this one was like pecan pie. Except more butter. Mmm, buttery pecan pie.

Next up was the historical Distillery District, where we walked off all that dim sum and pastry. The district is the site of the former Gooderham and Worts Distillery and is the largest collection of Victorian-era industrial architecture in North America. These days, it houses loads of trendy cafes and fashionable shops selling local wares.

Distillery District

Distillery District

For dinner, we headed back towards the downtown core for reservations at Momofuku. David Chang opened up a multi-restaurant building in Toronto a couple of years ago and the hyper-industrial glass building is hard to miss. Inside, we had a distinctly Momofuku experience: falafel buns, brussels sprouts with fish sauce and puffed rice, corn with nori butter, hangar steak with kimchi, and the most Momofuku finish of them all: fried apple pie.

Fried apple pie

Momofuku pulled off being playful without playing around, if that makes sense. Next time I’m picking up a few compost cookies to take home.