a is for artichoke

Chinatown yields exotic, at reasonable prices. A friend, needing to finish a photography assignment, suggested for me to tag along. So there I was, armed with a camera, cavorting through the streets on a beautiful day.


shepherd's pie is made with: ____?


I must sheepishly confess that this little fact was unbeknownst to me until four days ago. When I did find out, however, I did one of those hand-slap-to-forehead gestures: of course it's made with lamb! It's not not called cattle rancher's pie for a reason.

My first encounter with shepherd's pie was in elementary school, and I remember feeling indifferent about it. Looking back, I suspect it was because 1) the mashed potatoes were rehydrated from powder, 2) the ground meat was rather boring, and 3) the corn was never inside of the pie, but served instead on the side. Naturally, I've always had a pallet for Asian food, and they weren't serving any of mum's cooking in school. Instead, I was exposed to mediocre cafeteria versions of white-people food: they certainly didn't make mac and cheese, or chicken à la king in a memorable manner. My introduction to the actual world of caucasian cuisine was only a recent phenomenon. As I've been asian-ifying the boy with noodley concoctions, turnip cake, and shitake mushrooms, he's directed my affection towards his renditions of mac and cheese (which I will have to blog about soon) and shepherd's pie.

Woah. WOAH!
Can a true Asian claim that meat-and-potatoes = beauty?
I think so.

Since those early years, the consumption-count of 'real' shepherd's pie is at a pitifully low '3' (sure to change, of course). They were all courtesy of the boy, and uber tasty - though made with ground beef, times 1 and 2 should be aptly named cottage pies. The latest version was a 'proper' one, made with ground spring lamb. You may already have guessed that our dinner last Wednesday was mighty, mighty fine.


a simple tomato sauce

It's been a while since store bought pasta sauce has entered my stomach. Why bother with the overly sweet stuff on the supermarket shelves, when you can make it at home, to taste?

Our cupboard is always home to at least one or two large cans of whole tomatoes, which are easily sauce-able. And though I'm an advocate of fresh produce, a tomato sauce from the canned goodies surpasses the 'real' deal when examining their respective price/quality ratios.

The secret is that there is no secret. No 'recipe', either, but I always start out with:

one large can of whole tomatoes (of the 28oz variety)
about 4-5 cloves of garlic
one goodly sized onion
canola or olive oil, depending on what my hand reaches first
Our trusty wok has been my cooking instrument of choice, as its large capacity easily handles the sauce. To start, I brown the garlic and onions with the hot oil: these two tasties have been chopped, depending on my mood, anywhere from a fine mince, to a chunky dice. Once the onions are verging on translucency, I dump the contents of the can into the hot wok, and usually spice it with a combination of basil, oregano, thyme, and black pepper. At this point, I'll usually start attacking the tomatoes with a wooden spatula to poke them into the right size - leaving chunks can be rather tasty, too, especially if I've opted for the coarsely chopped onions. This step can actually be done whenever, really. After a stir or two, I turn the stove to a medium-ish setting, so that the tomatoes are left to simmer (watch out for a very red splattered kitchen when boiling tomatoes on high).

And then, it's just a matter of patience!

I usually stir the concoction every once in a while, and about 30-40 minutes later, most of the watery substance will be gone. A little bit of sugar will be added to balance the acidity of the tomatoes. On various occasions of sauce or stock making, I've made the mistake of adding too much salt, too early on, forgetting about the reduction of volume that is to occur - so I usually stick to adding salt near the end.

Simple? Yes! Multipurpose? Also, yes!
This stuff works wonders on pizza, too.


homebrewing cider

For four days now, I have been bombarded with fermentation-related jargon.

With it being the season of final exams and all, my scholastic apathy was forced, 180, into sudden studiousness, so unfortunately, I've been unable to digest too much of the boy's babble. I did, however, happily capture photos of his new one gallon carboy, currently housing his first batch of cider. Stay tuned for updates, and the how-to's of it all.

Anyone else find the airlock mechanism phallic?

Look at the yeasties go!

Staring at his new pet:


all in the name of a good meal

A part of my finger is now missing.

Only a small, small, small part of my left pointer (like, 1/8 of my nail, and the flesh beneath it), though, so it's not all that exciting. I would post photos, but I wanted to spare those who are squeamish at heart. It may not come a surprise that it was thanks to a kitchen accident, and occurred while prepping pizza toppings - chopping green onions, to be exact. I've been told a million times to not have dangling appendages from my guide hand, as my right hand grips the knife to slice and dice. But since my first handling of a Chinese cleaver at age 8, I haven't been able to shake the bad habit of not curling fingers out of harm's way. And this isn't the first time it's happened, either. Only last time it was the tip of my thumb.

I laughed the injury off (really, it didn't hurt too much), and proceeded to finish the business of pizza. The boy, as always, made some tasty herbed rendition of pizza dough in the bread maker. This time, our lovely pizza sported mozzarella, green onions, brown button mushrooms, roasted garlic and red peppers, Italian sausage, and feta on the adventurous half. The other side - prepared as we didn't know the specific taste buds of our our dinner company - sported the first 3 ingredients. It definitely turned out to be a tasty, colourful meal.


knead-less to say, it'll be in a wok

The boy, dorkus magnus, was quite excited to try his professor's bread recipe.

At McGill, there are a handful of courses offered by the chemistry department that cover tidbits of everyday trivia-type stuff. This semester, these 'world of chem' lectures included one on food (incidentally, it's available for the public online). Having been stuck on a baking phase for the past while, I wasn't the least bit surprised when the boy excitedly directed my attention to a bread recipe passed down from Prof. Harpp's mother.

One caveat: we don't own enamelled cast iron cookware. And this recipe calls for the baking to occur in such a device. And, as much as these things are beautiful and durable through decades and are certainly heavy enough to implement in knocking-out-home-invaders, it was going to be a little bit of an investment. A purchase that had to be planned in advance, anyway, since we're living on budgets fit for student living. (A Cruset, along with a good quality espresso maker, are among many kitchen toys we're considering for September.)

Time to get creative: He reached for the wok. Bread in a wok? Well, the wok is rather large, and cast iron, so it implies that the final temperature of the cooking vessel will be a little higher, no? And it has a lid (which was necessary, since the first part of the baking is done with a lid on). I confess I was a little skeptical since I'm sure the expansion/contraction rates of the glass lid differed from the metal trimming. But we've had several loaves of this stuff since the first baking, and the lid is still (quite) intact. And the bread's been getting tastier. Nothing beats fresh bread for breakfast, especially when the boy decides to wake up an hour before me to bake a loaf that was left to rise overnight. I do believe my ancestors would be proud of this clever wok usage, resulting in yummy, crusty bread without fail.

Here's the recipe (all measurements are approximations - the best way is to fiddle with it for a loaf or two, and tweak until complete satisfaction!):

4 cup flour
1/2 tsp yeast
2 tsp salt
2 cup water
Mix the ingredients in a large bowl: since this recipe doesn't require the dough to be kneaded, it's a good idea to mix everything thoroughly enough so you don't end up with extremely salty bits here and there. Cover the mixed dough with a damp towel, and let it sit for anywhere between 9 to 15 hours - the boy plops it in the oven (off, of course) overnight, as the oven stays at a relatively stable temperature despite open windows and such. Once you've exerted all of that patience, the dough is put into the cooking vessel - (insert enamelled cast iron pot here) in our case, the wok. Preheat the oven to 450F, or 500 if your oven lets you do so. The cooking times are about 30 minutes with the lid, then the lid is removed for the remaining 20 minutes (though for our oven, the last 20 have been shaved down to about 15).


ottawa feasts, midnight snacks, and lunch

Part of the long weekend was spent in Ottawa, during which, unsurprisingly, there existed a repeated theme of food. Easter dinner with the boy’s family included: a creamy broco-cran salad, a lettuce salad with uber sharp red onions, spiced butternut squash soup, turkey (served with a nutty pecan stuffing), clove-studded ham, vegetarian quiche, sweet potatoes, apple pie, cherry-apple pie, lemon meringue pie. (!!)

Onwards, post dinner adventures: brief catch-ups with friends, meeting of the fiancée, cigars on the rooftop of a 20-something story building. And then? Someone wanted shawarma. Do you know how difficult it is to find a joint that is open on the Sunday night/Monday morning of the Easter long weekend? Scouring downtown Ottawa shortly after 1am, we finally landed on the corner of Elgin & Gladstone. Marroush International is a very moderate joint, with a very nutsy balding and mustache wearing owner. Entertaining. Random. And “full service” entails a dramatic unwrapping of your sandwich, complete with the rip-plus-toss-with-a-flair of the foil covering. All in a farcically sexual (but so very unsexy) manner. I was trying to parse the expression on the face of a North Bay-er: was she creeped/shocked/entertained/laughing/etc? I didn’t order anything myself, but snuck a bite (or two or three) of the boy’s sandwich. Thumbs up from him.

After sleeping off the randomness, we met with an old friend of the boy’s for lunch. It seems that cross-city franchises have different expectations at their various locations. The boy, when in Winnipeg last summer, had positive remarks regarding drinks and cocktails at Moxie’s. I, on the other hand, encountered a version in Toronto (the one at Fairview mall) that left me wanting much, much more. If memory serves me, I had ordered the soup/sandwich combo - my soup was tepid, and my club sandwich was lacking bacon and tomatoes. Due to my preconceived notions of Moxie’s nation-wide, I had to do a slight double take this past Monday: we walked into a modern looking venue that was large and two-storied, with an open kitchen (though the fake wood-fire oven was disappointing), and attractive waitstaff. I soon discovered tjat the washrooms were just as trendy (I’m a fan of the tiled trough sink). Then, the food. For what it was, it certainly surpassed my expectations (the fries did, however, leave me parched for the remainder of the afternoon). I ordered the portobelo baguette-sandwich, and the boy and friend seemed to find their respective steak sandwiches just dandy (open-faced steak sandwich, which was the special of the day, and greek salad steak wrap).

Back in Montreal, the snagged turkey leftovers (now sitting prettily in the freezer), hopefully imply that we’ll finally get around to making a savoury, curry pie.


sweet potato fries

Perfectly complimentary to sweet dinner company, and baked 5-spice ribs plus asparagus. I think next time, I'd like to try spicing them with cumin.


mondo fritz, revisted

Not long ago, I was raving about the yummy poutine at Mondo Fritz (we had had a hankering for grease after beer @ Brutopia). Within two weeks of that outing, I revisited Mondo Fritz for more of a lunch time meal, to catch up with a friend. Visite numero 2 has left me with complex sentiments about the restaurant, which I shall share:

Still a thumbs way up for their service: speedy, and pleasant, like last time. I ordered one of their burgers (I believe it was the "Danoise") with a side of fries - fantastic toppings of blue cheese and sundried tomato, but the crux of the burger left me craving my own rendition (secret ingredient = soy sauce in the ground beef). The meat patty was a little off, size-wise, in comparison to the rather large bun (to be fair, the kaiser was quite tasty and fresh), but it was pretty standard fare, and rather overdone. As were the fries, they were much darker than the last rendition - though I wonder what the poute would've tasted like sans gravy. Crispier fries are certainly better at holding themselves up to ladles of gravy, but when when they're on their own, even the Mondo Fritz's tasty variations of mayo (the basil/pepper one rocks) can't save overdone/burnt ones. Portions were, again, quite generous.

pizza dinners

Bread machines are awesome! The boy's pizza crust has only improved/diversified over the past year, and this last (herbed) rendition was topped with roasted garlic, onions, mushrooms, and cheddar.

cinnamon swirl bread, v2

Version two was sans walnut in the swirl, which definitely helped the roll/swirl stay put in its shape and such. I couldn't resist capturing its full glory:


pork and napa dumplings

The boy wanted dumplings for dinner on his birthday. Done! I've been making them with my grandmother as long as I've been using chopsticks, and though it's a time consuming effort, the results are well worth it. It really doesn't matter what you throw into the filling, though I'm partial to ground pork as the meat base. These ones also sported copious amounts of ground ginger, shredded napa, and rehydrated shitake mushrooms. As per usual, swigs and dashes of soy sauce, sesame oil, ground pepper, and garlic powder were added to the concoction that amassed into the filling - my secret tactic for spice balance was to pan fry a glob of the filling to taste-test (plus I was feeling a little peckish). Then, onwards and upwards with placing the filling in store-bought wrappers (I should really make my own one day - it's merely flour and water). Needless to say, these pan fried beauties were consumed in a matter of minutes:


instant jellyfish

Yes, jellyfish! Quite edible, and non poisonous.

Jellyfish has been something that I've grown up with, and definitely not considered odd in my book of edibles (then again, it would be quite difficult to try and deter me when it comes to food). It was most fun to introduce it to the boy and a brave friend, who agreed upon viewing the package, that jellyfish was 'goopey looking'. [Package consisted of: pre-soaked, pre-shredded, insta-serve jellyfish in a sealed packet, alongside envelopes of MSG related seasonings plus sesame + chili oils]. Despite the floppy looking texture, one mustn't be fooled: jellyfish has a distinct and pleasant crunch! Random as the textures may be, it may help in explaining the fact that we often refer to jellyfish as 'rubber bands' in Cantonese.

Jellyfish itself is neither fishy nor seafood-like, and actually isn't very flavourful in general: it all becomes a function of the marinade in which it's thrown. Interestingly enough, jellyfish is associated with banquets for me, and has only been consumed out of that context rarely. Though the aforementioned packages are quite convenient, I look forward to buying the stuff that hasn't been pre-shredded to make my own rendition of jellyfish 'salad' - combining soy sauce, sesame oil, chili oil, and perhaps some rice vinegar and sugar. Sesame seeds are also fantastic additives for an extra nuttiness.