Saturday, October 30, 2010

Saturday, Oct 23rd - Chambar - LOUD LOUD LOUD

Belgian Poutine
Chambar is one of these local restaurant phenoms.  It's been popular since it's opening and even when other establishments are struggling fill the seats over the last year, Chambar seems to have seen through this economic downturn with not so much as a shrug.  I could say it's because it is one of the only non Fry bar Belgian restaurants in Vancouver but it's menu is hardly 100% loyal to that style of cuisine with one of their most popular Moroccan Tagine mains and their adaptation of the Quebecois native-star, Poutine.

I have a group of, (I hate this word) 'foodie' friends.  I'd prefer the tag that we love good food.  Brands leave scars. We're always trading recommendations for new restaurants, menus, chefs and standing favourites.  Chambar, for the long-tenured Vancouverites, is a common favourite. I would have to agree with their Moules et Frites, classic Belgian, and their amazing selection of beer pairings.  I went off the grid this time and it was not as big a raving success.  I'll admit it won't keep me from returning but it will keep me focussed on the Moules section of the menu.

We were really lucky to get a table on a Saturday night in prime time.  It's funny, we've sat at the same table with plushy leather chairs all three times we've eaten there.  Well, I normally love it except for the 3 times I was swiped by a bartender carrying an ice bucket to the bar, more than half a dozen times by loud cliens and 4 times I was bum rushed by servers running back and forth through the particularly narrow path in the centre of the restaurant.  I would not suggest those seats on busy nights.

As well, don't be misled by the decor and the sticker price.  It is not the demure nor romantic spot you may expect.  It is LOUD and ruckus.  Because of the popularity, people often make it a 'do' to have groups.  We were sat by a few groups that were literally shouting to each other at the table.  Shouting, without an ounce of exaggeration. Then there was the group who sang Happy Birthday at full volume like we were at TGIFridays.  Then the birthday boy's best friend yelled across the dining room that he was 30 and single.  Nice.

Autumn Salad

We shared two starters:  the seasonal Autumn Salad: Roasted Beets and Granny Smith apples, whipped Sheep Feta, mixed Greens and Herb salad, Almond Tuiles dressed with a Honey vinaigrette then the
Belgian Poutine: Peppercorn Demi Glaze with Blue Cheese and their famous Frites.  Salad was nice though it was shy on on the beets and the greens were standard pre-mix.  The poutine was yum.  The fries were not salted which is a pet peeve of mine.  The blue cheese was great.

strange Artic Char and Crab Cannelloni
I had then had the Ombre de l'Arctique et Crabe: Pan seared Arctic Char, Dungeness Crab Cannelloni, grilled Zucchini salad, Absynthe bisque.  It was not good.  I won't mince words.  The pasta was too al dente and the Crab was dressed with too many Fennel Seeds which was not very appetising.  The Char was nicely cooked on one piece but very under cooked on the other.  The two parts did not have ANYTHING to do with each other.  It was odd.  I should have stuck with their Moules.

salty Angus Steak
D had the Grilled 10oz Angus Ribeye steak, Root vegetables, Chimichurri, sauteed Chanterelles and Watercress.  It was a celebration in Salt.  The Chimichurri sauce was nice but it was sat under the vegetables.  The Steak had been over seasoned then the gravy with the Mushrooms were over seasoned.

Chocolate Cheesecake and Chocolate Mousse
I had the Chocolate Cheesecake for dessert and D ordered the Cheese plate.  The Cheesecake was served with a quesnelle of Chocolate Mousse.  You have to eat the two components together.  The cake was rather muted and slightly salty.  The two together was nice.  D's cheese plate was awesome.  I don't think I've seen such a substantial cheese plate for 1 person before.  The cheeses were lovely and yet again the Blue was too strong for D so I dove in.

Cheese Plate
Not the best over all visit.  Our server was not consistently attentive and the servers who were not ours were playing bumper cars with my chair.  The ambiance was more rowdy bar then elegant gastro experience.  I won't rush back until I have a Moules et Frites craving to satisfy.

Cost: $$$$
Ambiance: Rowdy, LOUD, incongruently casual
Service: inconsistent

Chambar Restaurant
562 Beatty St
(604) 879-7119

Vancouver, BC V6B
Chambar Restaurant on Urbanspoon


Sunday, October 24, 2010

Wednesday, Oct 20 - Wholewheat BBQ Pizzas - Marguerita, Veggie Salami and BBQ Smoked Tofu

BBQ Smoked Tofu Pizza - cooked
D used a new dough recipe this time.  He wasn't happy with it compared to the one we have been using lately.  I thought it was fine.  Wholewheat will definitely not have as smooth a texture as the all White.  I think if anything really affected the dough was the mix up with the flours. D is used to having one flour in the house: White, Unbleached, All Purpose.  Enter me and I have since stuffed our pantry Bread Flour, Rye, Cake Flour, Wholewheat Flour.  For some odd reason, D has a mental block between the Cake the Bread.  He cooks alot. He does at least half the cooking in the house so it's not like he's a culinary luddite.  He definitely has better technique than I.  But he has asked me what the difference between the Cake and Bread Flour is everytime he goes in for the flour.  This was 1 of 2 times this same week D has accidentally swapped the Bread for the Cake or vice versa.  The recipe D wanted to test out called for Bread Flour.  He used the Cake.

While describing to him that Bread has higher gluten and adds chewyiness and structure to breads, he tells me I'm wrong, it's meant to make it tender.  I tell him no, that's what Cake flour does. It's then he had the forehead smacking moment of, 'Oh crap!' used the wrong bag, even though the name and the description is written right on the bag :^P.  He swapped half way through but it definitely made the crust a bit cripier at the thinness we always roll it out too.  We always roll crack thin.

D used a dough recipe from a magazine D used to have a subscription to called 'Cook Illustrated'.  Each edition tests and perfects a particular recipe.  Well, I would say, 'tries' to perfect.  As I've said, it isn't quite our favourite Pizza Dough. As well, D bought their recommended Garlic press and I find the inserts very niggly and hard to clean.  As well, D's made a couple other of their recommends and while they're pretty good, I don't always buy the reasons in the write up for their elimination and variations. So feel free to experiment on your own and don't feel bad if their 'perfect' recipe doesn't work for you.

Here are our previous Pizza Dough recipes.  You can BBQ or bake.  If you are baking in the oven, preheat the oven to 450F with a rack in the bottom third.  Place the dressed dough on a baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes.  This is based on rolling out to less then 1/8th inch or the thickness of 4-5 sheets of paper.

If you are BBQing, place the rolled dough, undressed, directly on the hot grill with the lid down for 2 minutes.  Dress the cooked side and place back on the grill for about 2 minutes.  The dough is fairly thin so becareful not to char.  It was raining today so D brought the half cooked pizza inside to dress.

Vegetarian Salami Pizza
Vegetarian Salami
(based on a 15"x8" pizza)

1/4-1/3 Plain Tomato Sauce
1 t fresh Oregano or 1/2 t dried Oregano
8 slices Vegan Salami
4 Button Mushrooms, sliced
2 T sliced Red Onion
1/2 Yellow Bell Pepper
1/2 c Mozzarella Cheese

BBQ Smoked Tofu Pizza - dressed
BBQ Smoked Tofu

1/3-1/2 c BBQ sauce (your preference but the vinegary Carolina style won't work very well)
1/2 block Smoked Tofu, sliced
1/3 c fresh Cilantro,chopped
1/2 c Mozzarella or Jack, shredded

Marguerita with Articoke Hearts

1/2 c Red Sauce, plain
2 Bocconcini (fresh Mozzarella Balls - Tennis Ball sized) - My FAVE!!!
8 Basil Leaves, or 1/2 t -1 t dried basil
4 Artichoke Hearts, halved
1-2 Tomato, sliced

My favourite was the BBQ Smoked Tofu.  D normally does this one with Chicken for those who are not big on Tofu.  These three could serve 4-5 people.  Or the two of us with two large lunches :^)

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Monday, Oct 11th - Canadian Thanks Giving - Maple Dijon Glazed Salmon and Spiced Roasted Root Vegetables

Canadian Thanks Giving
I normally eat 'Thanksgiving-style' for a good several days around Canadian Thanksgiving.  Sweet Potatoes, Squash, Brussel Sprouts and Chestnuts go on sale everywhere. Pumpkin are everywhere.  It's wonderous.  when we were in Spain, my French flatmate would moan about the dearth of Pumpkin. Even when we could find it, you would almost never find whole Pumpkin.  In the markets or supermarkets, you'd only see cleaned, slices wrapped in plastic on styrofoam trays.  When we could get our hands on it, we'd make soups, curries and Tajines as long as it was available.  Mmmmm C's Tagines were awesome.

After an exhausting weekend of cleaning and Open Houses, D jumped up and made us a yummo west coast inspired Canadian TG meal.  On the side of the Maple Dijon Glazed Salmon and Roasted Vegetables, we made a herbed White Polenta.  I had originally, bought it to make an African Bap and we'd run out of yellow Cornmeal.  The texture was a tad grainier but with the butter and cream, it was just as delicious.  But for me, the Root Veg were the stars!

Spiced Roasted Root Vegetables

2 lbs mixed Root Vegetables cut into fingers (We used Acorn Squash, Butternut Squash and Sweet Potato)
1 Red Onion (size of a baseball), sliced into wedges
4 T Olive Oil
1 t Cumin
1 t Cinnamon
1 t Ground Coriander seeds
1 t Paprika
1 t Curry Powder
Salt and Fresh Ground Black Pepper

Preheat oven to 450F with a rack in the bottom third level.

Mix all the Spices in a small bowl.  In a large bowl, toss the Vegetables in the Olive Oil until evenly coated.  It is best to use your hands. Use kitchen gloves if you prefer.  Sprinkle the Spice Mixture over the Vegetables and toss thoroughly again. 

Line a large, sturdy baking sheet with a lip, with Parchment Paper.  Spread out the Vegetable mixture into a flat a layer as possible.  If you prefer, use two sheet pans, but rotate and switch racks half way through.  Toss them once half way through, either way.  Bake for 45 minutes. 

They were SOOOOOO GOOD! 

Maple Dijon Glazed Salmon Filets

125-150g Wild Sockeye Salmon filets per portion
3 T Maple Syrup
1 1/2 T Brown Sugar
2 T Dijon Mustard (you could use English Mustard, i.e. Keens but not Yellow hotdog mustard)
2 sprigs fresh Thyme
1 T Olive Oil

While the Root Vegetables are baking start the fish.  Mix the Sauce ingredients together.  Place the cleaned filets in a shallow oven proof baking dish.  Pour the sauce over the fish and let sit for15 minutes

After the Root Vegetables are pretty much done, turn the oven down to 350 F. You can put the fish in the top third rack or as close to the middle as you can manage without touching the Roasting Veg.

Bake for 10-20 minutes.  D likes it a bit Ruby in the middle and I like it a bit more well done but not over done.  Test with a fork to see doness as you prefer.  Soooo Yummo!  The combo of the Mustard and the Maple are so great and were wonderful with the vegetables. 

Serve with a dollop of Polenta.  I have several Polenta recipes listed.  Search on the side :^D

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Tuesday, Oct 5th - Angel Hair Pasta with Pesto and Canellini Beans

Angel Hair Pasta with Pesto and Canellini Beans
A Vegan friend of mine told me that combining a complex carb with a legume provides you with a complete Protein allowing one to have all the building blocks to stay healthy without the need for meat substitutes or the like.  I saw something similar on Food TV regarding the proliferation of Maiz and Legumes all over the world.  It makes sense, all over, particularly in areas with less access to expensive meat or for religious restrictions, Rice and Beans or Grains and Beans are staple dishes.  I've always wondered how they 'figured' it out.  Really, yes, we know now from nutritional science that the combination gave us complete proteins but how could they?  Curious.  Anyhoo, it's yummo!

I simply cooked Angel Hair pasta and tossed with with 2 T of   Cilantro Cashew Pesto I had made earlier and frozen. Simply defrost for 30 s in the microwave or allow to thaw if you have time.  I added 1 small tin of Canellini beans, drained  in and tossed.  You can choose to briefly heat the beans in a non stick pan before adding to the pasta.  Ours were at room temp and the Pasta was hot.

Garnish with Fresh Parmesan. MMMMM

Monday, October 18, 2010

Tuesday, Oct 12th - Butternut Squash, Spinach and Goat Cheese Barley Risotto

Butternut Squash and Spinach Barley Risotto with Goat Cheese
I'm going off grid here folks.  I'm posting completely out of order which will not give you the same sense of my bizarre grocery habits but c'est la vie.  We are nuts enough to try to sell our house right now and my blog is taking the brunt of the time sacrifice.  I never noticed how much of your personal belongings you need to stash away to make your home feel 'neutral' enough for ANY potential buyer.  It's crazy and exhausting.  As well, we've been trying to be careful on how much of a mess we make in the kitchen because we have to clean it from top to bottom to show it.  We have cleaned our ceramic stove top so many times I could do it blindfolded!

This was definitely not a good dish for keeping the stove top clean but it is very healthy and incredibly tastey.  You can easily use Arborio Rice instead of the Barley, though you might need more liquid.  The Barley give it a lovely nutty flavour as well as a sense of round, plushy, healthy goodness.  Ahhh.

Butternut Squash and Spinach Barley Risotto

150g Pearl Barley
500g (1 lb) Butternut Squash, diced
4 c Spinach Leaves, tightly packed (1/2 large bunch)
1-2 small cloves Garlic minced
100 g Soft Goat Cheese
1 c Dry White Wine
1 l Vegetable Broth
3 sprigs Fresh Thyme
1-2 T Butter
2-3 T Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper
1 Shallot, minced
Truffle Oil (Optional Garnish)

I like to prep everything first.

Peel and dice 1lb of Butternut Squash into 1 cm or 1/2 inch cubes.  It's about 2 c - 3 c or a Nerf ball sized Squash.  Set aside.

Cut the stems off the bottom of the bunch of Spinach.  It's easier than destemming after washing.  Wash in a salad spinner by filling it and draining it several times.  You want to make sure you completely emerse the Spinach to get all the sandy grit off it.  Drain and set aside.  You'll need half the bunch where the bunch was about the size of my neck (two hands).  You could use more.  I would have but D did not want it.

Mince the Shallot, finely and set aside.  Mince the Garlic.  D makes me cut out the core where it looks like a new Garlic shoot is sprouting.  He heard in a cooking class once that its the part of the Garlic which causes gas.  I find it annoying but it makes him happy.  Wash the Thyme.  I don't bother destemming.

Weigh the Pearl Barley and set aside.  The only thing I did not do ahead was fuss with the cheese. I did not want it on my fingers or be tempted to eat it while cooking.

In a large skillet, add 1-2 T Olive Oil and 1 T Butter on Medium-High heat.  Add the Squash and spread out.  Don't move right away.  Let sit for 2-3 minutes.  Stir and toss until softened and browned.  5-7 minutes total.  Set aside on a plate.  I use one of the dinner plates I will eat from.

In the same skillet, add 1-2 T Olive Oil and 1 T Butter on Medium heat.  Add the Shallot.  Soften for 2 minutes.  Add the Barley and sautee as you would for rice risotto until all the grains are glistening. 

The rest is very similar to the 'classic risotto' method.  Add the wine and stir. Add the Thyme. Add a ladel (~3/4c) of broth and stir until mostly absorbed and repeat.  It should take about 30 minutes.  At about the 20 minute mark or 3-4 ladels away, add a ladel then Spinach in handfuls.  It will wilt quickly.  Add more as you have space.  There will be space, don't worry.  Add another ladel or two then add the Squash back.  Season to taste with Salt and Pepper.  We use Low Sodium Broth so we are sure to check.

Taste for doness and whether you want to add more broth.  You want it soft but not mushy but it is a matter of taste.  When you are just there.  Add little bits of the Goat Cheese all over top, the last ladel and cover and set aside for 10 minutes.

Serve.  Garnish with a few drops of Truffle oil if you like.  I think it goes nicely with the Squash.  No parmesan necessary with the Goat Cheese.  MMMMM

Friday, October 15, 2010

Friday, Oct 8th - Sushi E - Fairview Sushi

Sushi E Fairview Lunch
I am always talking about how Sushi is ubiquitous in Vancouver.  It is true.  Though, I'll admit, it is truer of downtown than south of False Creek.  Still, there is definitely more sushi per capita in those areas than anywhere in North America, but is less varied and few in numbers than downtown.  So, if I find myself at home craving Sushi for lunch, I do not have many quick, easy and lunch-affordable options.  Well, not within a 10 minute walking distance anyway, and that is saying something of Vancouver!  There are a few on Broadway that fall within that lunchable area but certainly not within a lunch budget.  Where downtown there is a plethora of Sushi combos of 16-22 pieces for less than $7, not so in Fairview.  Around here you're looking at single Maki rolls at that price, per 6-8 pieces.  I'm all for paying for those signature rolls when I'm set for a night out for Sushi but not for an everyday lunch.
Recently, just over a year ago, maybe more, when the new shoppping area opened up on Cambie with the large supermarkets, Sushi E opened up.  The first thing that caught my eye was their 2.95 California Roll special.  :^D  That said, it's taken me a long time to walk over there for lunch.  It is still a good hike for work but it is closer than lunch Sushi has ever been.  Here it was a Friday before a long weekend and I found myself with more than a half hour window for lunch.  I took advantage and donned my galoshes and picked up a California Roll and Vegetarian Roll.  They did have set Combinations but I had my mindset on the California.  I had hoped to get some Tempura to go with it but their menu is limited Sushi, Bowls and some appetisers.  So from a variety standpoint, it is limited but not unnecessarily so.  It fits the bill for the role they fill in the hood.  It only seats about 8 people inside and feels like a lunch counter though I have seen a steady flow of customers at most times of the day. 

The rice was slightly mushy and was underseasoned, in that it tasted more like plain steamed rice that Sushi rice.  There was a fair amount of filling to rice but it was a little loosely constructed so that it did not hold up well in transport in chopsticks to the mouth.  I had to resort to fingers for the Vegetable Roll.  The Vegetable Roll was boring.  It was fresh and the lettuce crunch refreshing but entirely without flavour.  I will not order that again.  I will go back and mix up my selection and I am glad to have find an acceptable sushi lunch option but it is what it is.  If you are expecting or wanting more Tojo's is on Broadway not far away :^).

Cost: $$
Staff: Curt and a bit cold but efficient
Ambience: it's a counter

Sushi E
2328 Cambie Street
Vancouver, BC V5Z
(604) 873-2000

Sushi E on Urbanspoon

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Saturday, Oct 9th - Agave & Salsa Yaletown - Blah Burritos

Blah Shrimp Burrito from Agave & Salsa, Yaletown
We're prepping the house for alot of visitors so D is going, well, completely overboard on the clean up.  He polished all the bottles in our 'essentials' tray by the stove: Pepper grinder, Salt, Olive Oil.... I mean I did go out of my way to take a rag to the stainless steel  timer but D went back over it with stainless steel polish.  I was exhausted just watching him.  He ran out to run some last minute errands and finished up the cleaning to what I thought were reasonable standards, while watching recordings on the PVR since there is a dearth of good TV on Saturday mornings.  Even the cartoons suck nowadays let alone the reruns on Food.

I hadn't thought too much about lunch.  I had planned on running out for a quick sandwich since we did not want to make a mess of the kitchen before people showed up.  So it was a relief when D came back with the last bits and pieces carrying some take-away burritos from Agave & Salsa from Yaletown.  Normally, I would have preferred he asked me for my order but I was grateful not to have to think at all and just eat.

He ordered me the Shrimp Buritto and he had the Carnitas aka Steak.  D eats lunch there quite often as it's around the corner from his office.  I think he misses the plethora of Burrito offerings in the Bay Area and like me with Sushi has done the rounds for a decent option.  He's settled on Agave as a walking distance option.  He does not care enough for the one on Davie to consider it worth the five block walk.  Believe me, he would make the trek regularly if he did think it yummo enough.  Don't get him started on how much he dislikes Steamers.

I honestly did not see what he thought so praise worthy.  My Shrimp Burrito was not so hot.  He took away little pots of Sourcream and Green Salsa.  The Green Salsa was, well green but had no flavour.  I took out our own store bought green salsa from the fridge.  It still only helped a touch.  The Shrimp Burrito was all Rice and Shrimp.  Granted there was enough Shrimp for there to be Shrimp in nearly every bite but with all that rice, it felt heavy and dry.  Toward the end, there were 3 tiny pieces of diced Tomato but as there were only 3 tiny pieces it seemed as though they had gotten there by accident rather than a deliberate ingredient.  I added loads of Green Sauce to compensate.  I would never order a Burrito there unless I had no other option.  I think given the situation where I wanted a Burrito, I'd go out of my way to go to Budgees.

D on the other hand, insists I write that his Carnitas was as good as any day he goes there for lunch.  His Burrito, as I could see and as he states, was full of Beans, Meat, Rice and other toppings.  He said that he did not order anything specific or different for the two and that that was probably the way they came.  All the more reason never to order a Shrimp Burrito there again. 

Ambience: Lunch counter type place with some cafeteria style seating
Cost: $$-$$$ for lunch

Salsa and Agave Mexican Grill
1223 Pacific Blvd
(604) 408-4228
Vancouver, BC V6Z
Salsa & Agave Mexican Grill on Urbanspoon


Friday, October 08, 2010

Thursday, Sep 30th - Szechuan Chili Restaurant - Quick Neigbourhood go-to

Szechuan Chili Restaurant Take-Away
This an assuming Chinese restaurant sits in small mall on 6th Avenue between Fairview and Falsecreek.  It's just across the street from the local secret, Apple Hill Market.  Local secret that's not really a secret but it is definitely an oddity.  It is a family run market that is medium sized grocery store whose most unusual attribute is their unbelieveable variety of stock.  If there is something you think you might need, there is a good chance you will find it at Apple Hill: half a dozen brands of Tahini, Agave Syrup, Sauces,..  The one thing they did not have was Black Mustard Seeds but I wager, they'd get them if I asked. 

Back to Chili's.  No one seems to sit and eat there.  We did once but we had been walking home from work together and we ordered one of their set menus that you can't takeaway. It's more a local's goto takeaway.  There is another right next to Apple Hill called ChopNWok but it is pretty low rent, dusy and greasy.  Chilis is not high end Asian cuisine by any stretch of the imagination but it sates the craving when it comes along. 

As far as the eating area, the tables and chairs remind of dining sets from the 80's.  It is not offensive but it definitely utilitarian.  It is clean and the staff are friendly.  As I said, it's their take-away that likely comprises the bulk of their business.  There is swift flow of pick up's and orders all the time. 

We ordered a few dishes and I have my favourite which is the Eggplant.  MMMMM I guess it is greasy by 'normal' standards but believe you me, I have had this dish in many places and it can be much much much oiler and less flavourful.  We also had the Black Bean Prawn.  There were a decent portion of vegetables as well which nice since many more authentic places do not have veg on a protein dish unless specified.  Don't assume.  It's not bad if you do want a big pile of prawn.  I recall their Chili Prawn was like that.  D also ordered their General Tsao Chicken.  The sauce was acceptable.  Not too sweet but the breading was well, it was all breading.  Though, not weighty, it was crispy.  I wonder if it's a North American adaptation but I recall some of the more 'down home' versions of this dish being more braised than breaded.  If you like this breaded version, then you will like this one.  We ordered rice which we never do.   Or rather I never do because if we are walking the four blocks home, I just don't see the point in spending 3-5 bucks on plain steamed rice.  But that's the cheap Asian in me.  I can buy a 5kg bag of rice for 5 bucks :^D

Cost: $$
Decor: It's mainly a take-away but surroundings are pleasant and clean
Service: Friendly and fast

Szechuan Chili

804 W 6th Ave
Vancouver, BC V5Z
(604) 874-3737
Szechuan Chili on Urbanspoon

Monday, Sep 27th - Vegetarian Ma Po Tofu

Chinese Sauce Bases - Pantry must!
I hadn't intended on have the Tofu so early in the week but I dropped the container on the floor yesterday.  It did not fall out but I broke the seal so I needed to use the Organic Tofu sooner than later. You'd normally do this with a softer Tofu but I only dropped the Medium one. 

Start Rice now.

Vegetarian Ma Po Tofu
(Serves 2-3)

1 brick Tofu 300-400 g (1lb), Medium to Soft, cubed
2 Scallions, chopped
1/3 c Onion, chopped
1 clove Garlic, chopped
1/2 inch Fresh Ginger
1/2 Red Bell Pepper, diced
1/2 c Green Peas
6 Button Mushrooms, diced
1 1/2 c Vegetable Broth
1 1/2 t Corn Starch
2 T Water
1/2 t Chili Flakes, or Asian Chili Powder
1 T Chili Bean Paste
1 T Oyster Sauce
1/2 T Black Bean Sauce
1 t Chili and Garlic paste
1/4 t Sechuan Pepper Corns
1 pinch (1/8 t) Chinese Five Spice powder
1 t Low Sodium Soy

1-2 T Cilantro, chopped (garnish, optional)
2 T Cashews, chopped (garnish, optional)

Whisk the Water and Cornstarch together and set aside.   You'll want to re-whisk before adding.

This will stew a bit longer than a 'stir fry' so timing is not as critical, but still have all your ingredients ready to hand before turning the stove on.  Whisk the 'Sauce' ingredients together in a prep bowl and set aside.

Heat some Peanut Oil in a wok. Add the vegetables in 1-2 minute intervals in this order.  Onions, Red Pepper, Mushrooms, Peas, Ginger, Tofu and Garlic.  You don't need to be delicate with the Tofu in this dish.  You want it break up. 

Add the sauce and stir to spread throughout.  Add the Broth and stir.  Add the Corn Starch slurry (stir).  Bring to a boil.  The slurry will thicken the sauce only after it reaches a boil.  Let simmer for a few minutes and serve over warm rice.


Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Tuesday, Sep 28th - Maple Bourbon Pecan Pie

Maple Bourbon Pecan Pie
When I was a kid, my sister's and I used to love store bought Butter Tarts.  Though we unanimously did not like the raisins.  We had varying approaches on how to deal with them.  I don't remember whose was whose but you could either eat the tart and spit out the raisins as you went or poke your fingers in and loot them out.  We couldn't fathom back then why you would want to adulterate just a luscious treat with dessicated grapes.  Blech.  I'm pretty turned around on Raisins now but back then, I didn't even like chunky jam. 

So it was a wondrous thing to discover Pecan Tarts.  No noodling around in the sugary filling and ruining the crispy, mirenguey topping to fish out the offending fruit.  There was just what seemed to be the same filling, topped with candied Pecans.   I thought I would pay tribute to the neverending, bottomless jar of Maple Syrup in our fridge and try to make one with only Maple Syrup and no Corn Syrup.  I have gotten on and off that anti Corn Syrup bandwagon.  I'm along for the ride right now.  We have some in our pantry, though I don't know what for.  I think the last time anyone used it was for BBQ sauce.

The all Maple Syrup resulted in possibly a more sharp sweetness rather than the roundness I'm used to.  I think next time, I may cut out an Egg if I use all Maple Syrup.  Or 2/3 Maple and 1/2 Corn Syrup next time.  Though, it was quite nice and the Bourbon added a nice subtle Mae West-esque appeal, it wasn't quite there from a nostalgic point of view.  Of course, my nostalgia is probably fuelled by 100% Sugar/Corn syrup since it was store bought.

This is the way I baked it.  It was nice but I will make the adjustments I mention above within the next few months and try again.  I bought enought Pecans for two pies.  You can make your own crust or buy.  I prefer to use all vegetable shortning or butter crusts but that is a matter of preference.   I will not go into it here.  Blind Bake the crust before filling, meaning, bake in a 400F for 10 minutes on the lowest rack with Pie Weights sitting in the crust.  You should place them in the unbaked crust with a very lightly oiled piece of parchement paper.  Oil the side that will touch the dough.  You can use pie weights that are sold for that purpose.  D has some but I could not find them.  Or use any dried beans.  Today I used the Pecans I was going to put in the pie.  Just be sure to cool the crust and the Pecans before continuing.

Leave the oven on from blind bake but reduce to 350. 

Maple Bourbon Pecan Pie

1 deep 9" Pie Crust, blind baked

1 c Pure Maple Syrup
3 Eggs
40 g melted Butter, cooled
1/2 c packed Light Brown Sugar
1 Vanilla Bean, scraped (or 1 t Vanilla Extract)
2 T real Bourbon (Maker's Mark or Knob Creek)
1/8 t (pinch) Salt
1 1/2 c Pecan Halves

Whisk the Maple Syrup, Butter, Eggs, Bourbon, Vanilla, Salt and Sugar together well. 

Add the Pecans and stir.

Pour into the Pie Shell and bake on the lowest level for 45-50 minutes until set.


Sunday, Sep 26th - Memories of Brick Lane - Cous Cous

Memories of Brick Lane Cous Cous
When most people of think Brick Lane memories, 99.99% will think of Curry.  I have indeed had the best curry of my life on or around Brick Lane...probably closer to White Chapel, but you know.  But when I nostalgically think of my time in London, I think of Market Days on the weekends on Brick Lane or late nights out which ended on Brick Lane for a nosh.  My sister O was living in England at the same time, doing a Master's up at Cambridge and she used to come down on the weekends.  She loved the markets of London.  There is nothing like a vintage market anywhere in North America like those around Brick Lane and Portobello.  On those days or nights, I would most often find myself at Cafe 1001.  Well, that's what it's called now anyway.

It's about mid-way along Brick Lane just south of the overhead crossover.  You'll see.  Heading south, to your right you'll see what looks like a dodgy alley.  It's called, wait for it.... Rough Trade.  Don't be scared, if you are there on the weekends, the line up for the grill is around the corner.  O liked to wait in line while I went inside and grabbed a table with a couple of the mis-matched chairs.  Inside, there are heaps of lovely salads which you can get on a mixed plate or pre-packed in 1l containers.  Probably the best deal in town.  They are super fresh and healthy.  So light years of where the rest of England was at the time before Jamie's crusade.  I gravitated to the Cous Cous.  It was the simplest of Cous Cous but something about it had depth and 'meatiness' though it was entirely vegetarian.  I make cous cous all the time but I always go a bit overboard if let loose on it.  I also tend to try to make them super healthy with lots of vegetables and light on the dressing.  The one on Brick Lane probably had virtually no dressing but it a even yet controlled amount of feta throughout so you had some in every single bite.

Even this tribute to my nostalgia has 1 too many vegetables in it but I tried to keep it simple otherwise.  Aahh

Memories of Brick Lane Market Days Cous Cous

(Serves 2 as big side/main or 4 sides)

2/3 c Cous Cous
1 c Cold Water
1/4 c Red Onion, finely diced
1/2 Red Bell Pepper (Capsicum), diced small ~1/2 cm
9 Kalamata Olives, pitted and minced
2-3 T (40 g) Hard Goat Feta, finely crumbled
1/2 c Chick Peas
2 Scallions, chopped
1 Lime Juiced
2-3 T Olive Oil
1 T fresh Basil and Parsley, chopped fine
Salt and Pepper (about 1/2 t Salt)

In a large bowl, place the Cous Cous with the cold water and let stand for half an hour.  This keeps it light and fluffy.  It might seem dry but do not be tempted to add more water.  There are more liquids coming from the vegetables and Lime Juice.

I used brine cured Olives but you could probably use Dry cured but you'll want to watch your salt level in addition after.  To pit them, you can either use a cherry pitter or much easier, place it on a cutting board lying down and gently lean on it with the flat of a knife like you would crush a garlic clove.  Then remove the pit.  Mince the Olives and the Feta quite fine.  Really.

Add the all the Vegetables and toss well.  I like to add the Salt to the Lime Juice so I know it get's spread out.  Up to you if you want to wait and taste.  Or you could add half the salt to the Juice and then season to taste.  Sprinkle the juice evenly over and toss well.  Drizzle the Olive Oil and toss as you go.  I like to add the Herbs and Scallions last for no particular reason. 

Let stand for at least 10-15 minutes in the fridge just to meld together.  The longer the better.  If you want it to taste more like the cafe I remember, you could leave the lime out.


Friday, October 01, 2010

Tuesday, Sep 21st - All India Sweets and Restaurant - Lukewarm Vegetarian Buffet

Bad Phone Pic: All India Sweets Vegetarian Buffet
We had some errands to run in South Vancouver today after work so we decided we should just grab something on the road so we were more productive.  I suggested a place a friend had taken a few of us to a few years ago.  Considering it is her cultural cuisine, I assumed it would be good.  I don't recall what I thought of it then except that I was pleased at the idea of an all Vegetarian Buffet.  Plus, that night out, it was just a bunch friends after a game needing sustenance. 

I will more clearly remember our visit this time.  It was very disappointing to the Vegetarian Buffet.  All India Sweets is quite well known in Vancouver its Indian Sweets.  It has a vast front glass counter area in the front full of delectable sweets and savour snacks that might fool you into thinking you are in some far away market.  There are dozens and dozens of cakes, squares and sugary balls made from a variety of flours, milk and nuts.  I won a contest last year during the South Asian festival and the prize had included a box of sweets from All India Sweets.

It is a shame that they do not seem to pay as much attention to their hot food restaurant area.  They do have an a la cart menu but everyone seemed to be there for the buffet.  Their Vegetarian Buffet is 10$ all day, any day.  There is salad bar as well as selection of about 5 hot Vegetarian Curries.  The Salad bar was a sad display of roughly cut Tomatoes, Iceberg Lettuce, Onions and some pickles and other bits.  At least it was kept cool on ice.

The hot buffet was not hot at all.  It ranged from lukewarm to down right cool.  Perhaps, it may have been in the cycle of replenishment we hit the buffet but that isn't the point is it.  Buffets using chaffing bars are meant to keep the food temperature at certain levels both from a Health and Safety level as well as taste of food.  As a result, dishes like the Cauliflower and Potato was gloopy, oily and mushy.  There were Green Peas in almost everything.  They used Kidney Beans in a dish I have normally seen with Chickpeas or Lentils.  The Lentil Curry was very very watery.  Nothing had any real punchy flavour.  It was sort of beige in colour and taste.  The Paneer was alright and their Naan which was replaced regularly, was nice and chewy.  Their Basmati was extremely oily and clumpy.

They had a very sorry dessert section which they should have left off entirely.  There was a Sweet Rice, which sat untouched or replaced, the whole time we were there.  A very runny Yogurt dish and some pretty old Gulab Jamun, sugary milk balls served in syrup.  I think since their famous sweets are so good those Gulab Jamun did them a disservice.

Speaking of disservice, that is precisely what we got.  We were sat almost immediately after walking through the front door.  Then we never saw anyone again.  I had to walk up to the bar to ask for glasses of water.  A bus boy did comeby once to take away our plates once since you're not meant to reuse the plates when you return for more food.  It was a complete absence of service though there were 3 servers wandering around. 

Cost: $$
Ambiance: Cafeteria
Service: Non existent

All India Sweets and Restaurant (Main)
Sunset/Punjabi Market
6507 Main St
Vancouver, BC V5X
(604) 327-0891
All India Sweets & Restaurant (Main) on Urbanspoon


Monday, Sep 20th - (catch up Sunday part deux) Browned Butter and Pepper Wholewheat Irish Soda Bread

Browned Butter and Pepper Wholewheat Irish Soda Bread
On my list of favourite breads, Irish Brown Bread holds a pretty high perch.  It is not easily comeby in Vancouver.  I used to be able to buy it in most bakeries and Tesco's in England.  The only two times I have had it here were at St. Patrick's Day Market on Granville and mean little slice on a breakfast plate at a pub near Macdonald in Kits.

I have never made it because the ingredient list and process seemed so onerous.  Truth be told, I have thought to give it a go in a while.  D asked I make a soda bread for breakfast once.  I made some adjustments to accomodate Wholewheat bread instead and tad fluffier.  I was very surprised to find the end product tasted alot like my belived Irish Brown Bread without all the rising and waiting.  From end to end, we had warm bread within an hour.  Well, it was more like an hour and a half if you were good about waiting the recommended half hour cooling time :^)

Browned Butter Wholewheat Irish Soda Bread
(makes one 9 inch round)

1/4 c + 1 T Butter
3/4 c Milk
1/2 Lemon, juiced
1 3/4 c Wholewheat Flour
1/3 c Rolled Oats
1/2 t Baking Soda
1 t Baking Powder
1/2 t Salt
1/2 T Honey
1/2 T fresh Rosemary, chopped fine
1/2 t Fresh Cracked Pepper + extra for the top
1 T Milk for brushing

Preheat the oven to 375 F with a rack in the middle.

In a non stick pan or small sauce pan, melt the Butter on Medium Low heat. You want to brown the butter but not scorch it.  It will take about 5 - 7 minutes.  Take off heat and let cool slightly. 

Meanwhile, in a bowl, whisk all the dry ingredients together.  In a measuring cup mix the Milk and Lemon Juice.  Pour the Milk and Browned Butter into the dry ingredients and then drizzle the honey round in circles so it won't clump. Mix to combine.  Add the Rosemary.  Stir to combine and keep stirring until you see the Rosemary has been spread out.  Some people don't like to over mix but I like gluteny, chewy bread and even then, this bread stays super tender. 

It will be super sticky.  That's okay.  Try to stir and shape into a ball in the bowl.  On a cutting board or clean countertop, sprinkle some flour.  Dump the ball out.  You're not here to over knead, just form.  So fold and push out with the heel of your palm, turn a quarter and repeat.  Just do this a couple of times. Place the loaf on a baking sheet and score with a very sharp knife.  Brush lightly with Milk and then Grind Fresh Pepper on top. 

Bake for 45 minutes.  Let cool on a rack for 20-30 minutes.  MMMMM soooo good and so fast!

Sunday, September 19th - Green Chile with Cannellini Beans and..... chicken

Green Chile with Cannellini Beans with Chicken
Regular readers and friend will know that the only 'meat' I eat is seafood and you will know I choose to do that for purely aesthetic reasons, meaning for the taste.  Frankly, while there may be 1 or 2 dishes in the world, I might eat, it is simply easier to not than explain to whomever, why I won't eat chicken they way THEY DO IT.  Can you imagine explaining that to mom?  or your boss?  Plus it hijacks any possibility of conversation at dinner from any other topic if that were to come up. Boring.

Anyhoo, last year, I gave D small window, no, transom of an opportunity.  Convince me otherwise.  But only once a quarter max.  so far he's only taken advantage of it once it didn't work out so much.  What he didn't understand was that I don't like meat because I don't like the taste or the texture.  He was taking this from the typical male, conquerer approach of I will change your mind.  Wrong.  It's not that I was being stubborn but you don't open with the hard stuff.  He made what I am sure was a stellar of Braised Filet or some large, tender hunk of meat on a bed of Chiarello's cream-ariffic, Polenta.  To even swallow the tinies tidbit of the beef I had to take a huge scoop of the Polenta.  Then there was the 'tendons' or whatever you call the webbing material between the strands of protein.  It just wasn't working for me.  He said I didn't know what I was talking about.  I said, he didn't understand the challenge.  You don't try to recruit someone to the Conservative party by taking them to a gunshow.

I think he got the idea this time.  When I used to eat meat when it was Korean only, really or cooked by a Korean.  What does that mean?  It is heavily sauced.  It is heavily flavoured.  It is always well done.  The actual taste of the meat is not a part of the equation.  The quality is but not the actualy aroma of the animal itself.  For the Chili he chose, that he has made many times, he made further adjustments for me.  The recipe is a classic growth one.  There are scribbles, notes, strikeouts, edits all over it.  He'll had to add new ones in green ink indicating the steps needed to cook it for the likes of me.  1. Choose a lean piece of Chicken.  The fat as most of the Chickeny flavour.  2. Remove the skin.  Same reason as number 1.  3. Drain any fat from the cooking of the chicken.  Same reason as number 1.  4. Use lots of other strong flavours.

It was nice.  Dom also cut the chicken up quite small so I wouldn't be hit with any big hunks.  As well, when he served, he purposefully avoided giving me too much meat.  Easing me into the tub this time.  I had to add a dash of Green Salsa though.  I wouldn't add red because it clashes or rather bullies the Chile.  I think the Green Onions as a garnish are a mush.

Green Chile with Cannellini Beans and... chicken

6 Anaheim Chiles
1-2 T Peanut Oil
2 lbs Skinless Chiken Thighs
2 c Onion, chopped
4 cloves Garlic, minced
4 c Vegetable Broth (or half Vegetable half Chicken Broths)
1/2 c Water
1 1/2 t ground Cumin
1 t Coriander Seeds, crushed
1 t fresh Oregano, chopped
2 15 oz cans Cannellini Beans, drained
3 T Flour
1 t Salt
1/4 c Shredded Cheddar or Jack
Lime slices when serving
Cilantro leaves and Green Onion, chopped as garnish

Turn your BBQ or broiler on high. Place on the BBQ or under the broiler whole.  You want to close the lid or door.  Turn after a few minutes after it is charred, black.  Keep turning until it's black all over.

Place in a bowl and cover with foil and set aside to steam for 15 minutes.  Then the charred skin will lift/rub off with your hands.  It's best to do this over a sink.

Get rid of the stems and tough core bit.  Chop up and set aside.  D kept the seeds for a bit of heat.  Heat with Anaheims is a bit hit and miss.  Normally they're as mild as Bell Peppers.  They look like elongated bell peppers but a pale Green hue.  They do have a different flavour so substituting Bell Peppers won't quite work.

In a Dutch Oven / Creuset or large heavy bottom pot, heat some Peanut Oil.  Brown on all sides.  5 minutes on each side.  Remove from heat and let cool slightly or if you have asbestos fingers, chop up or tear up into small pieces.  Drain the Dutch Oven.  You don't have to but with the goal in mind, D wanted to remove as much offensive, gaminess from the equation.  He's heard me say time and time again, that it is the fat that holds the flavour that turns me off.  So he got rid of all the Chicken fat and then heated more Peanut Oil.

Sautee the Onions, Garlic and the Chicken pieces until the Onion is browned, 5 minutes.  Add the Broth, Herbs and Spices and bring to a Boil and immediately reduce to a simmer.  Let simmer for 20 minutes.  Add the Chiles and Beans.

Whisk the Flour and Water.  While stirring the Dutch Oven, drizzle in the flour slurry.  Let simmer for at least another 20 minutes. 

Serve in a nice deep bowl over rice or Quinoa, top with a couple T of Cheese, Cilantro and Green Onion.