Thursday, April 21, 2011

Sunday, April 10th - Vegetarian Beer Onion Soup - Cheesy Comfort

Vegetarian Beer Onion Soup
It's been cold and rainy the last few days.  D had a sudden craving to make soup. We love soup on days like this.  It isn't unusual for usto have a simple, well somewhat simpler, Grill Cheese and Soup Dinner.  Though, admittedly, you we wouldn't be dining on tinned Tomato Soup and plastic slices of Cheeze on Wonderbread.  We normally stock a half dozen different yummo cheeses in the fridge.  I don't know how we ended up lately with three different Cheddars: Mild White, hearty Irish and Aged.  We decided to make something we both have not had for over a decade; myself in particular because French Onion Soup is made with Beef stock.  As a meat eating teen though, I used to adore going to Mr. Greenjeans in Toronto for an French Onion more Cheese than Soup, just the way a teen is likely to love it.  Now, it's all about the Onions and the Soup. MMMMM

This version is rounder and heartier than ones I've had based with Wine.  I think the Cheddar instead of Swiss helps with that as well.  You can use Sweet Onions if you want but it's not entirely necessary or the best use for expensive Sweet Onions. All you need is patience and if absolutely necessary, a pinch of sugar.

Vegetarian Onion Beer Soup

5  medium Onions, sliced (size of baseball, 1.5-2lbs)
3 T Unsalted Butter (if you use Salted, watch the seasoning later)
1 t Sugar (optional)
1 T Flour
1 bottle Lager or Pale Ale (like wine, don't cook with something you wouldn't drink)
2 sprigs fresh Thyme (1 t dry), chopped
1/2 t fresh Rosemary (1/2 t dry), chopped
1 T Dijon Mustard
4 c Veggie Broth
Salt and Pepper to taste

Crusty Loaf or Baguette or the 'Bums' of a nice Multigrain sandwich Loaf works well
1/2 - 1/3 c shredded Cheddar or Emmenthal per serving
2 T of Parmesan per serving (Optional)

In a dutch oven (Creuset) or non-stick pan on Medium/Medium-High heat, melt the Butter.  Sautee the Onions for about 45 minutes until soft, ooey and carmel coloured. Do not do this over high heat where you will just crisp or burn the Onions.  Toss frequently with thongs or a wooden spoon.  If after 20-30 minutes you aren't seeing too much goldeness, you could add 1 t of Sugar.  But patience is rewarded and you really shouldn't need this and certainly don't add more than the 1 t.  Add the herbs when the Onions are nearly done. Add the Flour and cook through for a couple of minutes.

You should have your beer at room temperature but it's not the end of the world if you  pulled it from the fridge.  Add the Beer and turn up heat to High.  Keep stirring to avoid clumping.  Add the Veggie Broth. Bring to a boil for a minute to activate thickening. Reduce the heat to Medium-Low. Simmer for about 15 - 20 minutes. Taste and add more broth if the soup is too strong or thick for your taste.  Not all Onions are made the same.  Taste and season with Salt and Pepper.

Slice the bread or cut the loaf bums to fit snuggly in bowls you plan to use.  Use oven proof bowls.Toast them in your toaster or under the broiler.  You really do need to toast the bread or it will just dissolve to mush in the soup.

Turn your broiler on High with a rack a level down from the highest.

Ladle the soup in your bowls with about an inch space to the lip. Place the toasted Bread to cover the top.  Sprinkle with Cheese, be generous. Place the Bowls on a sturdy baking sheet and under the broiler until the cheese is melted and begins to brown.  Broilers are hot so keep an eye on it.  Do not wander away or multi-task.  Serve piping hot and gooing!  MMMMM


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Friday, March 25th - Mis Trucos - Creative yet Autentico Tapas

Polenta Fries with Cheese Fondata Dip
I have passed this place numerous times and never tried it.  It is in a very unlikely situation despite being right on Davie off Thurlow.  It is actually a bit off Davie as well.  I'm sure if you've been strolling down Davie you'd have 'missed' it too.  It is in what appears to be a lonely 'heritage' house that has been converted into storefronts.  The restaurant is up the stairs behind the shops as if in the second floor of the house.  In the summer they sprawl out on to a roof top patio as well.

As we're somewhat chained to the St. Paul's hospital area for a few weeks, we asked some colleagues of D for recommendations for places to eat.  Mis Trucos came quite well recommended.  And as I have a bias to lovely Spanish food, I stopped listening to the rest of the list :)

It is a small, dainty place that could easily be the size of a small studio apartment.  I would say it's a well hidden gem for the area if not for the full house of patrons who would tell me that I'm quite late to the party.  We ate at the bar since we had to be back at St. Paul's in little more than an hour.  Well, normally, bar service is faster since you can grab the attention of the servers but not so here.  The slow service was probably my only disappointment.

Ash Covered Cheese Plate
There was a decent selection of classic and spins on classic Tapas (small plates) and Pinxos (pinchos - single bites).  Having lived in Barcelona for a few years, I tend to have fussy expectations of dishes people like to randomly call Tapas so they can charge full price for small plates.  If it is just a small plate, just call it a small plate and don't give it the spanish monicher of Tapa.  Well, Mis Trucos managed to hit a decent authenticity even though playing on the theme which was awesome. 

Crispy Bread covered Prawn with Aioli
As a minor digression, you should know that most reviews and listings for restaurants will list average 'dish prices' when categorising the cost level of the place.  So if a place features 'Tapas' then you may see them listed in a modest cost level but really the per person cost for the dinner is not because you will order several.  I give the price range based on what you will actually eat and not the per dish cost.

Bacalao Bunelos with Smoked Paprika Aioli
We started with the Polenta Fries with Cheese Fondata.   They were cooked perfectly and managed to have a nice balance of lightness and substance.  That was followed but something quite unusual that D's colleague raved about, Prawns wrapped in very thinly sliced Bread with Aioli.  This was so simple yet absolutely delicious.  We also had the Ash covered Cheese plate and Braised Octopus which were yummy.  The Octopus was tender and well seasoned.  I think my favourite Tapa for the night was a toss up between the Polenta fries and the Bunuelos, Salt Cod Fritters with Smoked Paprika Aioli. The Bunelo is a small fritter with out the Potato filler like the other popular Spanish tapa called the Croqueta. 

Braised Octopus in Tomato Foam  with Ham Chip
The price range was much more appropriate for Tapas than similarly themed restaurants in town.  The service was on the casual slow side but nothing as painful as our night at Bin 941 a couple of nights ago.  In fact, I made a point of complaining at Bin 941 that we had been waiting excructiatingly long, nearly 40 minutes for our last dish despite the server telling us that it was being plated as we spoke.  Well, the other server we managed to flag down refused to apologise and said she wanted to check the pos first.  Nice.  Shockingly rude and terribly slow service that night at Bin 941.  If I'm in the mood for tapas next time, I think I'll find my way a few blocks west at Mis Trucos instead.

Ambiance: slick yet cosy
Service: casual yet friendly
Cost: $$

Mis Trucos
Robson Street/West End
1141 Davie Street
Vancouver, BC V6E
(604) 566-3960
Mis Trucos on Urbanspoon


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Wednesday, March 23rd - Kadoya Japanese - Tastey Sushi in the West End

Spider and Tempura Salmon Rolls - Kadoya on Davie
Onward with my lunch time meanderings in the West End.  I was quite tempted after my horrible experience at the Samurai Sushi to just pack a lunch and stay in at St. Paul's.  But the days can be looooooong at a hospital so I really tried to get out for a bite.   I only have about an hour and really works out since I can't really marshall the energy for more than a block.  On a street like Davie, that shouldn't really place any limitations on my lunchtime options. Kadoya came recommended by the nurses.

It was full full at lunch time and as I was leaving there was a queue starting.  I didn't have to wait to be seated and I was attended to with tea and my order right away.  Kadoya is one of those sushi joints in town that specialises in their 'Chef Specialities', a dozen or so 'creative' rolls many of which are named after local streets and landmarks.  They'd never been found in your classic sushi restaurants but they are not as wacky as the Eatery in Kitsilano.  On the whole, they're spins off of more traditional rolls more than total curveballs.

Spider Roll - Kadoya Japanese on Davie
I ordered the Spider Roll because like Tiramisu and Escargots, if Spider is on the menu, I have to order it.  A classic Spider roll is basically a Tempura Soft Shell Crab roll.  This one was something of an amalgam of a California with Yam topped with the Soft Shell Crab.  The Rice was alright.  Not mushy like paste like Samurai but not bursting with flavour either.  The roll was flavourful and had a respectable ratio of rice to filling.  On the other hand, I ordered the Tempura Salmon Roll.  The roll itself was tastey but the rice to filling ratio was a tad slanted to rice but not too too much.  The Salmon was fried with Skin on which was happiness.

Tempura Salmon Roll - Kadoya Japanese on Davie
The price range is higher than your typical lunch sushi joints in downtown Vancouver, probably near double.  Funny though, that given that, I would think it's gearing itself for the higher dinner end crowd but the decor and ambiance does not reflect that at all.  It is clearly a sushi diner/dive feel. As well, the sushi itself, though quite good for lunch doesn't have that nice dinner out level of flavour. The staff is largely young, casual, ESL students. So I think it's a bit of an identity crisis.  Anyhoo, it was a nice lunch, tea was freely refilled and it was a world better than Samurai across the road which was also pricier than it should have been for the quality.

Cost: $$$ (for lunch sushi)
Service: Decent and attentive with Tea but a bit of a language barrier
Ambience: Diner

Kadoya Japanese
Robson Street/West End
1063 Davie St
Vancouver, BC V6E
(604) 608-1115
Kadoya Japanese (Davie Village) on Urbanspoon
for Lunch


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Saturday, April 9th - Borcht (Beet) Risotto

Beet Risotto
I love Beets.  They're right up there behind Brussel Sprouts.  As a kid, I rarely had either.  They weren't a regular staple in Korean cuisine.  Because of the frequent vilification of these tastey veg on sitcoms and cartoons, I had assumed I should hate them.  It was years before I gave them a fair shake.  When I did, I was hooked.  My fave are the small pickled baby ones you can buy jarred in the UK.  The regular sliced ones in tins are the ones we regularly find in the market here and they aren't the best representation of the yummo Beet.  Fresh Beets are so much better and there is something inherently healthy feeling about anything they're served with like this Risotto.  Next to my sunny yellow Lemon Sage Risotto, it might make it as one of my favourites.  Do not use tinned or jarred preserved Beets for this recipe.  The brine will change it completely.

Borcht (Beet) Risotto

Serves 2-3

1 l Vegetable Stock, unsalted
1 c Aborio or Carnoli Rice
2 T Olive Oil
1 med-large Red Beet (raw, size of a baseball)
1 small-med White Onion
1 Bay Leaf
3 sprigs fresh Thyme
1-2 t dried Dill (1 big sprig fresh, chopped)
1 T fresh Chives, chopped
1 c Red Wine
1/2 c Butter
1/2 c Parmesan, grated, plus additional for garnish
Salt and Pepper to taste
1/4 - 1/3 c Low Fat Sour Cream
Steamed Asparagus (Optional)

Bring the Stock to a boil in a sauce pan.  Reduce immediately and keep warm to the side.

Clean and carefully peel the Beet and chop into chunks.  Boil in 1 c of the Veg Stock with 1/4 of the Onion, roughly chopped.  Cook to a point a knife easily pierces the Beet. 15-20 minutes.  Run through a blender or processor and set aside.

In a large pan, heat Olive Oil and sautee the rest of the Onion, diced. Add the Rice.  You may want to add another T of Olive Oil.  You want all the Rice to glisten.  Add the Bay Leaf and Thyme.  Stir for 1-2 minutes.  Add the Wine and stir, stir, stir with a wooden spoon until it is virtually all evaporated.  Like all Risottos, add the Stock a ladel at a time stirring constantly until you can draw your wooden spoon down the pan and the 'mote' doesn't immediately close up.  You may not use all the Stock.  It depends on the Rice and how you like your Rice done.  It is better to have more to start so you're not racing to heat up more half way through.

Continue to add the Stock until you feel the Rice has the bite you prefer.  Add the pureed Beet to the pan. As other Risottos, add the Parmesan and incorporate.  Add the Butter to the pan in cut up pats over top.  Cover and set aside for 10 minutes.  In a 'regular' Risotto, you'd also add another ladel of Stock at this point but the Beets have the additional liquid you need. Season to taste but only toward the end about this point.  Remember you may have salt in your Stock and that the Parmesan is salty.

Serve with a dollop of Sour Cream and Chives.  Sooo good! It tasted and felt light and healthy despite having the same amount of Butter and Cheese as all rich Risottos.  MMMMM


Friday, April 08, 2011

Monday, March 21st - Samurai Japanese - Mushiest Sushi in town

Mushiest Sushi in town :^(
I recently had to be in the West End for a few weeks and so have had hunt down yummo lunch places in the vibrant and diverse neighbourhood.  It's really quite amazing how different areas in Vancouver can be considering it's modest size.  The West End is lined with restaurants and bars and is bustling at almost any time of day, any day of the week.  There are a few joints that have a very odd and bizarre level of popularity to which I cannot attribute their cuisine.  We theorised that the endless line ups at Samurai and it's neighbouring greek is due to inclusion in some travel guide book.

Sushi is everywhere in Vancouver as you know from my blog, running the gamut, as a result of numbers, from gross to spectacular with lots in the middle.  I would place Samurai closer to the gross end of that range, at least for the sushi.  I mean, really, that includes that terrible place up on Dunsmuir that targets impoverished English language students.

I had two large rolls, the BC Roll and the Manhattan.  The BC Roll is a standard in these parts made of crispy Salmon Skin.  The Manhattan, is a first for me so I can only assume it's a creation of the Samurai.  It's a yin-yang of Spicy Tuna and Alaska.  Both are way to large to eat comfortably and not in a good way.  The rolls are not tight enough to even make the journey from the plate to the mouth.  The BC disintegrates just by looking at it.  The Manhattan was rolled with soggy Nori so biting it was impossible.  It was like leather.  Then there was the rice.  It was incredibly mushy and had absolutely no flavour.  Sushi Rice should not be plain rice.  The 'vinegrette' that is incorporated into the rice as it cools is the well guarded secret of any self respecting sushi chef.  This rice tasted like paste and had the texture that was something like oatmeal.  Blech.

I would not remotely recommend you eat here.  Go across the road to Kadoya or up the road to Yamato or Excellent Sushi.  Do not be deceived by the students and tourists who queue up at dinner.

Ambiance: divey and dingy
Service: acceptable though not attentive, refills of tea were rare
Cost: $$

Samurai Japanese
West End
1108 Davie St
Vancouver, BC V6E
(604) 609-0078

Samurai Japanese on Urbanspoon


Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Saturday, January 1st - Jalapeño Skillet Cornbread

Jalapeño Skillet Cornbread
D made this way back on New Year's Day but I was still in hibernation mode.  He'd been bragging about his Cornbread for so long and he finally made it so he was rather affronted yesterday to go looking for it and not find it listed.  Whoops!  It had a decent kick and nice crumb.  I might recommend adding fresh or tinned whole Corn Kernels. MMMMM but that might be gilding the lily.

Jalapeño Skillet Cornbread

4 cloves Garlic, minced
4 Jalapeños, seeded and diced
1/2 T unsalted Butter
3 cups Cornmeal
1 t Baking Powder
1 1/4 t Baking Soda
2 t Salt
1 t fresh Black Pepper
1/4 t Cumin (OPTIONAL especially if you have developed a temporary aversion to it)

3 c Buttermilk (or 2 3/4 c Milk + 1/4 Lemon Juice)
2 large Eggs, beaten
2/3 c Unsalted Butter, melted

(OPTIONS: Whole Corn, Creamed Corn, Seeded Tomatoes)

Preheat the oven to 450 F.

In a 10" cast iron skillet, melt 1/2 T Butter on Medium.  Add the Garlic and Jalapenos and saute until softened but be careful not to brown the Garlic or it can become bitter
In a bowl, fork whisk the Cornmeal, Baking powder, Baking Soda, Salt, and Pepper. In another bowl or large mixing cup (4 c for easy pouring), combine the Buttermilk, Eggs, and melted Butter. It helps if the Milk is not ice cold or the Butter will just coagulate on the surface.  So I'll either heat the milk up in the microwave for 30 s BEFORE adding the Eggs or bring the Eggs out and measure out the Milk first and let stand while I gather up everything else.

Add to dry ingredients and stir just to combine. Don't worry about the lumps.  The Cornmeal will continue to hydrate. Pour the Batter into the skillet over the Garlic and Jalapenos.  You an use a fork to distribute a bit but don't over mix and try not to scrape the bottom.

Place in bottom third of oven for 25 to 30 mins and golden brown. Let cool in the skillet on a rack before cutting.

MMMMMM low flour Cornbread. :^D