Friday, April 30, 2010

How to Steam Food?

The most common steamer at Chinese homes. Nothing fancy. Cheap and space conscious.

Heat tends to destroy nutrients in the food, and cook often adds extra fat and carcinogens onto the food. Steaming is the healthiest way to cook your food and eat it too. Also, steam food doesn't have to taste blend or soggy. Here is some ways to steam your food and eat it too.

1. I didn't grow up with a steamer. My mother would put a small plate upside-down inside a wok and, on top of that, another bowl or plate for the food. There would be about 2 inches of water in the wok. For Chawamushi, my grandmother would use a large pot instead of a wok.
2. My aunt introduced the steam rack (first picture above) with specialized utensil to grab the dish out of the wok. This simple yet ingenious device made steaming pain free. Look for these at T&T or Chinese appliances store at Richmond or Chinatown.
3. Dennis's grandmother uses a foldable steamer to prepare her Greek styled vegetables. (left picture) Because it can fold, it fits easily in all sizes of pots and pans. It can also act as a plate or a bowl. The hook in the middle makes it easy to pull the steamer out. Although it cannot retain juice from the food for sauce, it is sufficient for Western cooking. You can find these at most kitchen appliance stores. I saw them at Save On Food too.
4. For restaurants and hardcore foodies, there is the stackable traditional bamboo steamer. It is big, bulky, and not very space conscious. It also absorbs the juice from the food and stains easily. So what is the point? First, volume, you can steam a lot of food at once by stacking as many levels as you like. Second, bamboo, if well maintained, gives the food a subtle woody aroma which are beautiful in dumplings and fish. Third, it offers great presentation when you serve your dinner straight from the steamer. I bought one for Tracy's Bridle Shower from The Bay. Again, you can find these in Richmond or Chinatown. I bought mine at Call The Kettle Black on 4th Ave (it was grossly overpriced).
5. Machine steamers are hit and miss. The bad ones are difficult to use and smells bad after awhile. The good ones are better than all the steamers mentioned above. The temperature gauge is very useful and it has the stackable function like the bamboo steamer. For steamers that can be useful for Chinese cooking, it can take up a lot of space (They usually also cost an arm or leg).

How do you steam food in a wok/pan/pot?

Step 1: Fill the pot, pan, or wok with a small amount of water. How much water depends on the size of the pot and how high the steamer sits. The water level should be low enough that water won't touch the food when the steamer's placed in the pot. A good rule is to start with 1/4 - 1/2 an inch of water, or enough water to reach 1 inch below the bottom of the steamer.
Step 2: Bring the water to a simmer (A.K.A. almost boil but not yet). Then turn the heat to low or simmer.
Step 3: Arrange your food on the steamer. If you wish to retain the juice of the food or ensure the food won't fall through the rack, put the food on a plate or bow and then put it in the steamer. If you have the bamboo steamer, you can also use aluminum foil or parchment paper instead, but do not line the steamer completely.
Step 4: When the food is read, turn the heat off and take the lid off the pot (watch out for the steam!). Carefully remove the food, plate, or rack out. You can use chopsticks, oven mitts, BBQ tongue, whatever works for you.
Step 5: (Optional) Sprinkle your favourite seasoning and toss.

How do you know if the food is cooked?
Everyone's stove is different and each food is different. It's hard to pinpoint an exact amount of time. From experience, broccoli takes 10 minutes, kale 15 minutes, fish filet 20 minutes, and whole fish 25 minutes. It is best to periodically taste your vegetable before removing it from heat to make sure it is ready. A meat thermometer is also very handy for meat dishes.

Be creative! There is no exact way to steam food. I have seem some awesome application of steaming to make delicious food from breads to desserts!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Fabiano Amarone Classico 2003

Varietal: Blend of Carvina, corvinone, and Rondinela
Producer: Fabiano
Specification: DOCG Classico I Fondatori
Vintage: 2003
Region: Valpolicella
Alcohol: $15.5
Price: $68

Appearance: Deep dark red with no bricking
Nose: clean, powerful, delicate, sweet, alcohol, carmel, mint, wet barnyard
Palate: clean, intense, dry-off-dry, full tannin, full bodied, dark cooked fruit, raisin, spice, clove, chocolate, couscous.

Amarone does not taste like your usual red wine. It is a very masculine drink and something Italians can be very proud to have produced. I visited Valpolicella before and watch how they dry the grapes on the same straw matt-basket inside a wooden shed. Because the grapes are dried, the flavours of the wine are very concentrated. It was almost port like.

Amarone has very unique aroma and tastes. Even novice wine tasters can identify this pretty easily in the first few sniffs. This particular Amarone is balanced, complex, and has a great length. This is pretty much the archetype of Amarone.

Quality: Excellent. Collectable.

You want to pair heavy food with heavy flavours with this wine. Lamb roast, game meat, strong hard cheese. Stay far away from any seafood.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Does anyone read my blog?

Does anyone read my blog? I know my friends occasionally checks it, but I wonder if I am just talking to myself most of the time or if I have audience.

If you are reading my blog, please give me some input. Let me know what you want to read about more or less, or if there is anything I should change. Any suggestion would be awesome, if there are actually people reading my blog.

So Busy

I have to somehow get back to the steady rhythm of blogging again. I am finding it tough to keep on schedule. Blogging is good for me. This helps me remember all the things I have experienced and learned and also forces me learning news things on schedule.

Here are what is new for the next two weeks:
1. No DAI this month. Tis the season of Dine Out Vancouver. Bunch of friends and I are going to try out 3 or 4 restaurants and I promise I will blog about all of them. Peter is organizing, so there will be plenty of yummy pictures.
2. That damn chocolate course. I got assignment due tomorrow! Life is so tough eh?
3. Weekend Herb Blogging for the month of May
4. Chef it Yourself competition: tofu, lemon grass, seafood
5. Daring Chef Challenge with the monster recipe for Mexican food.
6. Once Dine Out Vancouver is over, I am challenging myself to a week of dine in only. I will blog about that too.

I gotta get on track and finish blogging at least a dozen wines before my wine class starts again in the end of May.

P.S. I started a foodie-friendly diet plan with copious amount of exercise and yoga. I lost 8 pounds in 6 weeks! Another 16 pounds to go for my wedding next year.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

German Wine: Part 1

Jean loves German wine. I mean, who doesn't? Lovely, elegant, and high quality wines that are cheaper than those made by their neighbour, France.

The Germans have been making wine since the 1st century and the oldest city was located right in the middle of Mosel, the most famous and best quality wine region in the country. Due to the northernly location of German vineyards, German wine makers focuses predominately in white wine, specifically riesling grapes. With thousands of years of winemaking experience and the ideal temperature, German has the world's finest Rieslings.

Then why isn't German wine as popular as French wine?

Before then 1980s, the world was in love with German Riesling, eagerly buying anything and everything the winemakers can produce. Historically, German produces mostly dry white wine which are still consume domestically today. Internationally, they were renowned for their semi-sweet to sweet wines which are very popular even in Taiwan. So what happened?

A serious lack of foresight.

1. Liebfraumilch: Despite their high quality wines, German are still better known for abroad for their cheap, mass produced white wine called Liebraumilch. It literally translated to "Beloved Lady's Milk". The labels would usually fashion a painting of a religious woman with a baby. Not only is the breast milk association unappetizing, this stuff is just plain nasty. Would you ever order a $100 bottle of white wine at an expensive restaurant to share with your date if the wine is made in China?

Confused? It's really expensive. Would you buy it?

2. Marketing (or the lack there of): They should have known that they are in trouble when consumer associate German wine with cheap liquor. Traditional German wine labels often have a profusion of information (all in German). It will take me probably three long winded posts to explain all those things on the labels. These labels are confusing and further discourages consumers who only know Liebfraumilch.
3. Austria's 1985 Anti Freeze Wine Scandal: Before this incident, demand for German wines greatly outstrips supply, so a few Austrian wineries got this great idea to put anti-freeze into wine to make it seem sweeter, fuller bodied, and thus more expensive. These wines are then shipped to Germany to be bottled and illegally blended with German wines, so they can be sold as German wines. Needless to say, they got caught and went to jail. Austrian's wine industry completely collapsed, and German's reputation for fine wine were very tarnished.

Anyway here are the basic information for buying and consuming German wine:

German produces mostly white wines, predominantly the Riesling varietal, and a few Pinot Noirs. Like most of the European countries, they have strict laws and regulation in place to govern the quality and labeling of their wines. Only wines from the designated quality regions can be labelled QbA (Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbugebiete). There are only 13 Quality Regions of which the most important for premium quality Riesling wines are Mosel, Rheingau, and Pfalz.

Within the 13 QbA, the highest premium wines is labeled QmP (Qualitätswein mit Prädikat). QmP is strictly regulated EU Quality Category and no artificial sugar is allowed. (Most wine out there, regardless of quality, usually add cane sugar into their wine).

Within QmP, there is a hierarchy of designation that reflect the natural sugar content of the grapes that are used to make the wine. Government officials would visit vineyard right before harvest to determine the sugar level of the grapes and issue the appropriate category to the winemaker. In the order of increasing ripeness and also price:

Kabinett: Wine from this category are usually harvest the earliest. They are the lightest body, high acidity, with green fruit notes (apple, grape). They usually have medium sweetness and light alcohol. Recently, I have found ones that are dry with medium alcohol.
Spätlese: This is hate harvest wine with more body than kabinett and has more exotic fruit note (lemon, pineapple).
Auslese: Wines have even more body and more exotic fruit notes (mango). This is the highest category where the wine can appear as a dry wine, though most Auslese are medium or sweet. This is also my personal favourite category of Riesling.
Eiswein: A.K.A icewine. Sweet wine made from frozen grapes.
Beerenauslese (BA): The last two categories are designated for sweet wines made from noble rots. A fungus growth on grapes that dries the grape leaving it looking like discolored raisin with concentrated natural sugar and acid. Only the perfectly ripped grapes under the perfect climate and weather are able to grow this noble rots, and sometimes not all the grapes are affected. These grapes just be picked and sorted grape by grape, by hand. These wines are low in alcohol, high in acidity, and very sweet.
Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA): This is the sweetest of the sweet wines. Very expensive and very difficult to come by. They only grow on the steep vineyard site above Rhine and Mosel. These vineyards are so steep it is impossible to manage by machine and has to be attended to manually. German labors are not cheap.

Interesting, some Liebfraumilch is QbA, made from a blend of grape varieties grown in the QbA regions. They are not bad, but due to the notoriety attached to its name. These are often labeled under brands, so they can be a little hard to find.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Chocolate Making Program

No, it is not just a class. It is a freaking program, with homework, reading assignments, deadlines, and exams. I thought it was just a class when I first signed up, and now I have a writing assignment due on Thursday. Looks like I have accidentally put myself back in school. I blame Jean. She introduced me to this course and will be suffering through this with me.

I am already procrastinating and falling behind on my daily blogging, and now I will be adding my chocolate making journey on top of all that. Take this journey with us.

For the first week, we have to taste test 2 flights of chocolate:

  • 1 High quality dark chocolate bar with 65 - 70% cocoa.
  • 1 Lindt, Toblar, or Sucard solid semisweet chocolate bar from Europe that you find in drug stores, markets or delis.
  • 1 Package of Bakers or Nestle Semisweet chocolate squares or another type of baking chocolate found in your supermarket.
  • 1 100 - 250 g ( 4 - 8 oz) sample of semisweet or dark confectioner's coating chocolate. This is also known as wafer's chocolate. A.K.A fake chocolate. A.K.A. the chocolate used cheap candy and chocolate bars.
  • Dark chocolate bars with the following cocoa percentage: 60-65%, 70-75%, 80-85%, 90 - 95%** - from the same manufacturer
  • Dark chocolate bars with the following cocoa percentage 60-65%, 70-75%, 80-85%, 90 - 95%** - from the another manufacturer in order to experience a different sweetness factor.
We need to taste them and write about them. The language of chocolate tasting is similar to that of wine. You have aroma, body, acidity, tannin, length, but in addition, you have attack, texture, and something else I haven't read about yet.

For reading assignment, we have

*My favourite.

Right now, Jean and I are scrambling all over town to find all the chocolate needed for 6 taste flights. We have gathered all the chocolate needed for the first flight. For the second flight, we have half. Lindt seems to have a completely set of everything for us, but finding a different brand set has been difficult.

What Not to Do With: Microwave Part 2

This is the second part of What Not to do with Microwave series. This post will talk about what actually not to do with microwave when using it. Microwave heats by heating up the water content in the product. When the water heats up, the steam then cooks food particles around it.

1. Do not turn on microwave with nothing inside. The microwave would get quickly damage and possibly short circuit. Do not put metal, aluminum foil, low grade cling film, glass, candle, or anything that can either melt or be set on fire in the microwave.

2. Do not microwave a sealed product. The water expands into steam and would explode the sealed container. Always leave an opening or holes. This includes food with skins or shells, such as potato. Always be careful of the steam.

3. Microwave has difficulty cooking a large item evenly. Higher end microwave comes with a turn table and adjustable setting for the size and weight of the object. However, microwave can only penetrate limited depths, so it cannot fully and safely cook a whole chicken or a large fish. Nor can microwave guarantee the entirety of the food would reach the necessary temperature to kill all the bacteria. Depend on the water distribution of the food, some parts may not cook at al. You have to overcook raw meat in a microwave in order to make it food safe. However, this makes the food dry, rubbery, and unappetizing.

4. Microwave heats by heating the water particles in the food. Dry goods will not heat up properly in a microwave. In order to cook dry food in the microwave, you have to create a steam bag using heat resistant parchment paper and add the appropriate amount of water.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Tokushima Part 4

We are not done with Tokushima yet! If I ever win the lottery, I would want a vacation home in Tokushima. It's a foodie heaven!

For the last whole day in the city, we decided to try out a famous noodle house. This "restaurant" was rated the top eight noodle house in all of Japan and was featured at Japanese food expo every year for a decade. The restaurant is situated in a residential area at the foot of Bizai Mountain (Eyebrow mountain) right beside a small abandoned temple. It boasts using natural mountain spring to make their delicious noodle soup. There was a line of eager customers lined out around the block. Peaking into the restaurant, I realized this restaurant was more of a noodle consumption assembly line than it was a restaurant. Inside, there were two U-shape bars lined with wobbly stools. Food were served from the back room, while two servers work with amazing efficiency inside each bar. This is where I got the idea of organizing my restaurant city on Facebook.

First, we purchased our noodle tickets from a vending machine. There were only two types of noodle soups: flavoured or plain broth, large or small size, but you can get additional orders of tea boiled eggs and rice. The vending machine then produced small scrabble size tiles with different colors. Eventually, we were able to seat ourselves at one of the bars. The bars are fitted with water jars, disposable chopsticks, and napkins. The servers greeted us and put our little tiles in a nook in front of us. They proceeded to clean our eating area, serve us tea, and serve us at inhuman speed (maybe they are robots).

The noodles. Are. Absolutely. Amazing. My eyes watered, as I savored the flavours. The noodles were amazing fresh, nutty, and doughy. The broth were flavourful, delicate, not overly salty or greasy. The beef was lean but still melted in my mouth. There were some mysterious pickle which was not overpowering and it blended into the soup beautifully. I should have ordered the large. I should have ordered two! Where has this soup been all my life?!

It took about 40 minute from lining up to being fed. The restaurant probably processed about a person a minute. A bowl of noodle was about $4 CND. They were open 7 days a week from 10am to 2am.

After we left the restaurant dumbfounded by our experience, we decided to linger around the area and check out the little abandoned temple near by. The next 4 hours of my life were truly magical.

The abandoned temple nested right at the foot of the mountain surrounded by trees, dusts, and cobwebs. Tucked in the corner behind the temple is a sign saying indicating another temple further up. Feeling adventurous, Dennis and I headed into the thick of the forest on this little path. After 20 minutes of hiking up the path, the forest got thicker and we had to brush away cobwebs in order to proceed. This temple was nowhere in sight and we had no idea where we were heading.

Dennis: "Should we keep going?"
Me: "I don't know. Should we? You decide."
Dennis: "No, you decide."
Me: "If you make me decide, I am going to keep going."

And we kept going. We then repeated this conversation several times for the next 90 minutes as we push up the mountain. (This actually describes our relationship perfectly in a nutshell). We passed many strange things, such as ancient marking stones with ancient distance measuring unit thing, old signs with distance measurement and directions that lead to nowhere, worn down make-shift prayer stones. It felt like we were going back in time. An hour and half later, we started to see views of the forest down below and later on the whole city. Eventually, after two hours of climb, we finally came to a clearing at the top of the mountain. There was a small town! And that temple!

Apparently, we had taken the hard (but shorter) way to get up the mountain. We could technically drove up here from the other side of the mountain, and there was a gondola that can take us down below.

The little town was nested in the forest. There were fruit trees with sudachi and mandarine dangling from them. The temple looked very old but well kept. The views were breathtaking. An elderly couple made redbean mochi in their yards. The old woman pull mochi out of a red wooden box and methodologically roll red bean paste into each. The husband grilled the mochi just a little before putting it in a small paper bag. The aroma was irresistible. They were selling it to the visitors, and it was soft, fluffy, and delicious. I never had mochi this good before.

We went forward in the direction of loud music and a crowd. After a few turns, the forest cleared into a huge modern building with gondola, garden, parking lot, and a huge festivals . There was an anime convention up on this mountain. Young people were dressed up in anime costumes, showing off their rigged out car (design and painted like an anime car).

Between modernity and this mystical little town were tents set up by the locals to sell food and beverages to the visitors. There were also carnival games for children, arts and crafts displays. An elderly couple made redbean mochi in their yards. There were also sudachi sorbet made from sudachi grown on the mountain by the locals. These were delightful. There were other vendors that were selling food and drinks from the back of their truck: fried chicken, grilled seafood, bento boxes, coffee. We went from truck to truck and tasted everything.

Anywhere else in the world, a festival like this would result in littering everywhere. There were no garbage on the ground. Instead, there were temporary recycling station set up and half a dozen volunteers cleaning and picking up the few litters that were there. Even the outhouse was clean.
These are so good that they should be illegal.

Dennis and I accidentally climbed a mountain. We found a small town, ate some magical mochi, sudachi sorbet, and fried chicken possibly sprinkled with crack cocaine.

Gramercy Grill

Here is my first official don't-go-there restaurant review. Well, that's a little harsh, but definitely do not go there for lunch. Gramercy Grill went from my favourite neighborhood gem two years ago to the dog house. The first time there, I had an amazing time. I loved the service, their beer list, and their amazing salad and seafood dishes. Then, the food just got progressively worse each time I went back. I have a major problem with their inconsistency, and bad experience out numbers the good ones. I feel ripped off eating there. Here are my thoughts on my latest $40 dollar lunch there.

Food (2.5/5):
I have been there half a dozen time now, and this will be my last time. I have never had a good lunch and dinner's biggest problem is the inconsistency from dish to dish.

For lunch, Dennis ordered the Manhattan Clam Chowder. The little bowl comes on the tacky decoration paper, without which the dish would have looked more appetizing. The soup was okay. Dennis did not mind it (3.5/5). I had daily's special: roasted pepper bisque soup. Check out the second photo. I did not touch it; it arrived at my table like that. Does it look like a soup you would expect from a fine dinning venue? No. The taste was simple: cream and red pepper (2/5). The chef put no effort in this dish. Feeling like I wasted my time and money, I hoped the main courses would perk me up and renew my last thread of hope for this restaurant.

For main course, Dennis had Spinach Orecchetti: cream of spinach, basil and grana padano: $14. However, check out the portion and the plating, or the lack there of. Dennis had a bite and passed the dish to me. I tasted a lot of cream with some pasta dough. I had a few more bites and lost my appetite (2/5).

I purposely order the Clam Linguini ($14) to compare to Bella Roma's Linguini Vongole. It has baby clams, sautéed crush tomatoes, basil, parsley, and cracked chillies. With this wonderful description, I was expecting a lot of flavour with a little zing! Nope! There were 3 fresh clams and bunch of baby clams straight out of a can. The dish wasn't too bad. Dennis ended up eating most of this pasta. He said: "This dish is accidentally good because they undercooked the pasta." Dennis loves undercooked pasta that is chewy and a little stiff. (3/5)

Service (2.5/5):
The service was adequate. I think the two servers were very swamped. The service was sort of like the restaurant. It just got progressively worse as the meal went out. They handled the food very roughly. They ignored us completely after our main course.

Ambience (3/5):
I like decor a lot. It has that dark wood, dark carpet, old school smoke room feel to it. With candle lights at night, it looked romantic. It would definitely had been a great place go for the third date, if the food wasn't so bad. No music though.

Overall (3/5):
Once upon a time, I had a great time and great food there. I know for sure the Seafood Bowl is pretty good (4/5). They have a great beer list featuring small local breweries. They do have a bar area with TV, so I bet this is a good after-work hangout place.

Total (11/20):
Don't go for lunch. Go for dinner at your own risk. Do not take your foodie girlfriend to this restaurant. Either way, you are getting a lot less than what you are paying for.

Gramercy Grill on Urbanspoon

Friday, April 23, 2010

Crispy Fish Filet

This is a very simple and quick recipe to cook just about any fish filet. The fish will have delicious crispy skin and moist meat. All you need is salt, pepper, and vegetable oil. Lemon is nice but optional.

1. Preheat your oven to 400˚F.
2. Salt and pepper both side of the filet.
3. Heat a pan on high heat and put in a table spoon of vegetable oil.
4. Once the pan is smoking just a little, put in the fish, skin side down.
5. Do not flip the fish over! Resist flipping the fish over! Wait 2 minutes or till the skin is golden brown. Then, put the whole pan into the oven. If your pan has a plastic handle or is not oven save, transfer the fish onto a pan with aluminum foil.
6. After 5 minutes, remove the fish from the oven.
Optional: Squeeze lemon juice on the pan. While the juice sizzles, flip the fish over to coat it. Then quickly remove the fish from heat and serve.

Another option is to add a small cube of butter in with the lemon, but the fish tastes just as good without the butter, so why the calories?

Any citric white wine would pair well.

Christine on Foodista

Thursday, April 22, 2010

How to Gut a Fish (Not for Jessica: it gets bloody)

Say hello to my branzini. You can get this fresh at Wholefoods on Cambie.

Why should we gut and cut fish ourselves?
1. Well, how can we be sure that the fish filets from grocery store came from a healthy fresh fish? Ideally, it is the best to buy the fish alive with gills moving and take it home in this condition. If buying live fish is not possible or out of your comfort zone, it is still important to pick your own whole fish. You want to pick a fish that has a nice shine to it, the eyes are clear, and it is not bleeding everywhere. If the fish has a rainbow shine to it (oily), it is not that good.
2. Filet dries up pretty quickly after it is cut. The salt water fish filet's contact with fresh water can also ruin the flavour. It is better to filet your fish right before you cook them. Also, fishmongers will not pick out the bones for you, so this is something you will end up doing anyway.
3. The right gutting technique is important. Doing it ourselves ensure it is done right.

Now you have select a whole fish from your fishmonger. Ask them to scale it for you. Scaling fish at home can be a nightmare, because scales can fly. I learned it the hard way and I was scraping scales off the walls and floor for a week. You can scale the fish underwater which prevent this problem, but it is still a huge pain. However, ask them to not gut it for you. This part we will do ourselves.

Now time for dinner and you have a whole fish on your chopping board. First, put a disposable towel on your board. You can get 2 dozen of these pink ones for a dollar at safeway. Or have paper towel handy and put some old newspaper under the chopping board. (It gets messy).

While there are many ways to fillet a fish, the following instruction is friendlier to people who are new to gutting fish:

1. Lift a side fin up as far as it would naturally go. Slide your knife underneath the fin and cut parallel to the angle of that fin towards the middle of the fish. (Watch your fingers). You will meet some resistance at the center and you will stop there. If its bloody, it's a good fish. Flip the fish over.

Here is a picture with the knife going through the fish.

2. You will need to do the same thing to the other side. Notice that I am using my usual chef's knife. Ideally, you want to use a filet knife, which I don't have. Any long and sharp knife with a pointed end would do. Just be aware that your knife does go through some abuse when fileting a fish.
3. Now your knife is inserted into the fish like in the picture above. With the knife still in the fish, you want to then turn your knife perpendicular to the chopping board. Press down hard and behead it. I omit the photo here, but don't be afraid. It's dead and won't feel a thing. If you think this is gross, just wait till we start gutting lobster or duck.

View of the belly. I turned the belly up to better show it
4. Locate a dark spot on the lower belly of the fish (where the arrow is pointed). With the fish still on its side and belly facing you. point your knife perpendicular to the spine, pierce the fish. You don't need to cut too deep. Piercing the skin is good enough, and then you want to slice towards the "head" (or the lack thereof), in order to cut open the belly. Make a mental note of the lower fins. We will need to find them later.
5. Once the belly is opened, you will see the unappetizing guts in all sorts of color. Scrape it out, discard. Resist the temptation to wash your fish with fresh water. Some discoloration is normal.

Here is a picture of the cleaned inside. Now we are going to cut the filet off the spine.
5. With the fish on its side and the belly facing you. We want to cut along the spine from head to tail, but first, we want to cut towards the spine at an 30˚ angle from the chopping board. The position of you other hand is quite important here. You want to lift up the lower edge (with the lower fin) with your thumb while keeping all your fingers up. Once the knife is at the spine, you want to apply pressure down towards the fish in order to keep it stable while you cut through it. Your knife will meet some resistance with the rib bones of the fish, but just muscle through it. Your hand will remain in this position until your knife has cut all the way through. (Yes your arms will be crossed at the end).

I made the 30˚ angle incision in the fish to better show how it should be cut.

6. Once we are done this side. We want to flip it over and with its back facing towards you. Again, cut towards the spine at 30˚ angle and then cut along the spine towards the tail. The hand position is a little tricky here. You want to use your forth finger and pinky to keep the belly of the fish up and away from the knife, while keeping your fingers safe and applying pressure using your other fingers and palm. However you do it, just keep pressure on the fish and keep it stable while you follow through with your cut with your knife hand.
Now we trim!
6. Remember that lower fin? Feel around the area around that fin. Cut off all the cartilage around that area. Sometimes, there are an upper fin too. Cut that off as well. Feel free to trim around the edges of the fish to give it a cleaner look.
7. (Optional, but highly recommended) Using a fish tweezer or an old pair of tweezer, pull out the bones. Pull the bones out at the same angle and direction as they were grown. Use your hand to feel for these bones. There are about 14-16 bones in a branzini.


You know you have done a good job filleting your fish when there are very little meat left on the spine.

If the spine of the fish is in the center or if you wish to present the fish whole, there is another way of doing it.
Step 2: Cutting and gutting the gill of the fish. (Be careful to not cut your hand on the tough gills)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Barbaresco 2004

Variety: Barbaresco
Producer: Produttori de Barbaresco
Specification: Riserva Asili
Vintage: 2004
Region: Barbaresco, Italy
Price: $60

Appearance: Clear, vibrant, deep red, with some orange
Nose: Clean, meat, earth, vanilla, oak, red fruit, cherry, violet, floral
Palate: Clean, full bodied, acidic, lots of firm tannin, chewy, tobacco, lots of flavours

Getting this wine at a blind tasting is like answering a trick question on an exam. This wine has significant signs of orange (aging), yet it still has a nice bright red shin. Tannin is so hard, you can almost chew it. This wine can't be as old as it looks. Strangely, why does such full bodied wine has nice red fruit and floral flavour usually associated with lighter wine? Ahha! The grape variety must be Nebbio, a grape that gives a natural orange color to the wine. This narrows the wine down to Barolo or Barbaresco. This is where I make a guess and hope I am right. The pros would be able to further differentiate the two. Apparently, barbaresco is slightly less bodied and softer tannin than barolo (I can't tell the differences).

Produuttori del Barbaresco is the finest co-operative wine grower and producer in the region. Although there are even better individual producers, the co-ops wine is pretty much as good as this wine gets. Aged for 5 year, this wine can use another 3-4 years, but it's good to drink now. This wine also needs an hour of decanting and should be consumed with food.

Quality: Excellent. But not my favourite.

Wine Pairing:
Nebbiolo based wine is best when they are paired with rich full food. They are also great with acidic dishes (most Italian food). Full lamb, beef dishes and stews. rich earthy mushrooms. Dry, age, high flavoured cheese such as parmesan and granda padano.

Avoid seafood, chicken, or pork.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


Bordeaux is the classic blend for Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grown in Bordeaux. The climate there is moderate, maritime climate with long warm autumn: ideal for these two grapes. There are hundreds of bordeaux producers, dozens of premium appellations, and there are very fine and significant differences between each.

Here is a quick and easy dirty guide to understand some major appellation.

The Left Bank: River Garonne cuts through Bordeaux creating very different climate on two sides. The left bank, closer to the ocean to the West and more South then the right bank, has warmer climate. Here, Cabernet Sauvignon, a variety that needs a lot of sun and warmth, is the dominant variety. In other words, the wine produced here contains more cabernet sauvignon than Merlot. The wines are medium or full-bodied with high levels of tannin and acidity, and long length. These wines are tough to drink when young, but with age the tannin softens, and flavours of black fruit and toasty fragrant of oak develop into vegetal, tobacco, and cedar complexity. The very best wines of this region come from the Cru Classé châteaux, where the gravel mounds drain water away and retain more heat to help the grape ripen.

The left bank can be subdivided into two parts. Médoc and Haut-Médoc are north of the city of Bordeaux, while Graves are south of the city.

In the Haut-Médoc, there are four amazing appellation: St. Esteph, Pauillac, St. Julien, Margaux. There is an easy way to remember these. St. Esteph is the most north offering very full bodied and high alcohol wine, while Margaux offers light-medium bodied wine that are very delicate. Pauillac and St. Julien are the best of these four, offering medium bodied wine that are elegant and complex. These wines from these four communes are very expensive and highly demanded.

Graves is much simpler. North region in Graves has a sub-region called Pessac-Léognan which produces finest in Graves.

The Right Bank, lies north east of the river. There merlot is the dominate variety. The wines are typically softer and more approachable in style than those from the left bank. They have medium tannin, medium acidity, a red fruit character. While these can be drank relatively younger, they develop phenomenal cedar and tobacco complexity with age. The best sites have clay soil which retains heat.

Now, top tier wines from these regions can costs up to 4 digit per bottle: Saint-Emilion, Pomerol, Petruvs, and Opus One. These have incredible and intense flavour profile that are out of this world. They will all be on my wedding registry.

If the bottles simply label Bordeaux AC or Bordeaux Supériur, these are not bad. Some individual producers in this region still producers age worthy bottles, but in most cases, they are best consumed young.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

What Not to Do With: Microwave

This is going to be the first of the two posts about microwave.

For 10 years, my father lectured and nagged that microwave caused cancer. He believed that:
1. Microwave directly causes cancer if you stand near it.
2. Microwave strips all nutrients in food and creates carcinogens.
3. Plastic from plastic container is leeched into the food when microwaved.

About 8 years ago, on April 1st, bunch of people got together and started to circulate false scientific journals and emails about the danger of microwaves, especially when plastic container is used, as a April Fool's joke. Unfortunately, it caught on and there are now people out there who refuse to be in same building as a microwave.

First, microwave does not directly cause cancer. There are government regulations that limits the amount of radiation that can be leaked out of the microwave. The measurement calculates the amount of radiation a person would experience if he/she is stand less than 2 inches from the operating microwave for his/her entire life. The limit indicated by law is also way below the exposure level currently considered to be harmful to human health. More long term studies were conducted with mice, and even at high dosage exposure, scientists can not link cancer to microwaves.

Second, microwave does not strip all the nutrients from food. In fact, it maintains nutrients significantly better than all types of cooking, except for steaming. However, microwave does inactivate vitamin B12, so cooking meat or dairy in a microwave would reduce their nutritional contents.

Third, Microwave does not create carcinogens. Actually, this is one benefit of using microwave over other forms of cooking. Microwave can only heat an item to the boiling temperature of water, and thus, cannot burn any food creating tar or char. In fact, microwaving and steaming are the only ways to avoid creating carcinogens in potatoes. Microwave cooked food generally has less carcinogens than food cooked by sautéing, oven, or grilling. A good trick would be to heat your food first in the microwave, before sautéing or grilling. This will will reduce the amount of time the food need to spend under high heat and reduce the amount of carcinogens that would form on the surface of the food.

Third, microwave does not cause plastic to be leached into food. Plastic container causes plastic to be leeched into food. Check the grade of the plastic you use. Lower grade plastic would leech plastic into your food even at room temperature. The plastic leeching people associate with microwave is the same as if you pour boiling hot food into a plastic container. Since microwave will only heat things to water's boiling point, just make sure the plastic container can withstand that heat safely. Usually, they would be labelled "Microwave Safe" Read this article for more detail. Contrary to popular belief, Styrofoam can safely be used in the microwave, as long as it can withstand high heat.

However, there are definitely a lot of things you cannot do with a microwave. I will talk about that next week.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Tokushima Part 3

We found a very posh restaurant specialized in kurokuta pork. Kurokuta or Berkshire pig is a rare breed of pigs originated from England. The English traded these pigs to various countries, including Japan, hundreds of years ago. Berkshire pork is very juice and full of flavor and tenderness. The meat is pink and marbled similar to premium beef. Its high fat content makes it suitable for long cooking and high-temperature cooking.

The Japanese then took these delicious pigs to a new level by feeding them a balanced diet consist of organic grains, vegetables, and fruits. Their living condition is world class. Since pork tend to take on the flavour of their diet, kurobuta pork does not have the nasty overwhelmingly pungent flavour of ordinary pork. Instead, it is aromatic, delicate, and little bit nutty. Japanese bred Kurokuta can be eaten medium rare. Denmark has similar method of pig farming. The Dans takes a more scientific approach to raising high quality pigs through highly innovative and technologically advanced methods.

Anyway, back to the restaurant. This restaurant featured its pork the same way Matsusakagyu specialized in beef. The pork was categorized by parts and graded according to marbling. It was then grilled as skewers, or order them as bacon on salad with local organic green, omelet, and stews. They did not have pork sashimi though. The food came in the wok, pan, or skillet they were cooked in. For alcohol, they also listed local saki and shochu with high acidity, which paired very well with the pork.

While the dishes were amazing, the highlight of the meal wastheir chocolate soufflé. It was baked in the pan and then flipped over. The waiter placed a small cube of butter on side and served the dish with side melted chocolate, condense milk, and caramel. It was warm, fluffy, and absolutely delicious. Through my trip, we noticed that Japanese do Western dessert better than ones in Vancouver. Looks like the Japanese just does everything better.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Bella Roma

I was so excited when Bella Roma has opened. It has a lot of competitions. Provencal, an expensive Mediterranean restaurant with better hours, is right across the street. Some Kind of Pasta, a local favourite pasta joint, is less than a block away. There is even a pizza hut half a block away. It takes a lot of confidence to open a restaurant here, and we were curious. Every time we walked by, we were drawn by the simple but classy décor and that brick oven in the back.

Finally, Jean, Dennis, and I went to Bella Roma for lunch today. We are very impressed with the food, the price, and the service. The restaurant has better quality food than Provencal at the same or cheaper price as Some Kinda Pasta. We believe Bella Roma is going to have a great future and is here to stay.

Food (4/5):
Wasn't Cin Cin also rated 4/5? Yes, Cin Cin's Mare Set was still the most Godly Italian food I have ever had (5/5), but the rest of the meal we had was rather lack luster for the price. Roma Bella's food is not as elegant (good looking) and innovative as Cin Cin's, but it offers good portioned traditional Italian dishes at ⅔ of the price.

We found that a lot of Italian restaurants put a lot of salt and over-flavour in their dishes. Roma Bella offers much lighter and delicate flavours that reminds us of Italian home cooking.

Bruschetta was free, delicious, and puts my homemade ones to shame. It was juicy, herby, and tangy. I gotta try to make this at home. The bread (also free) is made fresh every morning and roasted with house made pesto sauce. It was warm, fluffy, and not greasy. Again, not as good as Cin Cin's olive pepper spread , but much superior than the dry bread from Provencal. (No free bread at Some Kinda Pasta).

For appetizer, Jean ordered Traditional Caesar ($7.99). The salad looked rather uninspiring and the crouton was tooth breaking hard, but the dressing was delightful. It was fresh, light, citric: the way I like it (3/5). Dennis ordered Bella Roma Prawns ($12.99). There was only 7 medium size prawns, but they were perfectly cooked. The sauce is delicious but I don't think the prawn absorb the flavour. Good for bread dipping though. (3.5/5).

Having had some above average appetizers, I was ready to be disappointed by the main course. Jean got the medium Grill Chicken Pizza lunch special ($15.99). This pizza was pretty phenomenal. The chicken was brushed with house made BBQ sauce, and pine nuts and red bell pepper added a lot of flavour and texture. The pizza wasn't greasy and it had the perfect amount of cheese. (4.5/5).

Dennis ordered Linguini Vongole: clams with lemon, white wine, garlic, and basil tomato sauce ($16.99). This was the best clam pasta I ever had. The dish had lots of fresh sauce soaked large clams and the perfect amount of sauce sauce that is tangy with a lovely zing! (5/5) Some Kinda Pasta had the same dish with few bitty tiny previously frozen clams and terrible sauce for $15.89.

I ordered the daily special: cannelloni with chicken prosciutto in rose sauce ($13.99). This was Jean's favourite dish. It was very rich, creamy, and cheesy. I felt so guilty eating it, but it was so good. Oh writing about it make me salivate. However, the drier and rougher texture of the chicken prosciutto did not contrast the sauce well (4/5).

Service (3.5/5):
The restaurant was a two-man team for lunch time. A waiter and a cook. The waiter was friendly and chatty. He served as timely and efficiently. We were slow to be served after we were done with our main course.

Ambience (4/5):
I think they were having difficulty with their music player during lunch, but there are live piano music at night. Each table has cloth napkin, candle, and real flowers. This is a beautiful and romantic neighborhood restaurant. I feel comfortable and relaxed in the restaurant. Great for first, second, and even the third date.

Overall Experience (4/5):
This place definitely offers better food at cheaper price than all the restaurants around the area. With piano music, this place is more ambiance and romantic than a lot of other expensive restaurant. The food is great without being fatty, salty, or greasy. The best part is, I can go back again and again without breaking the bank. They even deliver.

Total (15.5/20):
Jean: "Authentic Italian Restaurant, just like the ones in Europe."
Dennis: "My go-to place for a nice Italian meal. Very satisfying"
Me: "I need to go back for dinner, tonight"

I didn't have a chance to try their wine this time. Next time!

Edit: We went back and their calzones are HUGE!!

Bella Roma on Urbanspoon

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Black Pepper Beef Roast

Looking this makes me salivate. I used to roast beef at least once a week, and sometimes I would slice the meat thinly to make sandwiches. This is a round tip roast, one of the cheapest and leanest cut for roast. Having a good butcher is the key to ensure you don't get an overly chewy cut.

The rub is pretty simple: black pepper, minced garlic, and salt in olive oil. The quantity is pretty much personal preference. I usually make a nice thick paste out of this rub and generously cover the roast with it. This is pretty unscientific. Any store-bought rub would be great with a little bit of fresh minced garlic and olive oil. If you are lazy like me, you can also just rub the roast with salt and pepper mix or any store bought rub.

Oven is preheated to 325F. The slower this roast cooks, the more moist and tender the meat. The roast is placed with the fatty side up and bone side down, and baked uncovered. A two pound roast usually takes me 20 minutes to rare which is my preference. Ask the butcher for the exact cooking temp and time for your roast.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Meat Temperature

I can't really determine the doneness of my meats without a specialized meat thermometer. This is a quick and easy chart to determine what temperature should be reached for each meat to the desired doneness.

Notes: To measure the temperature, the meat should always be removed from the heat source first. The temperature "needle" should be stuck into the "core", the thickest part of the meat and parallel to the heat source and not towards the heat source.

Note 2: This chart only applies to high quality meat. Pork should always be fully cooked to well done except for berkshire (karabuta) pork.

Once the meat is cooked, make sure to let it "rest" on a rack or a piece of paper towel for a few minutes, so the juice would "set". Longer resting time for bigger pieces of meat.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Toscana IGT

Variety: Cabernet Sauvignon
Producers: Luce
Specification: Super Tuscany
Vintage: 2005
Region: Tuscany, Italy
Price: $99.99

Appearance: Clear, deep dark red
Nose: Clean, intense, smoke, cinnamon, vanilla, pencil shaving, black chary, blackberry, toast, plum, fruit cake
Palate: Lots of tannin, dusty, sheer ripeness, smooth, full body.

Italians are rather nationalistic about the wines they produce, and they tend to focus on unique Italian grape varieties instead of popular international grape types. So what happens when wine makers in Tuscany decided that Cabernet Sauvignon would be ideal for their climate and soil?

Welcome to Super Tuscany, the new superstar (or traitor) of Italian wine depending on who you ask. These wines average around a hundred dollars a bottle and well worth the money.

Quality: Impressive, long finish. Need at least 5 more years of aging.

Pair this with a juicy prime rib roast.