Friday, July 30, 2010

My First Pickle

Several months ago, I made this insane Sweet Heart Purse for a contest and I had a bunch of kohlrabi left over.  Jean suggested that I try pickling it.  Pickling is a method to naturally preserve perishable food.  Acidity (or salinity), lack of oxygen, and low temperature discourage the bad bacteria and promotes food fermentation.  Pickling is done for all types of cultures and cuisines.  Pickling is also a great way to introduce vitamin B into the diet.

To pickle a vegetable or fruit:
Step 1: Sanitize the jar and the lid in boiling water
Step 2: Add the vegetable or fruit with a brine (a liquid with some kind of salt) and/or vinegar.
Step 3: Tightly seal the container and store it in a cool dark place, until the desired taste is obtained.

Here is a list of issues and signs of possible spoilage.

Jean's mother often pickle vegetable in soy sauce and rice vinegar and that's exactly what we did.  After a few weeks, I forgot about the pickle in the back of my fridge until now.  This is what it looks like and it was delicious with a bowl of congee for breakfast.  This is a great way to cut down calories and still have strong flavours for your breakfast.  This pickle also makes a great aperitif for lunch or dinner.  Alternatively, you can use it to flavour a broth or noodle soup.

Stanley Park Amber Ale


I have finally persuaded Dennis to be my guest speaker every other Thursday, alternating with Christina.  Dennis loves his coffee and beer and spends great deal of time and energy understanding them.  What do you guys like to read more about? Beer or coffee? Both?
  
For his first post, he would like to start with beer:
  

Stanley Park Amber Ale is a well-balanced beer, that is akin to your typical honey lager. It has a bright copper colour, and has an initial flavour that is somewhat similar to what you would expect in a honey, and like a honey, it is also lighter than comparable ales. What sets it apart from honey lagers, and makes this particular beverage special, is that absence of a thick semi-sweetness that characterizes the honey lager type. The Stanley Park Ale is full, yet refreshing, and it has a richness that definitely reminds us that is in fact an ale. This amber has a lot more character than most ambers I've tried, which are usually defined as being a drink with an identity crisis, too light to appeal to ale drinkers, and not light and refreshing enough to appeal to lager drinkers. I feel the Amber will appeal to both, with its woodsy, maize-like highlights.

  
I would definitely recommend the Stanley Park Amber to anyone who is looking for a new and balanced beer, but is fed up with trying every Canadian honey lager microbrew under the sun. Moreover, the Stanley Park brewery is green-energy powered, so if you have one of these beauties in your hand at a BBQ, you'll have one less sorrow to drown out!
  
Anyway, we would love for some feedback to your thoughts and what you would like to read more!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Frat-Boy Roast Chicken


This is my July entry for Royal Food Joust by the Leftover Queen: Frat-Boy Roast Chicken.  Unlike my previous entries, this recipe is a lot more masculine, simple, and full of delicious calories. The chicken is glazed with a homemade Chipotle Honey BBQ Sauce and roasted with a half can  of Granville Island Honey Lager stuffed inside. This recipe is pretty much what you would expect a college guy to make on his backyard grill on Sunday and then brag to his friend about it on Monday.

Hey! Get your mind out of the gutter!
OK bare with me here!  I know this is more than a little unorthodox, but the result is super delicious.  In order to create the ultimate chicken roast with maximum moisture and flavour, I "sat" a whole chicken legs side down unto a half full can of beer.  Beer cans happened to fit snugly inside the chicken and acted as an anchor for the chicken to sit straight in the roasting pan.


Think beer stand (and nothing else): when a person is held upside down while chugging a beer.  As the beer heats up in the oven or grill, it releases aromatic steam that is soaked up by the chicken.  On the outside, the glaze encased and trapped the moistures inside the chicken.  The result is a fall-off-the-bone tender and moist chicken with layers of beautiful hickory, sweet, and spicy flavours.

Frat-boy Chicken Series:
FBC: Lemon Pepper and Hefeweizen
FBC: Lemon Grass Chili and Asian Beer
FBC: Chocolate Mole & Irish Cream Ale

Chipotle Honey BBQ Sauce
1 large onion (chopped)
3 cloves garlic, coarsely (minced)
2 cups canned tomatoes and juices (puréed)
2 cups beer
1/4 cup tomato paste
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 Tablespoons sugar
3 Tablespoons honey
1/4 cup molasses
2 Tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 Whole chipotle chiles
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Instruction:
1. Heat the oil over medium heat in a heavy-bottomed medium sized saucepan.
2. Add the onions and cook until translucent about 5 minutes.
3. Add garlic and cook until translucent for 30 second
4. Add the puréed tomatoes and beer and simmer for 10 minutes.
5. Add the remaining ingredients and simmer for an additional 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
6. Transfer the mixture to a food processor and purée until smooth, season with salt and pepper to taste. 7. Pour into a bowl and allow to cool at room temperature.  The sauce would be even better if left in the fridge overnight.

Might as well bake some potato at the same time.
Frat-Boy Roast Chicken
This should ideally be done on a grill, but I did it in a convection oven.  Use less than half of can of beer. The less liquid there is, the faster they will heat up and evaporate.  I choose honey lager because it is my favourite, and also having a consistent honey aroma throughout the whole chicken helps to tie all the various flavours together between the beer and the sauce.

1. Pre-heat oven 325F
2. Remove the neck and giblet from the cavity of the chicken
3. With the beer can on a flat surface, grab a chicken leg in each hand and gently "sit" the chicken onto the beer can and allow the can to fit snugly into the cavity.
4. Seal the opening on the top of the chicken using a piece of skin or a piece of potato. Glaze the entire chicken with Chipotle Honey BBQ Sauce.
On Grill: Put the chicken onto the grill and place in the center of the grate, balancing the bird on its two legs and the can.  The chicken should sit straight up.  Grill the chicken with the cover for 90 minutes.  Glaze the chicken with more sauce every 30 minutes.
In Oven: Put the chicken on the lowest level in the oven and roast for 90 minute or until the internal temperature of the thighs and breasts 160F. Glaze the chicken with more sauce every 30minute.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Royal Foodie Joust Winner Mugs

I just received a pair of RFJ mugs in the mail.  While drinking out of one of these, I came up with the wildest idea for my next contest!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Would You Eat This?


This National Geographic video offers some thought provoking issues regarding food sustainability, diversity, and ethnics.

White Haven Sauvignon Blanc 2008, Marlborough NZ


Variety: Sauvignon Blanc
Producer: Whitehaven
Specification: none
Vintage: 2008
Region: Marlborough, New Zealand
Alcohol: 13%
Price: 22.00

Appearance: Clear, water white, lemon green, legs
Nose: Clean, medium + intensity or pronounced, developing, green fruit, grapefruit, mineral, lemon, herbaceous.
Palate: Dry, high acidity, no tannin, medium+ alcohol, medium body, medium intensity, citrus, grapefruit, lemon, herbaceous, pepper, grass, medium length.

Let's see what we have learned so far. High acidity, high alcohol, no oak, and pronounced aroma of citrus, green fruit and herbaceousnecss are all characteristics of a sauvignon blanc. The intense aroma and subtle pepper and grass flavour indicate that this is likely to be a New Zealand Sauvignon blanc.  The you pull the bottle out of the paper bag, yes, you are correct.  This is a classic New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.

Sauvignon Blanc is in fashion right now.  Bordeaux and cabernet sauvignon are no longer that cool.  B.C. has some decent sauvignon blanc as well, but the New Zealand ones offer better value.  At $22, it lacks some complexity of the more expensive brands and it is a little weak on the palate.

Quality: Very good, ready to drink, but can keep

For pairing, remember that creamy chicken linguini from Trattoria?  It is full body enough to stand up to to the heaviness of dish, but its acidity cuts through the cream nicely and quenches your thirst.  This is the perfect wine for the summer.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Trattoria: The Complete Story

Behold: Lamb Sausage Pappardelle

My family and I had been loyal addicts of Trattoria, an Italian restaurant on West 4th Ave.  We loved just about every dish on the menu and couldn't resist going there as frequently as we could. Then, there was a menu change that broke everyone's heart.  I wrote about this in my first, and rather scathing, review of Trattoria.

A day later, I got an email from Stephan, Trattoria's manager, who replied to the comment card I left at the restaurant. He was very concerned about my last experience at the restaurant and offered to serve us dishes from the old menu. I was blown away by the fact that he cared so much as to contact me and offer us a chance to experience our old favorites, so I invited my friends and family and booked a table for 10 people for Saturday lunch.  Peter and Helen from Eat-Rotic drove all the way from south of Richmond to find out what was all this fuss about. Thank goodness they came, my camera ran out of battery and these pictures are Helen's.

Anyway, so here is a complete review of my experience there, taking into account of all past experiences:

Food (3/5):
First: free appetizers: these lovely scones with mascarpone cheese and warm succulent kobe meatballs.  There is a special place in my heart for free and delicious things (4/5).  Out of 10 people, we did manage to order two dishes on the current brunch menu: Spaghetti and Kobe Meatball and Beef Tenderloin Carpaccio.  I believe the meatballs are their signature dish and it has always been consistent and delicious (4/5).  Unfortunately, the carpaccio wasn't as good as I remembered it (3.5/5).  The carpaccio did come with gorgonzola polenta, which could be a little "out there" for people not familiar with the cheese.  We also requested two orders of Honey Mussel from the dinner menu.  It was rather over cooked, average, and wasn't as good as my previous experience here. The table did raise question about the strong "fishy" oder (2.5/5).

For main course, 4 people ordered the famous Lamb Sausage Pappardelle while the other 4 ordered the chicken linguini.  Both were from the previous menu.  The pappardelle was as good as I remembered it.  I loved this dish and I savored each bite, with my eyes close (4/5).  Previously, the chicken linguini (I forgot the actual name) came with large strips of chicken, but this time it has shredded chicken. This cream based pasta dish was absolutely delicious. The endive (I am guessing) that was cooked into the sauce gave it a nice freshness to contrast the cream.  The new version with the shredded chicken actually worked better in this dish than the previous one.  Wow! Why did they remove this dish from the menu? (4/5) The creaminess made the pasta very filling and difficult to finish, but that can be easily fixed with a full bodied high acid Sauvignon Blanc.

Update (November 8th, 2010): The food quality seems to continue to deteriorate in this restaurant.  Their pizza is now terrible, overpriced, and you should never order it. Current menu still have several land mines - I mean dishes - that are just repulsive.

Service (5/5):
I already have very good impression of the service at this restaurant. On top of that, the manager emailed me and offered me dishes off the menu. Then, waitress offered us free appetizers and coffee and pampered us from the start to the finish. Need I say more?

Ambience (3.5/5):
Same as before. I love the decor of the restaurant. It is sexy, modern, and ambient. It is suitable for all occasions: causal dinning, formal dinner with your in-laws, or even a good place to come as singles to mingle at the bar. It is not too loud or too crowded. The seats are luxurious and comfortable and everything are clean, sturdy, and sleek.  It's lacking a little in terms of music and warmth in the decor.  The traffic outside can be a little loud and big trucks can cause mini earthquakes.

Overall (3/5):
Although we can always call ahead and ask to order from the previous menu, the harsh reality is that current existing menu is still terrible.  Something changed in the food - in a really bad way.  The waitress explained that some of the dishes were removed, because they were not popular.  I think people did not know what pappardelle (large, very broad fettuccine) was and decided to err on the side of caution by not ordering it.  My recommendation would be that they bring back the lamb sausage sauce onto a different but more familiar pasta. Chicken is often a tough sell in a restaurant. Even I tend to avoid it, but this chicken linguini dish is definitively exceptional and deserve a second chance.  The server can up-sell a glass of white wine with the dish!

Total (14.5/20):

This is the highest score I have given to a Vancouver restaurant so far. I do appreciate Trattoria's courage to take the risk to experiment with dishes that can often be outside customers' comfort zone.  This is how all great dishes are created.  I also recommend people go to the restaurant AND ask for lamb sausage pappardelle.  The more people ask for it, the more likely they will bring the dish back.  I also appreciate the effort they put in to ensure customer satisfaction. I don't believe Stefan or the servers know that Peter and I are bloggers; yet, they went through all this trouble to get me to come back.

Oh! Almost forgot! The wine list is short (not a book like at Cin Cin), but very cleverly put together and well priced.  There are enough wines to pair with each dish and more.  Almost all of them are sourced locally or from Italy.  It is likely that you won't find your favourite wine, such as a Bordeaux, on the menu, but just ask the servers for suggestions; I don't think you would be disappointed with their pairings.

Trattoria Italian Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Spirits: Part 1

Spirits are high-strength alcoholic liquids produced by distillation, such as whiskey, and vodka. Spirits are just as complex as wine.  Ever wonder what do XO, VS, VSOP mean? Why is XO highly sought after by Asians? Why makes each spirit unique and delicious?

This highly prized liquid is so poorly understood by its consumer.  This series is aim to give you a small foundation into the world of spirit.

The flavours depends three things:
1. The type of distillation process (high strength neutral of low strength characterful)
2. The bas alcoholic liquid used (the type of fruit, grain or vegetable)
3. The type of maturation they receive after distillation (period in oak, type of oak)

This might sound super easy and much simpler than wine.  In the contrary, the production process of a spirit require a lot more human intervention than wine and each spirit brand go through great length to ensure their spirit taste to ensure their spirits have consistent quality and identical tastes every year.

Distillation Process
For the production of spirit, the aim is to increase the alcohol content of the liquid.  There are two types of distillation process:


Pot Stills: the traditional and simplest kind of distillation.  The base alcoholic juice is placed in a pot, often made from copper, and heated.  Evaporated alcohol is then collected. Because this processes is rather inefficient, several distillations are often needed to achieve the desired alcohol strength and flavour.  However, this is the ideal and, sometimes, legally enforced method for making flavored spirits, such as cognac, armagnac, brandies, Scotch, etc.

Continuous Still: Is the more efficient and more industrial version of distillation.  Unlike pot still, you will never need to distill the pot in batches.  The process is, as the name suggests, continuous, and the end product are very close to pure ethanol.  Then, it is diluted down with water before bottling.   This method filter out whatever flavour the alcohol may have and is perfect for making vodka and other cheaper, mass produced spirits.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Wine Pairing: Part 1

This next wine series will try to tackle the art of wine and food pairing.  Hopefully, this guide would give you some confidence knowing what wine to order with your meal at a restaurant or what to buy for a dinner party.

The absolute basic rule of pairing:
White meat with white wine. Red meat with red wine.

However, how about oyster, salmon, duck with a really rich sauce? To achieve the best match, it is necessary to analyze the basic components in both the wine and the food.  Some red wines can pair beautifully with chicken. The principle is to try to balance these, so that neither the food nor the wine overpowers the other.  These are fundamental guideline.

  • Match the weight/richness of the food the body of the wine.
  • Match the flavour intensity of the food the flavour intensity of the wine.
  • Match acidic foods the high-acid wines.
  • Avoid combining oily or very salty food with high-tannin red wines.
These will help avoid wine and food clashes or overpowering.  The following help rules will help you enhance each other:
  • Pair "chewy" meat with tannic wines
  • Pair salty food with sweet or high acid wines
  • Pair fatty and oily food with high-acid wines
  • Match or contrast flavours characteristics of the food and the wine

See the pattern?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Trainer's Tip from Christina

A very helpful principal when trying to shed or regulate weight is to minimize carbohydrates in the evening. As long as you have had adequate healthy carbohydrates to fuel your body during the day (starting with a healthy breakfast ASAP in the morning) cutting carbohydrates in the evening when our activity level tends to drop helps trim calories while still keeping your body fueled during the day when you need it.

So for this weeks trainers tip, we are going to focus on eating at home. A great option for people on gluten free diets or trying to cut down on carbohydrates in the evening is to substitute head lettuce or large romaine leaves for wraps, taco shells or bread.

Here are a few examples:

Chicken Lettuce Wrap
1. Pan fry chicken breast with sliced peppers, onions with garlic and Mexican style seasoning (my favorite is Chipolte).
2. Separate the leaves of a head lettuce, fill with the chicken, pepper mixture, a sprinkle of cheese, some salsa or diced tomatoes, cilantro. The crispy lettuce is an extremely light and refreshing compliment to the spicy mix.

Turkey Lettuce Wrap
1. Separate and clean large outer leaves of romaine lettuce, pat dry.
2. Spread with grainy mustard, olive tapenade or hummus (if having vegetarian wrap)
3. Fill with lean turkey, chicken, sliced vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, pickles, diced olives, and sprouts! Wrap up with a second of lettuce and enjoy.

Tofu Stir Fry Wrap
1. cook up mushrooms, diced snap peas, onions, peppers, and grated carrot in a sauce of orange juice, soy sauce, hoisin (1-2tbs max), rice wine vinegar, grated ginger and garlic.
2. When vegetables are close to done, I crumble in firm tofu and cook until heated through.
3. Using the separated leaves of head lettuce, you scoop up the stir fry into little wraps and top with a bit of crumbles peanut and fresh lime.

These are just a few ideas to get you started, the possibilities are limitless so don't be afraid to experiment! Enjoy!

For additional information on Personal Training in Vancouver and help with tasty, healthy eating tips, contact:
longoc AT live DOT com
www.thepursuitpersonaltraining.com

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Seattle: Pike Place


Now that I have finally finished my Japan trip, I can move on to the Seattle one. Living in Vancouver, I really should visit Seattle more.  On every Seattle trip, Pike Place Market is always our first stop, before hotel, food, or friends (sorry folks).  Granville Island is nice too, but Pike Place has lot of awesome stuff we just don't get in Vancouver.  For example, Rainier Cherry for $3 per pound or chocolate covered Rainier Cherry (yum!). At this time of the season, Vancouver Rainier Cherries were going for $6.99 per pound.

Did you know one single little cherry contains 1% of your daily fiber? Dennis and I bought a pound and snacked on it while we shop.  Not only was it a healthy snack, but that was also 50% of our daily fiber right there.

Pappardelle's Pasta is a mandatory stop for Dennis and I.  They carry awesome products and have amazing services.  We spent the next 45 minute sampling each and every olive oils and pasta. They were all so good!  The lovely lady talked about each and every products and tips on how to prepare them.   At the end, we walked away with:  four pounds of whole wheat orzo, 4 pounds of various pappardelle (sweet potato, tomato cracked pepper, garlic black pepper, etc), 6 bottles of flavoured olive oil (roasted garlic chardonnay, rosemary roasted garlic cabernet, garlic balsamic bistro oil, white truffle olive oil...).  The payment thing has a tip section (oooohhh....).

Next stop is the liquor store.  When you purchase a bottle of wine in BC, you are paying approximately 120% tax it.  I always stock up when I am in US: a little bit of Oregon pinot noir and some French this and that.  These products are about 30-60% of the prices than the ones in BC.  Sneaking them back across the board is hard though.  I normally just consumed them over night, just incase.

Cherries check, Pasta, check, alcohol check.  Now we have time to browse around and sample each and everything we can get our hands on.  Dennis picked up a jar of cherry pie fillings; we haven't put it into a pie yet, but I will let you guys know when we finally get around to it.  I bought some dark chocolate covered rainier cherries; the little bag lasted 2 minutes between Dennis and I.  We went back to buy a second bag.

The highlight for our pike place tour this time was the new Honey stand, offering natural, unpasteurized honey with no additives.  There were different flavours of honey such as lavender, black raspberry, madrona tree, white valet dew.  They make these flavours by moving the beehives at night to locations where these trees or flowers are blossoming.   The honey natural pick up the flavours! Neat eh?

Of course, we drop by the infamous fish monger and watch them toss fish around and sing songs. We also drop by the original Starbucks too (not sure why we keep doing this every time we visit Seattle. Maybe it's out of habit.)  The first Starbuck doesn't look any different from all other ones around the world. Maybe a little rustic, but not really. Coffee tasted the same.  Starbucks is slowly becoming Seattle versions of Tim Horton, which is synonymous with cheap watery coffee.  Indeed, Seattle has tons of unique coffee houses offering phenomenal coffee at equal caliber to 49th Parallel.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Trattoria: Update

I just received this email from Trattoria.

Chiao Christine,
Thank you for coming back to Trattoria! Sorry to read on your comment card that you did not like the menu....You could have called me to the table and we could talk about it in more detail....
Please don't stop coming back to Trattoria....we will improve the menu and also if I know that you are coming I will ask my chef to make something that you like, something from the old menu...What was the dish that you liked on the old menu, but we don't have it on the new menu?
Please keep in touch
Best regards

Stefan Mintchev

Restaurant Manager
Trattoria Italian Kitchen

Talking about customer service! I am so impressed! Gonna email him back: Lamb Sausage Pappardelle.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Trattoria

A lot had happened since this post. For the complete story and review, please read this review instead.

I have been rather hesitant about blogging about Trattoria, an Italian restaurant on West 4th Ave, by the famous Glowbal Group. A months ago, this restaurant was a dream come true.  I had been waiting to bring Peter and Helen to this restaurant, so they can take gorgeous photos to go with the gorgeous food, but there has been a menu change for the summer, and the new dishes are atrocious.  It was the undoubtedly the best Italian restaurant in Vancouver.   The Great had fallen.  I died a little inside.

The first time I went to Trattoria, I was with my entire family for brunch, without my camera.  We started the meal with a refreshing margarita with fresh fruits and freshly baked asiago scones with mascarpone whipped cream (free). (4.5/5) The scones were an instant hit with the table, even with my very picky mother, who asked for a second plate.  For appetizer, we shared a huge plate of Beef Tenderloin Carpaccio. (4.5/5)  The plate with beautifully decorated with with gorgonzola polenta and cipollini onion.  My father who had years of experience eating carpaccio in Europe said it was just as good as the best beef carpaccio he had in Italy: pretty big claim for a notoriously judgmental eater. For main course, Spaghetti with Kobe Meatballs was absolutely delicious. (4/5)  It had layers after layers of exciting flavours and zing and the huge meatballs were moist and tender.  The "Big Breakfast" and Lobster Linguini weren't anything special to write about. (2.5/5)  My father had the gnocchi made from potato (not flour). Finally, someone was making gnocchi properly!  Thank God! The gnocchi had the proper consistency and doneness.  The sauce was slightly under seasoned for gnocchi, but A+ for effort! (3.5/5) Dennis had Lamb Sausage Pappardelle. Ladies and gentlemen, this was the 5/5 dish.  The dish has layers and layers of different flavours, the perfect balance of herb and spices with the lamb's unique aroma, and the freshly made pappardelle was the perfect texture for the sauce.

Since that meal, my family was addicted to Trattoria.  Collectively, we spent about a thousand dollars dinning there within 4 weeks.  I did remember to bring my camera on my second (and third) visit.

The service is definitely a solid 4.5/5.  The hostesses are smoking hot, and waiters are well versed in the dishes and the wines.  I picked their brains a little by asking them to pair the baked clam with a white. The waitress was impressively knowledgeable about the wines and the science behind pairing. She recommended a B.C. sauvignon blanc and brought me a two-ounce sampler (free!).   It did paired perfectly. Services were always well timed and stealthy.  When you go to the washroom, they would fold your napkin.  They don't neglect you after the main course, a common problem in most restaurants.

This is a daily special on one of my visits there.  It is a Roasted Leg of Lamb with Butternut Squash Risotto. The dish did not come with a knife; you don't need it.  The meat fell right off the bone and into the delicious sauce underneath.  Each bite of the sauced up lamb and risotto sends goosebumps down to my toes.  This was something you need to enjoy with your eyes closed. (4.5/5)

The mussels were great.  Pizzas were delicious too! The dessert was pretty good and decently plated (3.5/5).

Ambience (3.5/5)
I love the decor of the restaurant.  It is sexy, modern, and ambient.  It is suitable for all occasions: causal dinning, formal dinner with your in-laws, or even a good place to come as singles to flirt at the bar.  It is not too loud or too crowded.  The seats are luxurious and comfortable and everything are clean, sturdy, and sleek.

I went back three weeks ago and they have changed the menu.  The veal dishes were terrible, sour, tough, and borderline unpalatable. Lamb Sausage Pappardelle was gone (why!!??) and replaced with a different lamb pasta that tasted like my Chinese minced pork on a very bad day. Conchiglion was under-seasoned and tasted like a mouthful of plain heavy cream.  I died a little inside with each bite.

At this point, I would not recommend anyone waste their money, time (they don't take reservation for dinner) and calorie intake until the menu is changed again.  If you happened to eat there, the spaghetti with meatballs are still on the menu as well as the mussels and pizzas.  Avoid the veal dishes.

I won something!

Remember the Chocolate Truffle Truffle I made for a contest? Just as I was feeling down and uninspired to participate in contests anymore, I won the Best Photo and the Most Unique Interpretation category!  The award is two lovely Royal Foodie Jousting Mugs.  Now I feel renewed and ready for the next one!

Chicken Breast with White Wine Reduction and Kale


Having more chicken than I could eat. I invited Andy and Michelle to join us for dinner.  With all of us watching our calorie intake and Andy is very picky eater, I have to be creative with what I make.  I decided to make Boeuf a La Bourguignon on Baked Turmeric Potato instead of a bed of rice or pasta.  The second dish is chicken breast with white wine reduction on a bed of kale.

This is my new favourite way to prepare my chicken: sauté chicken breast with the skin side down and then baked it.  This way the chicken retains all the moisture and has a delicious golden crispy skin.  If you are really watching your calorie like me, take the skin off after the chicken is cooked.  You will need to use a oven save pan for this dish.

Pan sauce is a sauce made in the same pan the main item of the dish was cooked in. In our case, it's the chicken.  The leftover oil, juice, and brown bits are incorporated into the sauce.  The idea behind most pan sauces are pretty similar.  They all start with sweating minced onion or shallots, then sweat the garlic, then stir in the wine and broth, and allowing it to reduce.  Flavours and consistency are implemented after.  In restaurants, the sauce is thickened using butter and heavy cream, which is not acceptable for my home cooking.  I decided to thicken the sauce the Chinese way: corn starch!  I still added a bit of soy milk for that creamy look.

The kale can be steamed or sauté.  It cooks pretty quickly, but don't worry, it is hard to overcook kale.  If you steam it, make sure to drain it well before plating.  For sauté, all you need is oil, garlic, and half cup of white wine (or rice wine or cooking wine).   You can also substitute this for another vegetable you like or omit it completely.

Ingredient: 


2 chicken breast (skin on)
1 medium shallot (minced)
2 garlic cloves (minced)
½ cup dry white wine
1½ cup chicken broth
2 Tbp whole milk (or skim milk, soy milk, half-and-half)
1 tsp cornstarch
2 tsp fresh parsley leaves (minced)
2 tsp tarragon leaves (minced)
Vegetable oil
Salt and Pepper

Instruction:
1. Preheat oven to 400F
2. Over medium-high heat, heat 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil.  When the oil are heated and just beginning to smoke, place the chicken breast in with skin side down.  Let it cook until the skin starts to turn golden. Then place the pan into the oven. Do not flip the chicken over. For 10 minutes or until the chicken reaches 160F.
3. Once the chicken is ready.  Set aside and let it rest for 5 minutes.
4. Over medium-low heat, put shallot in the same pan and let it sweat for 5 minutes. Do not let it turn golden or brown.  Add garlic and sweat that for 30 seconds.
5. Stir in the wine, scrapping up the browned bits on the pan. Then add the broth, reduce to simmer and cooked until the mixture is reduced to half.
6. In the mean time, combine milk and cornstarch together in a small bowl.  Whisk the mixture into the simmering sauce and continue to simmer until it has thickened.
7. Off the heat, stir in parsley and tarragon.  Season as desired.
8. Gently slice the chicken into strips and spoon the sauce mixture onto your chicken.

Would You Ever Eat: Rotten Walrus


The Inuits call it: Igunaq.  It is a method of preparing meat, particularly walrus or other marine mammals.   It is considered a delicacy and is quite valuable.  As we can see from the videos, it is a very tasty treat for the Inuits.

Chicken Broth

This is a tried and true chicken broth recipe I go from my bootcamp. This recipe makes a huge batch of broth, but you can always freeze them in small batches in small containers with lids.  I learned that I have been over seasoning my chicken broth before.  The backbone of a chicken broth are chicken bones, carrot, celery, and onions. Everything else are optional or can be replaced with something else.  Bouquet Garni is a combinations of herbs and spices (a spring of parsley, thyme, bay leaves, leek, and some whole black peppercorn) enclosed in a small cheese both bag.

Ingredients:

4 kg Chicken Bones
8 L Cold water
1 tsp Rock Salt
1 tsp Migonette Pepper
1 small Carrot
1 small White Leek
2 Celery stalks
1 Onion
1 Bouquet Garni
2 Garlic Gloves
1 Cloves

Direction

1. Remove excess fat from chicken then rinse under cold running water
2. Combined chicken with cold water in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Skim off surface foam.
3. Roughly chopped the onion, carrot and celery, then add to the saucepan. Add salt, pepper, bouquet garni and garlic.
4. Simmer 1 to 1½ hours, skimming off surface foam and/or degreasing if necessary.
5. Strain stock through a fine strainer. Cool and refrigerate.

Notes:


1. Don't stir and disturbs the chicken broth too much during the boiling and simmering process.
2. Resist the temptation to over season and remember that you can always season later when you use the broth for your dishes.
3. Due to the nutritiousness of the broth, it goes bad pretty quickly, so proper food safety procedure must be used.  For example, definitely don't leave it on the stove over night and consider rapid cooling it in an ice bath before putting it in the fridge or freezer.  In the fridge, the broth will not last more than 4-5 days.

Healthy Chicken Broth on Foodista

Sunday, July 18, 2010

How to Debone a Chicken


Must conquer chicken.

(Jessica: it's not bloody)

After my cooking boot camp chicken disaster, I am on a mission to overcome my aversion of chicken and master it.  I bought a free range whole chicken from Market Meat.  Whole chicken costs slightly less than individual parts and significantly cheaper than the boneless skinless products.  I used to think the differences in cost isn't worth the labour of deboning and de-skinning the whole bird, but after a few practice, it does get easier. Plus, you can use the bones for chicken broth.

There are countless ways to start deboning your chicken. Helen is the master when it comes to this rather formidable task. Maybe I will have her add a few things the post later. I learned to debone chicken at the bootcamp.

Step 1: Cut off the wings. This is much easier than it seems.  Find the "knuckles" in the joints and gently ease your knife in.  If you get the spot right, it should cut right through without much resistance. Repeat for the other side.

Step 2: Feel and find the chicken beast bone. Flip the bird over and point the tail end away from you. Use your finger to get a feel for the bone in the middle of the chicken. You want to figure out where it is, how long and thick it is, and where is the best place to start cutting.  Don't rely on sight.

Step 3: Cut (carve) the breast along the breast bone.  Choose a side of the chicken, starting from the tail end, carve out the breast along the bone.  The bone thickens, curves and then split into collar bones.  Continue to carve the meat along the bone until the end of the collar bones.

Step 4: Separate the breast from the shoulder. At the end of the collar bone, use your hand to feel for the shoulder joint.  Bend the joint back to expose "the knuckle".  This is the same motion as if to dislocate someone's shoulder. Cut through it with your knife. It should slice through easily.

Step 5: Seperate the thigh from the hip. Turn the knife around and cut the chicken along the hip bone until you reach the hip joint. Again, bend the joint back to dislocate the hip completely and then cut through the joint with your knife.


Step 6: Repeat for the other side. Once finish.  Put the bones aside. If you are not making chicken broth, discard the bones.

Step 7: Separate the breasts from the thighs.  At this point, you have two large pieces of chicken with the breast and thigh connected by some skins and tissues.  If you feel around, you will easily find this spot and cut it in half to separate them.

At this point, you need to decide what you what type of end product you want.  For this tutorial, I will keep cutting until all the product is completely boneless and skinless.

Boneless Skinless Breast
At this point, you should have chicken breast with skin on.  Skin can be easily peeled off.  If not, a little encouragement with the knife with suffice.  Attached to the breast is a small elongated piece of tenderloin.  With the skin side down, tenderloin lies onto of the breast. This piece should be separated from the chicken to ensure the breast cooks evenly.  You can remove this piece by hand or with a little help with the knife.

Boneless Skinless Thigh
At this point, the whole leg has both skin and bone.  You will need to feel around the thigh to find the bone.  With your fingers, secure the bone in your hand with two fingers under the bone. With the tip of your knife, ease into the meat to expose the bone and cut under it (like in the photo). Simply cut and scrape along the bones both ways until you reach the knee joint.  If you want to make drumsticks, dislocate the knee joint and cut it.  If you rather use the whole thigh as one piece of meat, don't cut the knee joint.  Instead, with your knife, continue to cut and scrap the meat off the the knee and then the lower bones until the end tip.  This tip of the leg has no meat and a lot of stringy tendons.  Just cut off the skin and tendons here.  Skin then can be easily peeled off by hand or with a knife.

Now, you have two pieces of boneless skinless breast, two thighs, two wings, two tenderloins, and maybe two drumsticks!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Chicken with Curried Tomato Almond Sauce

The July 2010 Daring Cooks’ Challenge was hosted by Margie of More Please and Natashya of Living in the Kitchen with Puppies. They chose to challenge Daring Cooks to make their own nut butter from scratch, and use the nut butter in a recipe. Their sources include Better with Nut Butter by Cooking Light Magazine, Asian Noodles by Nina Simonds, and Food Network online.

This was a very interesting cooking challenge. Learning how to make nut butter came in handy when I made Chocolate Truffle Truffle for another contest.  Not being able to use dairies and much glutens in my cooking, I am quite excited to learn that nut butter can be used to thicken sauces and bind ingredients together.  I used my coffee grinder to make my nut butter, in small batches.

I skipped butter in this recipes and used soy milk instead of milk, but it was still very delicious.  I think I put too much garam masala seasoning though.  Garam masala is pretty strong and pungent (Dennis doesn't like it), so taste it first before putting in the full amount.  Since I am watching my calories, I used brown rice.

The following notes aren't mine.  They belong to the hosts of this event.

Nut butter making: 


The process for making various types of nut butters is essentially the same. Pour nuts into bowl of food processor. Grind the nuts in the processor until they form a paste or butter. The nuts first turn into powdery or grainy bits, then start to clump and pull away from the side of the bowl, and finally form a paste or butter. The total time required depends on the fat and moisture content of the nuts; grinding time will vary from roughly 1 to 4 minutes (assuming a starting volume of 1 to 2 cups [240 to 480 ml] nuts). Processing times for a variety of nuts are described below.

You may add oil as desired during grinding to make the nut butter smoother and creamier or to facilitate grinding. Add oil in small increments, by the teaspoon for oily nuts like cashews or by the tablespoon for dryer/harder nuts like almonds. You may use the corresponding nut oil or a neutral vegetable oil like canola.

The inclusion of salt in the nut butters is optional and to taste. If you make nut butters from salted nuts, peanuts or cashews for example, you will not need additional salt. We recommend making unsalted nut butters for use in the challenge recipes (and other savory recipes) since the recipes call for salt or salty ingredients. You can then adjust the salt to taste. If you are making nut butter for use as a spread, you should add salt according to your preference.

Roasting the nuts before making nut butters is optional according to your preference. To roast nuts in the oven, preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C/Gas Mark 4). Spread nuts in a single layer on a baking sheet or roasting pan. Bake for approximately 10 minutes or until nuts are fragrant and a shade darker in color. Allow nuts to cool before grinding. Roasted nuts will make butter with darker color than raw nuts.

It’s helpful to keep in mind that the yield of nut butter is about half the original volume of nuts. If you start with 1 cup nuts, you’ll get about ½ cup nut butter.

The consistency of nut butters varies from thin & soft (almost pourable) to very thick and hard depending on the fat content of the nut. (See links below for nutrition info on variety of nuts.) Homemade nut butters will probably not be as smooth as commercial products.

Homemade nut butters are more perishable than commercial products and should be stored in the refrigerator. The nut butters harden & thicken somewhat upon chilling.

Curry recipe:
Yield: 4 servings

Recipe notes: Substitute the protein of your choice for the chicken. This is a smooth sauce, so the onion is removed before serving. If you prefer, dice the onion and leave it in the sauce or substitute a bit of onion powder.

Ingredients:

1 Tablespoon (15 ml) olive oil
4 (6 oz / 170 g) boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
Salt to taste

Spice Blend:
1.5 tablespoons (20 ml) garam masala seasoning
1 teaspoon (5 ml) ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon (2 ml) ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon (1 ml) black pepper

Sauce:
4 tablespoons (60 ml) butter
1 large onion, cut in half pole to pole
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (15-ounce/425 g) can tomato sauce
⅓ cup (80 ml) almond butter
⅓ cup (80 ml) milk
½ to ¾ cup (120 to 180 ml) chicken broth or water, more as needed
1 cup (240 ml) frozen peas (optional)

Hot basmati rice for serving
Chopped parsley (optional garnish)
Sliced almonds (optional garnish)

Directions:

1. Cook the chicken. If desired, pound chicken to ¼ inch (6 mm) thickness to promote even cooking. Sprinkle with a bit of salt and pepper to taste. Heat 1 teaspoon (5 ml) olive oil a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add half the chicken; sauté 3 to 5 minutes on each side or until cooked through. Cook the chicken in 2 batches, adding more oil if needed for second batch. Dice chicken into bite-sized pieces; set aside on clean plate and keep warm.
2. Prepare spice blend. Stir garam masala, ginger, cinnamon, and pepper together in a small bowl. Set aside.
3. Melt the butter in large nonstick skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onion and cook gently for several minutes to infuse the butter with onion flavor. Keep the heat low to avoid burning the butter; a little color is fine.
4. Add the spice blend and garlic and cook for 1 minute or till fragrant, stirring constantly.
5. Add the tomato sauce, stir well, and bring to boil. Reduce heat to simmer.
6. Whisk in almond butter and milk until thoroughly combined with tomato sauce. The almond butter is thick so it takes a while to make a smooth sauce. Return to simmer.
7. Add broth (or water) to sauce to reach desired consistency; return to simmer. Add more broth (or water) as needed to thin sauce as desired.
8. Remove onion from sauce and discard. Stir frozen peas (if using) into sauce. Transfer sliced chicken to sauce. Simmer gently for a few minutes until peas and chicken are heated through.
9. Serve chicken and sauce over rice. Garnish with chopped parsley and/or sliced almonds if desired.

Computer is fixed!

Sorry for being away.  My beloved Macbook Pro had experienced a blank screen of death.  I purchased this baby in Taiwan without any additional warranty other than the 1 year manufacturing.  With a sense of dread, I took it to an Apple stores, excepting to pay an arm and a leg for the repair or having to buy a new laptop.

My laptop broke in the worst way possible.  The motherboard malfunctioned, and it needed to be replaced.  A logic board would cost me $2400 before tax (might as well buy a new laptop).  However, because it was a known problem, Apple will continue to support replacing the logic board whether you have a warranty or not.  The repair was completely free, and I am basically sporting a brand new motherboard in my 3 year old laptop - for free. They even threw in a free cleaning for the underside of my keyboard and mouse pad!

Try getting this type of sweet deal with Microsoft! Apple will continue to have my love and affection forever. (Sorry Jess and Mike)

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Introduction to Wine: Basic Style 5

This is the last post of the series: Introduction to Wine
Introduction to Wine: Basic Types
Introduction to Wine: Basic Style I
Introduction to Wine: Basic Style 2
Introduction to Wine: Basic Style 3
Introduction to Wine: Basic Style 4

Last but not the least, body of the wine.  Body describes the density and concentration of the wine.  A wine that has less sugar, less alcohol, less tannin, and etc would have less body.  In a tasting, body can be determined by the general feeling, heaviness, and concentration of the wine in the mouth.  As a generally rule (but not always), body of the wine has a positive correlation to alcohol level.

Light Bodied: Wines light in body are usually refreshing and easy to drink, almost like grape juice with vodka (a lot of grape juice and very little vodka).  A pale red wine such as Beaujolais would be light bodied, or German Riesling for white wine.  Wine produced from grapes grown in colder environment tend to fall into this category.  Grapes do not product much sugar and as result the wines are lower in alcohol.

Medium Bodied: The will will feel richer and more substantial. This may be because of the grapes used or because the wine may have been in oak barrels, thereby giving an extra texture to the wine.  Examples of medium-bodied wine are white Burgundy from France or red Merlot from Chile.

Full Bodied: The Wine will be powerful and will seem more concentrated and heavy. This is usually due to the ripeness of the grape and for some wines the use of oak.  Examples of full-bodied wines are oaked Chardonnay from California and Shiraz from Australia.  In fact, a lot of Australian and New Zealand wines come in full-bodied style due to their climates.

Some sweet wines, although low in alcohol, can be pretty full-bodied, because it has high concentration of sugar.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Guest Speaker: Christina Longo

Christina is my personal trainer.  Dennis and I have collectively lost 50 pounds in 4 months with her help.  She has given me a lot of dietary and culinary advice over these few months.  I thought it would be fun to feature her every other Thursday.  She can share her wisdom with everyone.  This is what she have for us this week:

 My name is Christina Longo. I am a personal trainer, spin instructor in Vancouver. I love sports, particularly snowboarding, soccer, surfing. Nutrition is a significant component to any training program, if not the most important for many individuals. I believe it is important to balance taste and enjoyment of food with getting the proper fuel that your body needs for its workouts. I worked as a cook for a long time in a restaurant, I have learned alot about what to avoid when eating out as well as how to make healthy food taste excellent without adding too many extra calories or fat. Every second week, I will be contributing a healthy eating tip to this blog. Enjoy!

Todays Tip: At a restaurant, often burger buns or paninis are brushed with butter even if you ask for no mayonnaise. If you are watching calories, make sure you ask for your bread dry so you can enjoy the delicious toppings without unnecessary additional calories of fat from mayo (100 cal / tbs) or butter.

If you have any additional nutrition questions or are interested in stepping up your workout with some personal training, check out her website at
www.thepursuitpersonaltraining.com or email me at longoc AT live DOT com

Japan: Matsuyama Part 2

This is the 15th post of my Traveling in Japan series.
Here for the list of the previous posts

We were still in our awesome hotel.  We were served fugu, the poison fish, on the third night.  Fugu tasted like all other sashimi and wasn't particularly spectacularly considering that I was risking death to eat it.  For dessert, we were given three grapes each.  Three grapes? Wasn't that a little cheap for a five star hotel? Not if these grapes were the size of golf balls.

Japan just does everything right, including growing amazing grapes. These grapes are grown locally in the suburbs, in green houses.  Each vine only supports a few grapes and the grape stems are supported and tapped to the vines to ensure they don't fall off.   The grape's skin was delicate (not too thick) and full of flavours, and the grape juice was already slightly fermented.  Oh it was orgasmic!   We tried to buy more from the hotel but they would not sell any to us.  Later on, we found similar (but inferior) grapes at Kyoto for $12 per bunch.

Anyway, after the fugu dinner, Dennis and I retired to our private outdoor onsen.  He proposed to me that night.  While we were in the onsen with two cups of ice cold saki and slices of mandarin oranges in a floating bamboo basket, urrounded by bamboo trees, under the clear star lit sky.  It was beautiful.  I am such a lucky girl to find such an awesome man. Needless to say, Dennis and I did not manage to get out of our hotel much while in Matsuyama.

We did manage to do a couple things:

I was 'attempting' the traditional tea ceremony. Boy, it was hard on the knees.



Check out the delicately cut pineapples.

Maybe we should go back for our honeymoon.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Yaya's Garden


Dennis' grandmother has played a huge role in my growth as a foodie.  I remembered the first time she prepared pesto pasta for me.  She went to her garden and brought in a basket full of basil, oregano, thyme, parsley and garlic.  We watched her methodically work through all the fresh ingredients while we drank gingko tea made from her ginggo tree.  While the pasta boils, she sauted little smelt fishes that she caught herself earlier that day.  For the meal, she served some red wine she made in the cellar (they are not very good, but still!) All the leftovers went into her compost bin.

If our world fell into anarchy, she would still be eating like a queen.  She would be a hardcore foodie if she knew what foodie was.  However, she is getting old now and she is having her garden pulled out.  I went over and snapped a few pictures of her once-glorious garden.   The roses and the grape vines that covered the deck have already been removed.


This is one of three types of mints Yaya keeps.  (Did you know there were three types of mints? I didn't).  She does not actually harvest these for food.  She places these around the house and in the washroom for their scent. (Does she spend money on anything? Not if she doesn't have to.) She also ruffles it once in a while to make the house's entrance and the garden smell nice.

This is oregano.  The leaves are huge!! Apparently, these grows uncontrollably in her garden.  She lets her neighbors to come keep them for free and thank them for helping her "weed it". Think about that next time you pay for oregano at Whole Foods.  According to Yaya, once oregano finds root on open soil, they just don't stop growing.


This is the gingko tree from second floor.  All you have to do is snap off the leaves and simmer it in hot water.  Gingko improves brain function and memories.

Three foot tall parsley.  And you can see the shoots for garlic on the bottom corner.  Yaya has both flat leaves and curly leaf parsley. 

There are also grapevines, more mints, dandelion, roses, basil, thyme, etc etc etc...

Memphis Blues


I was cleaning up my old photos when I found my Memphis Blue trip.  Dennis and I were tired of expensive couture cuisine and decided to try out an all-American style BBQ house.   I believe it was a Wednesday when they had the free dessert sale.  This platter in the photo could feed 4 people for 34 dollars, including an apple pie. Dennis and I was eating leftover for two days!   If you are not on a diet, this place offer some of the most delicious and best valued ribs in town.

Memphis Blues Barbeque House (Broadway) on Urbanspoon

Maple Syrup

Today is Canada Day, and I attempted making vegan maple leaf shaped pancake with raspberry maple sauce this morning - without any recipe (just winging it).  It failed, badly.  Now I am feeling awfully unpatriotic.

This post is dedicated to Canada's beloved maple syrup. "It is sweetener made from the sap of sugar maple or black maple trees. In cold climate areas, like Canada, these trees store starch in their stems and roots before the winter, which when converted to sugar, rises in the sap in the spring. Maple trees can be tapped and the exuded sap collected and concentrated. Quebec, Canada, produces most of the world's supply of maple syrup."

I visited a maple syrup farm in Quebec, when I was in high school.  They literally stick a tap into the tree and hang a pocket underneath to collect the sap.  However, the sap actually has the same consistency and color as water with a subtle hint of sweetness.  The sap is collected and then concentrated in a plant to make syrup.

Like anything else you can put into your mouth, maple syrup can be connoisseured.  There are several grades of maple syrup, in Canada, based on the color.  There is the Extra light, Light, Medium, Amber, Dark.  The dark grade syrup has a heavier flavour and rather rare and, thus, automatically became a foodie favourite. Aren't we predictable? Wholefoods carries all grades of maple syrup.

I use maple syrup to replace cane sugar and corn syrup in cooking.  It caramelizes beautifully and can also help thicken sauces.  Maple syrup is actually pretty heavy in calories, though. My amber #2 has 55 calories in 1 tablespoon.  Use it wisely...  and remember this next time before you drown your pancake in maple syrup.