March 2018: Italian Supper Club

Mangiamo! I also made my own grilled zucchini and eggplant antipasti !

When Italian home-cooked meal pictures start popping up frequently on my Instagram ; this means my dear old friend James is back in town for a visit; we always cook together wonderful rustic Italian dishes, and share with our group of friends, now aptly named Italian Supper Club.

Two evenings of fun and laughter with our friends; wonderful food and great company, Grazie everyone (OO)

Here are some of our highlights:

Antipasti (Mortadella, Parma di prosciutto, Grilled eggplant all from Cioffi’s),

Piave Mezzano Cheese (from Les Amis Du Fromage on East Hastings, a cow’s milk cheese)

Blood Orange, Fennel and Olive Salad (Slice thinly and layered, extra virgin olive oil and sea salt)

Cherry tomatoes salad (Sabina olive oil, sea salt)

Artichokes and Trofie Pasta (recipe here)

This is honestly the best artichoke dish I’ve ever had, and peeling artichokes is not as difficult as we imagine !!

Lemon and dill Brill sole (Fresh brill sole (bone in), lemon, olive oil, fresh dill – fish from Seafood City in Granville Island)

Groceries for Dinner II:

What is that can?  Salted Anchovies (Available at Cioffi’s and Bosa Foods)…ready to be transformed..

Anchovies in Sabina olive oil, garlic and red chili pepper flakes , served with French Butter and crusted bread – heavenly!   Thanks to my hubby and buddy James, they did most of the cleaning – salted anchovies cleaned in white wine vinegar, de-boned (removing the tail and dorsal) and layered in sealed glass container with extra virgin olive oil (we used the Sabina DOP from Italy, you need an excellent quality oil), a little red pepper chili flakes and garlic slices) 

Roast Pork Belly (Coarse salt, sage, rosemary and five peppercorn): despite the initial mix up with the temperature (Celsius and Fahrenheit Difference LOL), the roast pork belly was very succulent and skin was thin and crispy.  

Day before prep – pork belly crusted in salt mixture – salt draws the excess water out
The end result : Heavenly

Pasta Ceci (Chickpeas cooked with sofrito (onion, celery and carrots) and Gnocchi Sardi Pasta) – (dried chickpeas were used – soaked overnight)

WABI SABI Workshop: Imperfections and the Art of Letting Go at Eikcam Ceramics

Form to Feast: time to eat!

Embrace life as is…

I can see flaws and imperfections

I can see them so clearly..

Not expecting perfections

Not trying to be perfect

Be grateful, courageous and compassionate

Give Love and Kindness

To be the best I can be

And more than what I am (OO – the unknown Golden Apron)

I attended a three weekend”Form to Feast” free hand building pottery workshop, learning from the lovely Grace Lee (Eikcam Ceramics), a local artist whom I’ve long admired and collected a few pieces of her work; it was a dream come true.

I have dabbled into pottery on and off for a few years now;  the series of classes I’ve taken were taught by the fascinating Maggie Boyd at local Vancouver Community Centres (through Parks Board, she now teaches at her studio and very well established in the local art community).

Making my own pottery was a natural progression; the concept of serving my food on my own earthenware is a more complete form of self-expression, and to share them with my family and friends, is my full expression of my love for them.

The theme is Wabi Sabi , a Japanese aesthetic centred on beauty of imperfection. Ha Interesting and foreign concept to someone like me, who at times (many times my sister would say) could be so “fixed” in my ways.

The first Saturday was spent “kneading” the clay and shaping our pieces; due to time constraints the clay was well already prepared ahead of time so we actually dived into the creative process swiftly; the second week when we returned Grace already had all our pieces fired up and ready for glazing; and the final class, we just returned to pick up our pieces and enjoyed a Korean Bossam (Pork Belly) feast prepared by our teacher, and shared with our fellow classmates (from two sessions), served on our own creations.

The class took place in Grace’s tranquil studio (love your space) in East Vancouver (Venables area). The class  consisted of a small group of creative and accomplished individuals (many entrepreneurs), these days instead of exchanging business cards, phones came out swiftly and Instagram handles were exchanged and now we are connected!

The class was very informal and free-flowing: Grace gave us the instructions, then leave us to work freely and provided us with guidance when required.  She was very encouraging and readily answer our questions.

The sessions were filled with lots of carefree exchanges and laughter; the atmosphere was so relaxing and certainly sparked lots of creativity, I truly enjoyed every moment.

On the last Saturday when I got to the studio and saw my finished pieces, I was elated;  the sense of fulfillment and excitement were beyond words can express.  They are so different from what I’ve always liked ….yet I like them so much…

Perhaps somehow over the course of time my perspective has changed, and through this experience I was able to see it more clearly.

Precious memories: centerpiece from 2016 Dinner Party YVR and my Wabi Sabi plate

The little verse I wrote  pretty much sums up what I have learnt and how I feel…

Perfection and Imperfections….as in life, a work in progress.

If you are ever interested in trying out pottery, Grace’s short-term workshops are wonderful options, check the future schedules through her website.

Grace, thank you very much again for your guidance and encouragement; I am so grateful to have the opportunity to attend your workshop, see you again very soon…감사합니다.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

RECIPE: Giampiero’s Trofie con Cariofi (Trofie Pasta with Artichokes)

 

Italian Supper Club I:  Here’s the very delicious Artichoke and Trofie Pasta Recipe; courtesy of my friend’s James’ Italian friend Giampiero ; Grazie and Mangiamo!

Ingredients: 2 Lemons 4 to 5 Artichokes (firm, tight, green, preferably Romanesco type)2 to 3 cloves of garlic, peeled 1 to 2 tsp Peperoncino (red chili pepper) flakes,  2 to 3 Anchovies (preserved in oil),  1-2 cups Warm Chicken soup stock (homemade or store-bought*),  1 cup dry white wine, 500 gr Trofie dry pasta, grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and Pecorino Romano cheese, 3 to 4 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, sea salt (for pasta cooking and seasoning).

*Vegetarian stock can replace chicken stock to make this dish vegetarian; chicken or vegetarian stock cubes can be used also.  Anchovies are used to “season” the dish so adjust the salt accordingly (OO).

TIPS: This recipe serves 5 (100g pasta each as an appetizer); the usual size 500 g package of pasta is good for 5 to 6 people, depends on what is being used to go with it.

We used the same recipe, omit the pasta and turn the artichokes into antipasti; we just quartered the artichokes and serve it room temperature.   The lemon water prevents oxidation; it also removed the somewhat “muddy” flavor of artichokes and add brightness to the dish. Trofie pasta is selected as the shape goes with the sliced artichokes.

Artichokes as Antipasti!

Method:

  1. Zest the two lemons and reserve the zest in a small bowl for later use.
  2. Prepare a large bowl with cold water. Cut the two zested lemons in half and carefully squeeze the juice into the water being careful not to include the seeds. Drop in the seedless peels in as well.  The lemon water is to prevent the artichokes to oxidize.

3. Using a paring knife, carefully clean and trim the artichokes, pulling away the dark and hard outer leaves. Cut off the end of the stem, slice away the darker green outer layer of the stem. Carefully pare away any remaining dark green layer between the peeled stem and the edge of the base. Cut off about 1/3 to a half of the pointy leaf ends.  Be careful when paring and not to cut yourself.

4. Slice the trimmed artichoke in half lengthwise and then into quarters and carefully remove the hairy choke, pulling out any pointy interior leaves in the process. Drop the trimmed artichoke (carciofi in Italian)  in the cold lemon water and repeat the process until completed.  When all of the  have been properly trimmed and quartered, take each quarter and slice thinly lengthwise, returning the sliced artichokes into the acidulated water immediately.

5. Put a large pot of salted water (sea salt) on to boil.

6. Warm the chicken / vegetarian stock in the sauce pan; keep it in low simmer (this step will be omitted if you are using chicken /vegetarian stock cube and those can be added directly into the pan for flavoring).

7. Using low heat, add 2 (to 3 TBS) olive oil to a large saute pan or wok (in Italy they have a large rounded pan with a handle called a Salta pasta);  gently saute the garlic and peperoncino (red pepper flakes).

8. Add the drained artichoke slices and raise the heat to medium, Stir constantly (without breaking the artichokes).  After 2 to 3 minutes, add the anchovies to the side of the pan, carefully mashing them so that they completely dissolve in the oil.

9. Add the warm soup stock a little at a time (when cooking always add warm stock to avoid temperature fluctuations)  and stir in the white wine.  The stock will add another level of flavor to the artichokes; let hte mixture simmer in low heat.  The artichokes will absorb the liquid, you don’t want the sauce to be “watery”.

10. While sauce is simmering, throw the trofie pasta in to the boiling water and cook for at least one to two minutes less than indicated on the instructions.  Do not Toss the pasta water!

Trofie pasta purchased at La Grotta Del Frommaggio on Commercial Drive

11. Reduce the heat a bit lower (medium low) for the artichokes,  cover and cook until the artichokes are almost tender. They should be al dente by the time the pasta is ready. Taste the artichokes and see if they need any salt, the anchovies should be enough for flavoring, otherwise add a little salt if needed.

12. Using a strainer or a spider to lift the al dente pasta out of the cooking water and toss into the pan with the artichokes.  Add a ladle or two of the pasta cooking water (acqua di cottura), stir and fold gently to ensure the water mostly evaporates.  The cooking water is what makes the sauce creamy!

13. Add a couple of handfuls of grated parmesan and pecorino cheese to the artichoke /pasta mix. Stir gently to integrate the cheese with pasta, then serve hot in individual bowls. Top each with some of the lemon zest, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and more of the grated cheese if desired.  Mangiamo!

RECIPE: Steamed Vegetables with Vietnamese Dipping Sauce

Ever run into a cooking “snag” ?  I just did the other day and my sister was my life-saver.

We always have a variety of vegetables in our every day meals, usually sautéed, blanched or roasted.

We seldom make any sauce for our vegetables, usually lightly seasoned with sea salt and olive oil. Perhaps in a huge part this is related to the types of cuisine we usually have at home, and also due to our continued efforts to restrict having “processed” foods (including prepared sauces) in our household.

The other day when we were trying to decide what to make for dinner; my sis started to tell me about this delicious Vietnamese dipping sauce which she had with steamed vegetables in Vietnam, she sent me a recipe by Ms. Vicky Phan as reference.

I was thinking dipping sauce for vegetables? Ah I get it, something similar to Bagna Cauda which I made a few months ago for our epic Italian dinner, except there’s no butter and anchovies, replaced with shallots and fish sauce.    

It is very easy to make, takes less than 20 minutes including prep time.  My recipe is a modified version of Ms. Vicky Phan’s Savory Vietnamese Vegetable Dipping sauce, check out her website for delightful Vietnamese recipes.

For my recipe I use more shallots than garlic, less fish sauce and substitute with hot water to make it slightly less salty, I have also added a little twist: grated lime zest, squeeze of lime juice plus a drizzle of the King Sauce (just the chili oil) from Betty King Sauce (Available online or through Instagram – check out this awesome King sauce)

 

Ingredients: 3 Tablespoons Fish Sauce (I used “Red Boat”,  3 Tablespoons raw cane sugar, 1 Tablespoon olive oil,  1 large shallot (minced), 2 small cloves of garlic (minced), 2 Tablespoons of dried shrimp (rehydrated in warm water, pat dry and minced),  grated zest of lime and squeeze of lime juice, hot water (a few Tablespoons).  ***Vegetarians – Omit the dried shrimp and use more shallots/garlic, or add chopped lemongrass to create a fragrant sauce. For some heat, add chili (or chili oil).

  • In small bowl mix fish sauce, a Tablespoon of hot water and raw cane sugar well.  Set aside
  • Using medium high heat, in a sauce pan,  add olive oil (or vegetable oil of your choice).
  • Add garlic and shallot, lightly stir fried until fragrant.  Be careful they burn very easily.
  • Turn heat to medium low, add dried shrimp, mix well with garlic and shallot, stir until fragrant.
  • Add fish sauce sugar mixture into the pot, stir gently and cook until sauce thickens.  You can add hot water (by Tablespoons – optional) to adjust thickness and taste according to your liking.
  •  Add chili oil (optional), lime zest and squeeze of lime juice
  • Keep watch closely and dont let the sauce burn – patience!
  • When sauce is cooking, steam the vegetables which should be ready in a few minutes.  Serve hot.

For our meal we served the sauce with steamed Brussel sprouts, zucchini, carrots, purple kale and brocolini.  I lined the steamer with “cooking steam cloth” (available at Chinese cookery stores).

I used a really great steamer which I first saw on Youtube used by home cooks/bloggers;  I searched for a long time and one fine day in December when I walked by Orling and Wu …..there it was…and I bought it home..

 

 

February 2018: OOOH (Oink Oink Oink..Hibernate)

They are cute and tasty: Dessert Buns at Fortune Terrace Chinese Restaurant, special Lunar New Year Feast

February was filled with family visits and gatherings with friends celebrating the Lunar New Year. There were new discoveries and return visits to old favourites and some long forgotten places, all filled with pleasant little surprises.

OINK OINK OINK:

So Hyang Korean Cuisine: Perfectly grilled mackerel for me and Korean Galbi (beef short ribs) for him; tasty authentic cuisine on Fraser Street at reasonable prices.  

 

Lunar New Year Feasts at Fortune Terrace Chinese Cuisine and Red Star Chinese Restaurant:  Great Food and Fun times:  A huge thank you to my zumba classmates (you know who you are) for arranging these special dinners (OO)

Highlights from Fortune Terrace Chinese Cuisine (Richmond, BC)

Special banquet order: crispy and succulent roast pig, served with chinese pancakes
Scallop Fried Rice
Fried crab claws

And from Red Star 

Sauteed prawns in “mayonnaise” sauce
Birthday baos

And when family is in town..the chow down continues…

I think this is the greatest pork meatball dipping sandwich ever…Au Petit Cafe (4851 Main Street, Vancouver)
Tangram Creamery:  Kombucha and Daifuku mochi with Matcha icecream (2729 Arbutus Street)
Finally a return visit to RAISU  –  Crispy Ebi Fry (2340 West 4th Avenue, Vancouver, BC)
Tetsu Sushi Bar: Do you like Chopped Scallop Temaki?  We Love their unagi rice, udon and sushi (775 Denman Street, Vancouver, BC)
Finally I had the Zen Minami Lunch set – I was “set” for the day – Minami (1118 Mainland Street)

HIBERNATE:

It’s NEVER too cold to have icecream and No I did not finish the jar by myself , I only scraped the bottom of jar and enjoyed what was left  – New favourite “Sweet Cream” from Earnest IceCream: 

On the snowed in days at home…

Perhaps the best time to catch on cooking videos and my reading: Masa’s Top Ten Superfoods

I’ve been following Chef Masa’s Youtube Channel and Facebook for quite a while now..I recently bought his latest cookbook and this will keep me busy for a while :

Also Contemplating and thinking….

Words to Live by: a meaningful posting found on a friend’s FB:

 

January 2018: Hello

 

Relaxation is an Art: we can all learn from Snoopy

Hello and How are you?

Finally have a little time to catch up!

I will be on Ms. Deborah Moore’s show on Fairchild AM1470 Tuesday January 23rd at 1030am sharp, hope you can tune in.

For my latest updates, follow me on Instagram

Celebrated Japanese New Year with my extended family at my in-laws: 

Sansho Pepper Roast boneless Prime Rib with organic black mushroom jus

Clams yuzu butter udon

Mom’s “Not Real Sushi” California Roll

Sockeye salmon sashimi with seaweed, wasabi mayo and ponzu

Japanese stewed carrots, konnyaku, lotus root and taro

Charcuterie and Cheese selection from Oyama Sausage

Lettuce wrap from my sister-in law, and Homemade Lemon fromage (lemon, gelatin, sugar, eggs and whipped cream and there’s no cheese) , it is a Danish citron mousse, prepared by her Mom

Aburi Salmon Battera Sushi: Sushi making class through Chef Taka (check his Facebook Page) 

New wish list: kitchen torch and battera sushi mold

Aburi Salmon Sushi!

Participated in an Adult Nutrition tour at Pricemart Supermarket (Richmond, BC) through Libra Nutrition 

Thanks to Amy for an informative session; check out their schedule

A couple Saturday afternoons enjoying a Hoji-cha Latte at Handworks Coffee Studio (7705 6th Street, Burnaby, BC)

Handworks also carries some quaint household and stationary items from Japan

Two visits to  the new DiBeppe Restaurant in Gastown (8 West Cordova, Vancouver, BC)

Cacio e pepe – Cheese and pepper spaghetti at DiBeppe
Second visit: we shared a salad (radicchio, frisee, pickled peppers, mixed greens, shavings of romano, chickpeas in a bright vinaigrette), also enjoyed the pasta pomodoro

Hot pot with friends at Dolar Shop (720-5300 No. 3 Road, Richmond)

I had the mildly spicy pickled cabbage and fish soup base – I love we can choose our own soup
Signature Prawn Paste – great texture
Trio of signature fish, prawn and beef paste to make into balls for hotpot

Better yet… having Japanese and Chinese hot pot with friends, the best kind of gathering during the cold winter season:

Japanese dashi base with daikon (previously we also added sake kasu); selection of vegetables,meats and main focus on seafood (manila clams, Dungeness crab, razor clams)

The highlight was Razor clams (from New Zealand) purchased at local supermarket (T & T Supermarket), succulent and tender, it was really worthwhile.

Best Hot pot condiment: Betty King Sauce

Razor clams from New Zealand: a splurge for this hot pot gathering; succulent and tender, it took less than 30 seconds to cook!

Betty King Sauce – best with hot pot – you can find her selling on Facebook/Instagram

RECIPE: Red and Pearled Barley Singo pear “Tea”

 

Feeling a little sluggish after the holiday meals?  This is my simple and easy home remedy for digestion and water retention. I usually take it late in the morning and never exceed a cup a day for a short duration when I feel it is necessary.

A month ago I had a pretty bad dry cough, I made this drink and it also helped to soothe the sore throat and get rid of the “dryness” we often encounter here in Vancouver during the winter season.

I remember as a child we had a lot of barley drinks particularly in the hot summer months, the taste and the feeling of comfort is deeply ingrained in my memory.

Same as any other herbal remedies, please use sparingly and according to your needs.  Pay attention to your body’s reactions and always check with your physician if you are unsure.

Ingredients:

 1 litre of  filtered water, 1/3 cup of red barley, 1/3 cup of pearled barley, 1 medium singo (korean singo) pear and small handful of goji berries (optional)

Method:

  • Peel and core the pear,  then cut into chunks
  • Rinse and clean the barley, you can mix them together
  • Put all ingredients in large pot and bring to a boil, then simmer for 25 to 30 minutes.
  • Strain the liquid, store in glass container  and refrigerate after it cools down

Notes:

  • Can be served hot or cold; I prefer to take it as a hot drink
  • Store barley in tightly sealed glass container in refrigerator

 

 

 

 

October 2017: Learn, Nosh and Nourish

Golden Leaves….

 

Fall has always been my favourite season ; I simply love the colours, the weather and the beautiful and delicious local harvests! I was overly excited and overextended myself a little with Thanksgiving family dinner and cooking classes (which I love!), I ended up catching a cold. Yikes!   Changing seasons is a very tricky time period, we should all be extra mindful in taking care of our bodies in order to prepare for the long winter season ahead.

And finally my blog post is up…..

Learn and Nosh at True Nosh

 

Snow Skin Mooncakes! I finished “third” place in the “mooncake beauty pageant”

A couple of months ago I came across True Nosh through Instagram, what I found intriguing about True Nosh is their focus on “no added sugar” cooking!  Coming from a family with history of diabetes (on my maternal side of family), I thought I could learn something new to even further reduce the usage of sugar in foods prepared for my family.

I browsed through their website and signed up for the Chinese Green scallion cake (one of my favourite Chinese snacks) class;  I think most of you by now know “working with dough” and cooking Chinese food is not my strong suit (Ha ha).

The class focused mainly on demonstration by owner and certified dietitian Ms. Renee Chan; only a small part requires hands on participation.

What is no added sugar cooking?   Ms. Chan finds a creative way to use the natural sweetness from fruits and vegetables to replace refined sugars in traditional cooking.  A lot of restraint is exercised by limiting the quantities so sugar content is lower and the dishes are lightly sweetened.

The menu for the evening also includes braised beef shank (which goes very well with the green scallion cakes) and mango mochi (without added sugar) as dessert. The dough was proof ahead of time by Ms. Chan and her team;  the six class participants helped to roll out the dough and shaped the actual pancakes while Renee would cook and teach us Chinese (simple Chinese words in Cantonese and Mandarin) at the same time, she certainly made it fun and relaxing for everyone.

What did she use to replace the refined sugar?  A small quantity of chopped red dates and apricots were used to create to a paste and added into the braised beef shank (picture not shown) as  sweetener. (The usage of this ingredient was featured at another vegetarian/vegan class which I attended later – see below). After a most enjoyable evening, I decided to sign up for her “moon-cake making” class.

The second class was held at her newest location (West 7th avenue and Ontario Street, very close to Main),  Renee and her team prepared all the ingredients and dough ahead of time, and participants only assemble and created the moon cakes with the beautiful tools provided. For the filling she has selected lotus (paste made from seeds) and red date (paired), mung bean and apricot (paired), red bean and purple yam to create the fillings, green tea powder and saffron were used as natural food colouring to change the “skin” colour.    The textures and flavors are definitely different from store-bought “snow-skin” moon cakes,  it is more rustic and not as sweet.

Renee and her team are helpful and friendly, I had the best time chatting with her about cooking and travel!  Her family was also present that afternoon and I was delighted to have met her mother, the atmosphere was very warm and personal.   All recipes were sent to participants via email with nutritional information.

Her company also offers a range of sauces and condiments with funky names and interesting flavor profile for Chinese cooking.  Check out her website for more information.  Thank you Renee and team for the connecting, see you at one of your classes another time!

I like her overall concept and support for a good cause (ending diabetes);  and I am already thinking how I can introduce this “no refined sugar” method to my family and friends.  I do think this a better option however it is still important to exercise personal judgement and stay well-informed on what suits your own dietary needs….As I always say, always cook with lots of care and love.

Learn and Nourish at Workshop Vegetarian Cafe (296 Pemberton Road, North Vancouver, BC)

My favourite dish : Kabocha and Corn Soup with crispy grains…created by Pokeman Vancouver !

In the past couple years more vegetarian and vegan restaurants have opened up in Greater Vancouver, even regular restaurants now offer more vegetarian and vegan options. Most of their flavor profile tend to be either Mediterranean or Middle eastern inspired, there are only just a handful of authentic Asian-flavored ( Chau Veggie Express) centric vegetarian friendly eateries operating in Vancouver.

The Workshop Vegetarian Cafe opened in 2016 and they well-known for their creative veggie bowls and signature ramen creations.  Owner Tak and his wonderful team have created a Japanese menu featuring fresh seasonal and local ingredients.   This delightful gem is very welcoming and cosy; it  offers a complete vegetarian menu, with gluten-free and vegan options available; inside they operate a “corner shop which sells produce,  frozen noodles (their in-house made udon/ramen), vegan and gluten-free condiments.   I first visited this cafe in September 2016 with my friend “Kanekic” and really enjoyed their avocado toast and ramen.

I came across their workshop information through Instagram, apparently they have started to offer special workshops almost on a monthly basis with different themes.

On a beautiful Sunday morning I attended their sake kasu workshop,  the focus is on the explanation and demonstration of key ingredient “sake lees” used in four recipes (which was given to us also), and a special five course lunch was included afterwards.

The demonstration was hosted by one of the chefs Oku-san, who is from Artisan Sake Maker at Granville Island, Canada’s first local sake maker (opened since 2007).   You may ask what is sake kasu?  It is the lees left over from sake production; it is a versatile ingredient which can be use as a marinade or pickling agent, adds lots of flavor to soups and sauces.  If you taste the kasu on its own, the flavor itself is actually quite strong, so very little is needed in all applications.

In the demo class he taught us how to create of amazake (Japanese New Years drink), Vegan Chocolate Banana Smoothie, Miso Marinade and Vegan Mayonnaise; we all get to sample them afterwards and we were all given a small tub of sake kasu to take home for our cooking experiments.

Sake Kasu Vegan Mayo – tasty!

The biggest surprise came when lunch was served; Oku-san and his friends, three other experienced chefs who work at different establishments in BC, they collaborated and created an exquisite five course lunch which exceeded my expectations.  The meal was perhaps could easily ranked as the best vegetarian I’ve had in Vancouver, it is so wonderful to see we have  high calibre chefs collaborating together and showcased not only their individual talent, but their superb team work; as a home cook, I left with not only a full stomach but also a very inspired mind.

I will be returning in November to attend a dashi-making workshop, I simply look forward to see what they have to offer next time.   Meanwhile if you are unable to make it to Vancouver, check out their postings on Instagram; their feed is very positive and inspirational.  Thank you very much Tak and team for the inspiration!

October 2017 Homecooking Snapshots: Cauli-Niku-Jaga, Mushroom Rice and Oden

Cauli-Niku-Jaga (my take on Niku-Jaga)

 

Follow me for more recent updates; remember always adjust the seasoning and ingredients according to your own and loved ones’ dietary needs, and the most important ingredients, COOK with LOTS of LOVE and PATIENCE (OO).

One pot suppers season is back in full swing!!

If you have been following my Instagram account you probably notice my claypot has been making a few appearances in my feed since late September…

This month is all about Japanese comfort foods: Matsutake-Chanterelle mushroom rice, Japanese Oden stew and my take on the popular homestyle dish Niku-jaga, which literally means “Meat and potatoes” – I named my dish Cauli-Niku-Jaga (see picture above).

The cooking method for the “jaga” is exactly the same as the making of a regular Niku-jaga with a couple minor tweaks: barley fed pork belly slices were used instead of beef, the addition of two vegetable component : edamame beans and cauliflower florets were added (1-1 cauliflower-potato ratio and about 1 cup of beans);  I have also changed things up a little with the meat stewing process.  To soften meat I usually use orange juice, the usage of sugar to soften the texture of the meat is a more suitable and great tip from Chef Masa from Masa’s ABC Cooking.

Ingredients and Preparation (2-4 people): (Part of Recipe adapted from Masa’s ABC Cooking)

200 grams of thinly sliced pork belly (Sliced in half, marinade in 1 teaspoon of coconut palm sugar(*my preference only) and 1 Tablespoon of sake for 15 to 20 minutes, set aside)

Prepare all the vegetables: 1 onion (medium size, sliced), 4 potatoes (I’ve used medium size creamer potatoes (usually russets are used) – quartered, edges slightly”peeled”*to prevent breaking up while cooking, in Japanese the method is called “mentori”, then soaked in water for 10-15 minutes, drained), cauliflower (florets – about 1 1/2 cups (to your liking, chopped about same size as carrot), 2 medium carrot (peeled and chopped in rolling wedges, size slightly smaller than potatoes because it takes longer to cook),  1 package of shirataki noodles (blanched, rinsed and drained), 1 cup of edamame beans (frozen and shelled – blanched then shocked in cold water, drained and set aside)

Prepare the dashi stock (recipe in my archives or you can use water) – 700 to 800 ml  (I usually make extra just in case I need more, it not available, just use water).

Measure the seasoning: 3-4 Tablespoons Tamari or organic low sodium soy sauce (*can be substituted with regular soy), 3-4 Tablespoons sake, 2 Tablespoons of Mirin, 1 Tablespoon coconut brown sugar (**can be substituted; this is my preference)

Cooking Process all in one:

Over medium high heat, use a large pan (a braiser would be excellent, I used a Japanese donabe) and add 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil (something neutral of your choice –  canola or grape seed oil), saute the pork slices until slightly browned, removed from pan and set aside.

Add slice onions and carrots, saute until they slightly browned.

Add potatoes to the pan, gently mix well with onion and carrots, then add the drained shirataki noodles, continue to saute, make sure the shirataki noodles do not lump together and do not mash the potatoes.

Add dashi stock to pan; make sure you have enough stock to cover all ingredients

Once it comes to a boil, turn the heat down to medium and skim off the scum.  Add seasoning to pan, stir and mix well.  Cover the lid and let ingredients cook for approximately 6 minutes.

Remove the lid then add pork slices, make sure the slices are evenly distributed, then sprinkle the cooked edamame beans. When meat is cooked, taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.   Remove from heat and let it stand for while before serving, the ingredients will absorb the flavours!

***Note: This is the step which I have tweaked to keep the meat tender.  You can watch his original video for his method and wonderful cooking tips (Masa ABC cooking on YouTube )

If you want a thicker sauce, you can turn up the heat and the sauce will reduce if you cook it a little longer.

For this dish the most difficult part would be balancing the sweetness and saltiness; just keep tweaking and you will find the balance to your liking, remember it also depends on what kind of sweetener you are using.  Do not make it overly sweet!

My sources in Vancouver for ingredients: Nikuya Meats (for the pork slices, in Richmond BC),  Sakura-ya (517 East Broadway, Vancouver, BC) and Whole Foods (various locations – for Delta’s Fraserland Farms Creamer potatoes).

 

You know Fall is here when matsutake mushroom (Japanese pine mushroom) becomes available; this year I changed things up a bit and added chanterelle mushrooms, and voila it really works.  Remember back in August 2016 I recommended Food Video Channel (in Mandarin Chinese) on YouTube (also on Wechat, Weibo) ?  Well the chanterelle mushroom mix idea is also from one the videos I watched on that channel, apparently somewhere in Yunnan province chanterelle mushrooms are also available and they usually saute them together with Chinese ham.

It is very difficult to purchase high quality cured ham here in Vancouver; last Fall I experimented with Italian cured pork jowl “guanciale” and lay them underneath the rice, then topped with sliced (torn actually) matsutake (doused with little sake earlier) and the kombu (kelp from the dashi making).  When rice is almost cooked (with approximately 10 minutes remaining), I used organic unsalted  butter to saute the remaining mushrooms then add to the rice cooker and let everything finish cooking together.   It worked beautifully and my family totally loved it.

This year I added the chanterelle mushrooms (thanks to a trip to Vancouver Farmer’s Market I got the fresh chanterelle) to cook with everything else initially in the rice cooker, repeat the same organic butter saute finishing process.  The chanterelle mushrooms were quite difficult to clean, however it added another depth of flavor to the rice and the results were beyond my own expectations.

Because the mushrooms are quite expensive, I use them sparingly.  For 3 cups of rice (I used Haiga rice), I use approximately 1/2 to 1 lb of mushrooms (depends on budget, grade and availability).

I used the rice cooker for convenience because my Zojirushi has the “Mixed Rice” setting; the rice is also cooked in homemade dashi, with the standard soy sauce, mirin and sake seasoning (3-2-1 ratio which works very well – always adjust according to your own taste).

My “hybrid” version (that’s what my friend “mydoctorgreen” called it) tries to retain the nuance of the original concept, keeping things simple without over-seasoning, just adding another layer of flavor to enhance and showcase the star ingredient, the matsutake.  The chanterelle also did not overpower and they co-existed together harmoniously.

Important notes: Remember the guanciale is a little salty so factor that in when tasting.   The rice should be cleaned and soaked prior to cooking; because you are adding mushroom, reduce the water (my experience at least 1/4 less liquid) and the guanciale should be removed before serving.  This mushroom rice simple recipe should work well with shimeji and maitake mushrooms also, be adventurous and experiment.

It tastes as good as it looks (OO).

My source for Matsutake mushroom in Vancouver: Fujiya Japanese Food Store on Clark Drive (East Vancouver).

 

Japanese Oden with Umeboshi flavoring – Recipe adapted from Masa’s ABC Cooking

My Japanese friends taught me how to make oden a long time ago without any specific recipe; just like any regular home cook/hobby chef, sometimes we just make something “on the fly” based on our existing knowledge.  When I try to make a new dish, I like to research a few recipes, apply my own skills and tweak things to our tastes, hence the creation of “hybrid” food (like my cauli-niku-jaga).

I don’t get to make oden very often at home because my husband somehow must have experienced a childhood episode which may have scarred him for life, he finds the idea of having oden repulsive.    Well that being said, I would cook it for myself when he happens to be away on business trips (Ha ><). The most recent creation happened a couple weekends ago when my friends came over for a gathering.

Recently I have been watching Chef Masa’s channel quite a lot; been busy comparing and tweaking my own recipes, learning new tips and applying new techniques.  Changes are also made according to our preference and dietary needs!  The more I study about cooking, the more I love it.

This is what I truly love to do during my down time at home.

I highly recommend you to watch his original video for wonderful cooking tips and methods.

This dish is really great for cold weather and the recipe is good for 2 people, be sure to try it out this winter!

Ingredients and Preparation for Soup base: 500 ml homemade dashi, 2 Tablespoons Sake, 1-2 Tablespoon Mirin (I used 2), 1/2 to 1 Tablespoon tamari (*my preference, use regular soy and don’t add too much because it will darken the soup), 1 teaspoon sugar (**I used coconut palm sugar) and 1/2 teaspoon sea salt.  

Add all the above ingredients in this particular order to the claypot (Japanese donabe), taste and adjust accordingly.

Oden Ingredients and Preparation:

Japanese daikon radish (peeled skin, sliced approximately 4 cm thickness, then use small knife and smooth the edge of the daikon (Mentori method as mentioned and used for the potatoes in previous recipe) – mark an “X” cut in the middle (do not cut through completely), using medium heat, at radish slices to cold water, bring to boil and cook until soften.   While daikon is cooking, prepare the other ingredients.  Check on the daikon periodically, when cooked through and softened, remove from pot gently and set aside.

Enoki Mushroom: 1 small package, ends cut, set aside.

Napa Cabbage : a small one would do, washed, sliced to bite size, blanched, drained.  Lightly squeeze excess water when napa is cool enough to handle.

Japanese firm tofu (approximately half a box, 200 g – slice into squares.  Using medium heat, brush the pan lightly with vegetable oil, sear and brown all sides of the tofu lightly.  It is easier to handle by using a small pair of tongs.

Japanese konjac (konnyaku): 1 small package, cut into square pieces (approximately 2 cm thick),  lightly scored both sides (think Cuttlefish Chinese way, the konjac will absorb the flavor).  Then sliced into triangular pieces.  Parboil konjac in hot water to get rid of the “fishy” taste, set aside.

Kombu (kelp):  The cooked kelp from the dashi making can be added to the oden.  Rinse and lightly scrub off the “sliminess”  without breaking the kelp,  cut into trips and tie into a bow shape.

Chikuwa (tube like fish cake purchased at Japanese food store) stuffed with asparagus: 2 pieces of chikuwa and 2 -4 stalks of asparagus  (ends trimmed, blanched, shocked in ice (to keep color) and stuff inside chikuwa. If the asparagus stalks are really thin, you may need two for each chikuwa).  Slice each chikuwa into 3 pieces, place 3 pieces of chikuwa on each skewer.

Eggs (2 large eggs) – boiled and peeled, set aside.

Lay all ingredients nicely  and get ready to cook in the donabe which you have used to prepare the soup base earlier.

Using medium low heat, keep the soup base in a simmer and add 2 umeboshi (store bought pickled plums – removed the seed);  put the napa cabbage, daikon, cooked egg, konjac, tofu and kombu in this order.  Turn up to medium high heat, cover with lid and cook the ingredients for approximately 4-5 minutes.

Remove the lid (be careful as it will be very hot!), check the ingredients and if necessary, cover again and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes.

Remove the lid (again be careful) and gently add the chikuwa skewers and enoki mushrooms. cover again and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes.

The Delicious oden should be ready…once you open the lid,  steam will come through and you will see a nice bubbling action;  hear a “bub bub bub bub bub” bubbling sound…and smell a whiff of the pickled plums flavor….

**My Verdict: Chef Masa‘s idea of adding umeboshi to the soup base adds freshness and slight “tartness” which my friends and I enjoyed immensely.  This is such a wonderful idea which I am trying to work into other recipes.    Thank you Chef Masa for all your cooking tips!

Notes:

In the video he made Japanese napa cabbage rolls; I didn’t want any meat in this dish so I did not replicate the recipe.  The cooking time will definitely be slightly longer if you include the cabbage rolls.  Other fish cakes (can be purchased at Japanese deli) and Mochi bags (kinchaku – mochi stuffed in fried tofu skin) are great oden ingredients.  I avoid eating processed foods so I may skip the chikuwa next time.

I have a bigger size donabe so I was able to cook more ingredients at the same time, and I prepared more dashi.

**Potatoes and Daikon have sharp edges which need to be removed before cooking, otherwise when the pieces cook together in the pot, they will start rubbing and it will cause breakage.  The method is called “mentori”.

My sources in Vancouver: Fujiya (Japanese food store on Clark Drive in East Vancouver), Sakura-ya (East Broadway and Fraser in East Vancouver).

 

 

 

 

Sharpening 101: Love and Care at “Ai and Om”

I have taken many cooking classes, however this is the first time I came across  a knife sharpening workshop being taught in Vancouver.

I am completely clueless on this subject matter; I usually hone them with a steel (learn through YouTube and not sure exactly what I was doing) and take them out for service when required.

Our kitchen knives are our best friends;  they are the most used tools in the kitchen, come to think of it, we spend a lot of time prepping our ingredients!

You may think these days we can practically learn almost anything on YouTube, so why a workshop?

It is a personal decision based on the way how I learn,  I also happen to enjoy exchanges and connections with people in general (at times flipping between being an introvert and extrovert).

On this particular subject matter,  I have tried to watch videos, I realize I need to see first hand in reality how it is done with instructions and thorough explanations.

So two weekends ago on a Sunday morning I overcame my fear (of the unknown) and spent two hours, together with three other students, learn about the basic principles of knife sharpening through Vancouver Chinatown’s Ai and Om Knives‘ ; the workshop was taught by local chef and shop owner Douglas Chang.

Ai and Om Knives carries a curated selection of Japanese knives and accessories; the first time I came across this specialty shop was actually through Instagram. When they opened last summer in August (official opening in October),  I paid a visit and purchased my treasured nakiri bocho , a Japanese knife specifically used for cutting vegetables.  My first experience at the store was very pleasant and positive so I subsequently subscribed to their newsletter.

I was truly elated when I saw their workshop schedule recently,  I signed up immediately through email without any second thoughts.

My Nakiri bocho, the perfect fit

On the day of we all brought their own knives for sharpening, fees were paid ($75.00 for the session) before the workshop started and  I also purchased the split whetstone (discount given to students who signed up) , I was a bit scared and I was all ready to go,  not knowing what to expect!  The workshop was taught at the back of the shop where our “sensei” (teacher) spent the first half explaining clearly the technical terms and principles; he later proceed with a demonstration and sufficient time was allocated for our own hands on practice.

I admit initially I was overwhelmed and didn’t know where to begin as there were just a lot of information to remember and understand; in the spur of the moment I decided not to overthink and calmly focus on what our “sensei” has explained earlier, breaking it down step by step (the precis writing skills acquired back in secondary school really helped to pick out the “Key” words and points) and slowly got into it.  Although the technicalities are very important, if we put all things aside, the process itself is actually very simple and rustic,  it just comes down to the knife, the stone, your own concentration and focus.

Personally at that moment the lesson transcended into something more enlightening, I was engaged in  a short “self-realization” journey, directing my own focus to be “in the moment” and learn how to appreciate the simplicities in life.  I found the process to be very calming and therapeutic, I enjoyed it tremendously, much to my own surprise.

I was enjoying the process and did not even think of the results until  it was time for the true test to see if I achieved what I was taught: to test and see if the knife will slice through paper effortlessly.  I was absolutely thrilled when my nakiri “swished” through the paper….. I was more excited about the fact that I overcame the fear of another “unknown” .

I am not going to get into the details of knife sharpening as I have only learnt the basics and currently digesting what I have learnt;  I assure you the session was informative and in the end you will be equipped with enough basic information to start sharpening your knives at home, and gained a better understanding of the art of knives and sharpening techniques. Hats off to local chef and owner Douglas Chang; he is very knowledgeable and articulate speaker who shows great patience and exerts a calming presence. Thank you very much for a very meaningful and eye-opening lesson.

My other thoughts on this experience: Never stop learning and practice definitely makes progress! Take good care of our kitchen tools will definitely help us to become more efficient with our meal preparations; improved efficiency will ease our minds, our focus will become clearer, and time will then be saved.

And time, perhaps is the most precious gift,  spending time together with family and friends is the true expression of love and care.

 

Note: Ai and Om Knives is located in the heart of Vancouver Chinatown, 129 East Pender Street.  Besides selling knives, they also carries a range of accessories , provide knife sharpening services and hosting workshops. Check their website for more details.

PS Note to my dear friend James; My knives will always be sharp from now on (OO).