Friday, March 30, 2007
I know blogging about a plain old dinner is bad foodie form, but my dinner tonight came together so quickly that I just had to share it. Mashed sweet potato (unseasoned because I was a little heavy-handed last time and have been scared off); Zucchini, mushroom and onion, sweated out in olive oil and then finished with balsamic vinegar; Baked salmon with Miracle Whip (It's a Hong Kong thing) and fresh parsley.
To a certain degree these are my "tried and true" recipes and comfort foods, and somehow, they're all inspired by my mom. My mom used to make mashed sweet potato once a year for say, Thanksgiving or Christmas (I never ate any because I didn't actually start liking sweet potato until I came to university). My mom introduced the phenomenal combination of zucchini and mushroom (although the balsamic vinegar is inspired by someone else), and of course, my mom made baked salmon with Miracle Whip at home, though she likes her fish a bit undercooked and she uses Fines herbes or dried dill.
To be honest I'm not really a fan of fresh parsley myself, but I went to Marché Lobo just yesterday and I was trying to think of something to make for lunch/take-to-class dinner and I realized I had a can of chickpeas and I wanted to make a salad and I thought the recipe in my mind called for parsley but it didn't. It's still a very gorgeous bunch of parsley (and they also had gorgeous bunches of mint), but if it were truly up to me I would've picked up some dill. Oh well.
Other awesome finds at Marché Lobo: A tub of vegan curried red lentil spread that I have yet to open AND Philippine Mangoes. Since I never went grocery shopping before leaving for university, I'd never seen those other green and red mangoes before, so I'd grown up with these yellow ones. In the summer, my family would buy cases of them to have in our house. My mom's taught me this way where you peel and eat it sort of like a banana (less time consuming, but certainly leaves your hands sticky!) but I was feeling like treating myself so I cut one (as Wikipedia calls it) "Hedgehog style".
It looks cool, but it's so easy. Halve the mango as close to the pit as possible, do the same with the other side. You should now have a centre part that still has a lot of flesh, so you can decide to eat that either before or after you keep cutting. Anyway, with the two halves, you cut a crosshatch pattern diagonally into the flesh, making sure not to cut the peel. Then you just kind of pull on the sides and push up the middle and voila!
In other news, Megan of Not Martha posted a link to Blair Fukumura, a really inventive pastry chef. She also links to the pilot of his new show on The Food Network, Piece of Cake. I think the cakes he makes are gorgeous and all the techniques he uses are so cool, but I'm not sure if I'd personally eat it just because I'm sketched out by all the food colouring that he uses.
Monday, March 26, 2007
So it has come to my attention that all the baked goods that are on this website contain banana. I'd just like to let you know right now that I'm not some sort of banana fiend. It's just that I almost always seem to have bananas on hand that are getting all brown and bruisy faster than I'd like and the best way to get rid of them is bake!
That being said, perhaps I have an obsession with vegetables and fruit in my baked goods. When I saw this post as part of SHF #28, I knew that one day I was going to make it.
(I'm not going to post the recipe again here, as it is there and her photos are obviously better than mine--just remember that a stick of butter = ½ cup)
And what perfect occasion to make it than for a St. Paddy's Day party? (Really.) I fully intended to show up and be like "I made a cake, but it's the wrong colour!" But at the party they had green lighting in the kitchen, so you couldn't really tell what colour the icing was, which was a bit of a downer, because I thought it should've been the star of the show (and the hint to what was in the cake ;) ) Unfortunately, my icing came out a bit runnier than I'd like, which brings me to lesson #1: As heart-healthy as you're trying to be, soft margarine is a poor substitute for butter when it comes to making icing.
Everyone at the party loved the cake (possibly because they were all drunk college kids). Unlike zucchini chocolate cake, where you can't taste the zucchini and it's more there to add moisture and maybe some texture, the roasted beet does impart its own flavour that really complements the chocolate. Since I still had some beet purée left and my roommates didn't get to try my pink creation, I surprised them with these:
I didn't have any butter nor beet to make anymore icing, so I just dusted the cupcakes with cocoa and icing sugar, which I thought made them look kind of dirty. Lesson 2: Dust with cocoa or icing sugar, not both... Or don't mix before you dust?
In case you're wondering I presented the cupcakes with this whimsical sign:
Beet Chocolate Cupcakes (Help yourself!)
Full of tasty antioxidants (Ed note: I talk a bit about beet in this entry, and of course the cocoa has some antioxidant properties also)
Warning: May ultimately cause the colour of your excrement to be different from normal. In layman's terms, this is your shit will turn red. According to Wikipedia, this is because you lack the enzymes to break down the colour in the beet. Do not be alarmed unless problem persists.
Hey, a little sarcasm never hurt anyone, and neither did any beet chocolate cakes.
Last weekend my friend Jessica and I went to the Expo Manger Santé at le Palais de Congrès. There were three main themes: Healthy eating, Ecology, and Global Health, but our focus was obviously on the healthy eating part. I found that it was mostly small, health/natural food companies (although there were some bigger firms, like Provigo, IGA and Liberty) jumping on different food trends, like organics, omega-3s, antioxidants, gluten-free, lactose-free, vegetarian/vegan, whole foods, etc. For tastings, since there was limited storage for perishable food items, most companies showed off their protein bars. Always curious about those chocolate-flavoured things at the cashier, I welcomed the opportunity to try them, but after so many booths, I think I'm "barred out".
Still, it was a good experience to see what was out there in terms of new food products, and how consumers view healthy eating. I feel like in our courses we spend so much time hammering in the "core" knowledge that we don't have the time to cover all the new stuff that's out there.
Most of the stalls had their stuff for sale, but since this was mostly health food made by tiny companies, we didn't really buy anything EXCEPT for some tasty bread and bagels from Stonemill Bakery. Jess had a hankering for walnut butter (she had a dream about it) but it seems like nobody makes it, so she instantly fell in love with some walnut bread and bought two loaves as part of a 2 for $5 deal. I had recently bought a loaf of bread during my last grocery trip, but I fell in love with the Muesli bagels.
I usually go for poppyseed bagels, but seriously, how can you not fall for that grainy goodness? AND it also has raisins! And poppyseeds! I actually went grocery shopping today at Loblaws, and they had no Muesli bagels, but there was 9-Grain, so I bought some anyway. There's no turning back; I'm officially a fan.
Other highlights... well at that time I was still reading The Thrive Diet, so I had my eyes peeled for foods that the author, Brendan Brazier, mentions in there. There were two hemp stands, including Manitoba Harvest, which he actually recommends. My current verdict: Hemp seeds are pretty good, but the taste of hemp butter is too nutty for me (it also doesn't help that it's this dark green sludge) and I just couldn't justify spending $8 on 250 mL of hemp oil just so I could try making the salad dressings in the book.
Speaking of The Thrive Diet, look who we found:
Tada! OK, so that was a really bad shot, but this is actually the health food product line developed by Brendan Brazier! They had smoothies (weird purplish-greenish colour, also tasted a little too "hempy") and energy bars (bitter aftertaste?) to taste. The employees got a little too excited when I mentioned I was reading the book... I think I forgot to mention that I was reading the book because I needed to, not because I was planning to convert!
Other tasty things... Jess bought a jar of either yogurt or kefir from these guys, although I personally couldn't wrap my head around the fact that it was yogurt in a glass jar... She almost bought some granola from Grandma Emily's Granola. I must admit it was pretty tasty, but it was a lot of money for very little granola, and Jess said she's already used to toasting her own...Miels d'Anicet had some really fancy-looking honeys and also some fancy-looking wines (although unfortunately they only show the honeys on the website). Also unfortunate was that they were so busy that Jess and I didn't get to taste :(
Another impressive sounding place was La Maison Cannelle, which specializes in gluten- and lactose-free foods. Their product line shows a lot of main dishes as well as soups, but at the expo they only brought their pastries and desserts (clearly not complaining here!) They were so good! A definite step up from the gluten-free baking we had to do in the food lab. Granted, I think the professor wanted us to see the difference between something with vs. without gluten, but I think once you have a handle on gluten-free cooking, you can make some pretty spectacular stuff.
Jess was also on the lookout for someone who delivered organic food baskets in the winter, because she gets her local/organic food fix at Le Marché de L'Ouest over the summer. So I'm embarrassed to say that I totally forgot about Equiterre; I think it was a name that always got thrown around in some of my classes but I pretty much forgot what they did. Equiterre is basically the organic farm organization in Quebec, and at the expo they handed out brochures showing which farms do what kind of baskets, and where you can pick them up. That's pretty awesome. Also awesome are Jardin des Anges, which delivers baskets, and Les Jardins Urbains, where ordering is done completely online, and they also deliver.
Some bigger companies have jumped on the "healthy food" bandwagon. Liberty yogurts is poised to come out with a bunch of products, like goat's milk yogurt (which I thought was disgusting, but I don't like goat to begin with) and "mixed flavour" yogurts like "Vanana" (Vanilla/Banana) and "Applum" (Apple/Plum). Bolthouse Farms has come up with a new line of juices called Bom Dia, which mixes the Brazilian fruit açai (which is currently being touted for its antioxidant properties) with a bunch of other fruit like mangosteen, cacao and pomegranate. Again, ridiculously expensive ($3 for a small bottle, I think?) and right now they only have it in the smaller size. Fortunately, the guy behind the counter was very cute (and I was amused by the fact that he was clearly not francophone, unlike most of the people at the expo.) Also jumping on the açai bandwagon was IGA, who is planning to offer it as a juice on their Compliments Balance line.
In a stark contrast to all of these vegetarian, all-natural booths were a couple emu stands. Jess kept on saying she had this mental picture of an emu being wrung out or something for its oil. Gross.
All in all, the fair was fun (and filling!), and a great opportunity to learn about new products (very important as an aspiring dietitian) and the kinds of companies/services that are available. That being said, with MAPAQ (the provincial agricultural registry) and some other organizations on hand, I was surprised that there wasn't anyone representing OPDQ or Dietitians of Canada. I'm sorry I didn't blog about this sooner so that you could've had a chance to check it out (although if you're in Quebec city NEXT weekend it's going on there) but this is definitely an annual thing so don't forget to go next year!
To close off: Jess at a grain/nuts identification stand (so many of the nuts got eaten—haha!) and me with a panda mascot (who was trying to sell black licorice. Gross.)
Thursday, March 15, 2007
My roommate Carol has a copy of The Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen, published in 1992 (there has since been many revisions, with the most recent one published in 2002, featuring revised recipes and colour photos.) As a new cook, Carol's "goal" for the year is to make all the soup recipes in the book (it's funny because she makes them to the letter, which usually results in 6-8 servings, and she's just cooking for herself!) But since then, she has moved on to some other recipes, like chapatis, naan, etc. When her friend Glenna was visiting, more than once I heard her say, "Well Mollie says that..." when they made meals together. I teased her for being on a "first name basis" with the author of her cookbook.
But then I realized I have "my own" Molly, the owner of the beautifully written Orangette and soon-to-be author herself. Not too long ago she shared an eggless banana bread recipe, with coconut and RUM. (I'm not going to post the recipe in my own entry because it is there, and she's a wonderful writer, and you should read her blog if you don't already.)
All right, so I know I already have a banana bread recipe that I love, and I still love it because it is certainly much quicker than this one, and only uses two bananas.
But, this banana bread recipe has lots to rave about. First, (which Molly also raves about) is the use of Demerara sugar, which gives the top crust a sparkly appearance and also an interesting and sweet crunch.
I don't really know why this happens, but I think it might have to do with caramelization, or sugar's water retaining properties? I'm flipping through my Food Fundamentals textbook (Understanding Food by Amy Brown) and I still don't really understand it :S
So anyway, this hard crust gives way to a soft, regular bread (the crust on the sides is like regular bread) which I found to be quite sweet, but not unbearably so (Note that I only came out with 1 cup of bananas, so I replaced the other ½ cup with plain yogurt, which turned out well. I also used sweetened coconut, because that's all I had.) I also felt that the bread had a buttery taste to it, making it seem more rich than my usual banana bread, which is made with oil.
This leads me to my other food science-y rant; the fact that the banana bread does not use eggs. Eggs provide structure because of their protein content, and leavening because beating the eggs incorporates air. In this banana bread, since there's no eggs, baking soda and vinegar are used instead. According to the comments on Orangette, apparently this is a common technique among vegans. I personally think if you're not vegan or don't have an egg allergy, you should keep your eggs in your baked goods because they are an excellent source of complete protein (as in, it has all the essential amino acids)--I'm not lying about it being an excellent source, in fact, in equations that compare whether a food has complete proteins, eggs are used as the standard. Eggs are also a good source of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K), and some B vitamins.
But how does the baking soda and vinegar thing work? Well if you've ever mixed baking soda and vinegar together as a kid, you know that the mixture bubbles, so in the baking/leavening context, it incorporates air. The reaction is actually intensified by heat. The baking soda (alkaline) and vinegar (acid) are actually neutralizing each other, which causes the reaction, which is also why the banana bread doesn't taste oddly bitter from the baking soda or oddly sour. Usually in most recipes that call for baking soda, there is already some acidic ingredient that will neutralize the baking soda, so vinegar isn't added... In this recipe it's probably there just to add that extra "oomph" so that the bread is leavened even without the egg.
Food science and tasty banana bread... who knew?
Monday, March 05, 2007
Last Monday I'd promised my roommates that I'd cook them a belated Chinese New Year dinner. A lot of prep had gone into it--my mom and I made a Chinese New Year cake (more on that in the next entry) that I packed with me, along with a can of abalone and some store-bought Chinese New Year cake.
It was the first day back to school from Reading Week and on Mondays I only have one class at 8:30. So after class I headed downtown, made a 2.5 hour stopover at the Trib office (I had to fix up an article) and then went for some retail therapy...
My first stop was actually for my own groceries at a shop that I hadn't visited since my first year of university (two years ago), when I used to swing by after my French class (again, at 8:30) before catching the shuttle back to my campus. It was my favourite store, and stepping in, I quickly remembered why I gave it that distinction.
Marché Lobo boasts cheap produce and a sizeable ethnic foods section for a store of its size. Some of the stuff looks a little sketchy, but there were a lot of great finds, like "homemade" hummus and baba ghanouj in the fridge. I will definitely have to find time to head over there again instead of heading west to PA all the time ;)
It was eastwards again to Chinatown to do the real shopping for the meal. After a quick pho break, I was quickly reminded of the fire that destroyed one of the biggest grocery stores in Chinatown earlier this year.
Unfortunately, this meant that the grocery store next door, which was my favourite, was also forced to close.
So I wandered aimlessly across the street, trying to figure out which of the smaller grocery stores I wanted to patronize, when I came upon this little gem:
Hurrah! There is whole, fresh fish for sale in Montreal's tiny Chinatown (not that that's a miracle, if you think about it, seeing that Montreal is an island.) I had no idea what fish I wanted to buy, so I just asked the vendor what was fresh/nice. He seemed to not really have a clue either, and I ended up with a 2lb winter flounder, which fortunately ended up tasting good (more on that in the next entry.)
After that I picked up some veggies from the small grocery store next door and then some barbecued pork and soya sauce chicken from A Lam Kee. (In Chinglish I call it "zaam (斬) some liew (料)," as to buy these barbecued meats from the store/restaurant is called "斬料" in Cantonese.)
By then, I was left with just enough time to catch the shuttle and then start preparing dinner right away!
3509 Ave du Parc (near Milton)
Asie de l'est produit de mer et viande (Vinh Loi?)
1021A Boul. St-Laurent (near de la Gauchetière)
Épicerie A Lam Kee
1065 Boul. St-Laurent
Friday, March 02, 2007
We ended up sitting and waiting at the restaurant for quite a while for another girl who is in their group who was supposed to dine with us, and we didn't order until we were in there for about 45 minutes. When it finally came time for us to order, we caught the attention of the guy who sat us down at our table, told him what we wanted before he said "Wait, I have to call your waiter," and he literally went and picked up the phone (I vaguely recall seeing the waiter standing inside the doorway at the inn next door?)
So the waiter finally comes and we tell him what we want initially. Just one $34 platter for two people; we'd order the second one when the other girl arrived. However, we were informed that that was not allowed. The injera, the traditional teff flatbread that doubles as an "eating utensil" was "on the house" based on how many people there were and we would have to pay $5 extra because there were three of us. Sure that their friend would arrive eventually (she was the one who made the reservation), we ordered both platters.
After being presented with damp napkins--it was confusing because they were damp, so we thought we were supposed to wipe our hands with them like hot towels, but they were the texture of the cloth napkins that they give you at restaurants. Since they didn't take them away from us (as is usually done with hot towels) I assumed that they were perhaps napkins that didn't get put in the dryer long enough—the food arrived surprisingly quickly.
If I was organized I would've copied down the names of everything, but since I'm not, here's a rough description, starting with the yellow mass on top and going clockwise:
- Yellow split pea stew, cooked in turmeric (gives yellow colour) and ginger. This dish had a very strong cardamom flavour and was a favourite.
- Lamb stew with potatoes and carrots
- Beef stew with berbere (an Ethiopian chili powder, basically) sauce
- Chicken dish
- Lentil dish--also spicy
- Lamb stew, also with berbere
- Beef stew with potatoes and carrots
- Chicken dish (Doro wat?)--In the menu they made a pretty big deal about this dish. It was my favourite at first, but then as the dinner progressed the dish became bitter. It was strange. Also note the hard boiled egg on the side.
- The salad in the middle was very good and refreshing. Another favourite.
3706 rue St-Denis (Métro Sherbrooke)
This afternoon I went with my roomie Jane and her friend (and fellow Calgarian) Andrea to La Fête des fromages d'ici, which is part of the Montreal High Lights Festival. Admission was free, and for those who were interested, GREAT cheeses were also on sale for cheap. A lot of the cheeses were made from raw milk and/or organic milk; the raw milk caught my attention a little because last week when I was at home, a show on Fairchild TV, the Chinese station, featured a really good documentary on raw milk and unfortunately they don't have a summary on their website. But I digress.
Jane was very fond of the softer, milder cheeses. One fromagerie made a very impressive Camembert. Jane also gravitated to La Fromagère Mistouk, which bragged about the omega-3 content of its cheeses :)
My personal favourite was Fromagerie St-Fidèle, which brought four different kinds of Swiss cheeses to the event. They had this cheese that is soaked in Mistelle, which is a pear-apple liqueur and it imparted this lovely sweetness into the cheese. So good. At $5 for 200 g it would've been a steal, but then I remembered that I wasn't some classy French lady who has wine and cheese after dinner...
What I kind of don't get though, is the obsession of Quebecois with Pied-de-vent. In my opinion, it started off kind of bland/bitter, and then when you swallowed, it gave an aftertaste that my untrained palate can only describe as "garbage". On a lighter note, the blue cheese that I tried did not taste like "compost" like the first time I tried blue cheese...
So anyway, tomorrow is the last day that the festival is running in Complexe Desjardins, so brave the snow and get out there for some good cheese!