Saturday, September 26, 2009

Oh My Gourd

Gingery Butternut Tater Soup

Many times over the years, I'd heard my colleagues share the virtues of their latest blended soups during lunch break. I was inspired, and they were always very encouraging about how easy they were to make, but I wasn't a creamy soup maker. With the sole exception of congee, my soups were of the thin sort: thin soup with noodles or rice, meat and vegetables. That was my thing. But those lunchtime soups looked good and smelled good, real good, and I decided it was my time to make one. Well, it's been several years since I decided that, but I finally made it happen last week; I created my first creamy blended soups with winter squash as my inspiration. And I must say that it was worth the wait: very tasty and truly super easy just like they said it would be. Now my thing is soup thick or thin.

Gingery Butternut Tater Soup: Cut up, core and peel a butternut squash, and peel and cut up some potatoes. (I used a 2:1, squash to potato ratio.) Cover in chicken stock and boil until soft. Add about 2 tablespoons of finely ground fresh ginger. (Add it in after boiling to keep the fresh zing of the ginger, but you can put it in to boil as well for a milder zing.) Blend it all together with a tabletop or hand-held blender. Add fresh ground pepper, spoon it in and feel your tummy warm.

Leeky Nutty Buttercup Soup

For this recipe: Cut up, core and peel a small buttercup squash, and roughly cut up the whites of one leek. Cover with chicken stock and boil until soft. Add in about 1/2 to 1 cup of smooth peanut butter. Add a dash of cayenne for a small kick, and a splash of apple cider vinegar for brightness, if desired. Blend it together. Fresh ground pepper on top is a must. For some reason it tastes a little of split pea soup! Yummy autumn goodness.

(The thing I love most about these soups is that the flavour combinations are endless. Next time I will try variations with carrots, corn, celery, onions, sweet potatoes, tomato..., and then there are the herbs and spices...!)

Saturday, September 19, 2009

All Hail Kale Chips!

Kale from my mother's garden. Thanks Mom!

One of my favourite memories from early childhood is of my mother's garden. It was in the back yard of our green and white Vancouver special and was the tiny oasis of our dead end East Van street. This tall garden (to a tiny me) was like a protective wall that kept me away from what was behind it: a gravel pit for u-turning cars, and a great big unknown ravine which sunk into the depths of who knew what. (I'm sure it was a lovely creek, but I was a toddler then and was too afraid to find out.)

She grew a lot of veggies in that small space, and I remember tiptoeing with care through the stalks of sweet corn, the vines of runner beans and sugar peas, and stooping to peer at the watercress growing in her inverted tire planters. Unfortunately, our dog King was not so delicate and loved digging gigantic holes in her precious garden. Her weariness with covering holes combined with a busy schedule as a working mother of three, meant that it was time to give the garden up.

Now many years later and in her retirement, my mom has begun to garden again. Cherry tomatoes, purple potatoes, zucchini, butternut squash, goji berries, chili, garlic, shallots, chives, kale, and her old favourite the runner bean, line the circumference of the backyard. I love that my mom is gardening again because I know how much she loves to grow things, and because she is so proud whenever a new thing sprouts. It's also pretty great that from her bountiful garden, come many gifts for me. This summer, every visit has come with a companion in the form of a garden goody. Lately, it has been kale. A lot of kale. I wondered what to do with all this kale, and then decided to take to the internet. And lo and behold, I found a recipe that I have made several times now and find to be one of the bestest ways to eat this hardy leaf. The answer to all this kale was Kale Chips!

The recipe goes like this: Wash and dry the kale leaves and cut out the thick stems. Tear into bite-sized pieces. Put them in a bowl and splash enough olive oil to lightly coat (not soak) the leaves. Add a dash of apple cider vinegar, salt and any other seasoning you wish. (You can use cayenne, garlic, more vinegar for more of a salt and vinegar taste.... Personally, I like the basic recipe pure and simple.) Bake at 350 degrees F for 20 minutes. These are straight out of the oven goodness, and good for you :o)

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Shrooms and Weed

Mushroom Fresco Veggie Chips

Tao Kae Noi Japanese Crispy Seaweed

I love snacks. This is probably because I'm hungry all the time and am known to have a voracious appetite. It's therefore necessary for me to have a cache of little edibles with me at all times. I am always on the hunt for a new snack, one preferably that is packed with flavour and devoid of ingredients I can't pronounce. Fruits and veggies are always an option but sometimes you just need a little something else; something that comes out of a pre-sealed package.

A good place to discover new snacks is T & T Supermarket. A while back, a friend introduced me to Tao Kae Noi Japanese Crispy Seaweed. I've always loved nibbling on nori, but nori is quite delicate in flavour and these are anything but. The first flavour I tried was Wasabi, and these still remain my favourites with their slightly spicy, savoury taste. They are fried and a little on the salty side, but this is forgivable considering how delectable these seaweed sheets are.

MSG is not listed as an ingredient (which I'm skeptical of), but am choosing to believe because although I do try to avoid MSG, I just like these snacks too much to give them up. Besides the wasabi, you can buy them in classic, hot & spicy, ketchup and tom yum goong and they cost $2.89 for a substantial bag's worth. They also come in tempura form, but these in my humble opinion are, as Liz Lemon would say, "Bleurgh!" All the others save for ketchup are awesome.

This mushroom snack and "fresh food material from Taiwan" (as the package reads) is really quite original in taste. These whole mushrooms that resemble shiitakes are hard to the touch but easy to crunch, and surprisingly nutty in flavour. What I find most interesting is that they taste very little of mushroom. They are not what I would call delicious, but there is something about them that makes you want them. I found myself nibbling up the whole bag in a few minutes, and I wasn't even that hungry at the time. That there are about 10 in a bag however, made it pretty easy :o) They also come in green bean, apple and pumpkin and cost $1.79 a bag. I have yet to try the apple and pumpkin, but the beans, tasting even less of their original selves, are a bad kind of curiosity. In other words, these ones are probably worth skipping.

For your own homemade snack crisps, check out the next post!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

It's Like Comparing Cupcakes and Cupcakes

While on Fourth Avenue in Kits today, a sign caught my eye. It read: cupcakes. Having just passed a cupcakes shop earlier in the day, and having been unable to stop and fulfill my cravings then, I immediately found myself inside the shop taking in the display of puffy sugarballs. Displayed much like the bedazzling bling found in jewelry shops behind glass cases, each cupcake looked dreamy. I knew I had to have coconut, so chose the Snowball: a vanilla cake with coconut butter cream icing, rolled in coconut. My other choice was highly recommended by the salesperson, and was one of the premium cupcakes called the Chocolate Mound: a chocolate cake with coconut butter cream icing, shredded coconut on top, and a chocolate ganache centre.

I could not wait to get these inside my mouth but resisted until I got home, so I could sit down and enjoy them with a cup of tea. At home, I dove first into the Snowball, ready for the flavour of another I had had before. This former cupcake was perhaps the best cupcake I had ever had.

cupcake tops: Snowball on the left, Chocolate Mound on the right.

Awhile back, a friend had presented a lovely package to me. Inside were five cupcakes, and each of these were little prizes for the mouth. The best of these prizes was a divine morsel made of coconut cake and cream cheese frosting sprinkled with shredded coconut. The cream cheese is what made it, giving it a depth of flavour and contrast to the overall sweetness you would expect from a cupcake, and it was super moist.

When I bit into the Snowball, I had been expecting the Koo Koo, (the actual name of my beloved cupcake), and have to admit initial disappointment. The cake of the Snowball and of the Chocolate Mound were a little on the dry side and the icing a little too sweet as well but, paired with my cup of black tea, satisfied my cupcake craving quite nicely. For chocolate lovers, the Chocolate Mound's injection of chocolate ganache filling takes it over the top (in a good way). I must admit that in my eagerness for sweetness, I hadn't looked at the store sign correctly, so did not get the Koo Koo I wanted. I thought I was going into the original cupcakes shop, a local business started by two gals from Victoria, who use only natural ingredients in their recipes. What I had entered was Big City Cupcakes, a newer, B.C. owned company with a similar passion for cupcakes, an equal concern for quality, and is on par with its pretty packaging. Yes, I did end up with a product I wasn't expecting, but Big City Cupcakes can expect me back.

Prices are $1.25 for minis and $3.10 for regular sizes at cupcakes. Big City Cupcakes' minis are $1.50 for unfilled, and $1.95 for filled; regular sizes are $2.95 for unfilled and $3.95 for filled and premium. Discounts are available for orders in the 1/2 dozen or dozen.

For more info on the original cupcakes store and Big City Cupcakes, check out:

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A Grainy Day

Having a good chunk of the summer off means that I get to try my hand at cooking up a few of the things I've been meaning to make, and to clear out the cupboards. So out came those grains that have been sitting around for...well, let's say a long time, and out sprung these three super simple and delightful concoctions.

Bubur Hitam is a Malaysian and Indonesian black rice pudding. It is sweet with a hint of saltiness, fragrant, creamy, and stunning maroon in colour. I had this for the first time at the Pondok Indonesia Restaurant when it was still on The Drive, and fell in love with it immediately. It's one of those homey desserts that you'll never tire of. It's kind of like the congee of desserts, and I will never ever tire of congee. (For the best congee, try Congee Noodle House on Broadway and Main.)

3/4 cup black glutinous rice (can be bought at *Chua A Asia Market)
4 cups water
1 pandan leaf, tied in a knot
(can be bought fresh at Chua A Asia Market or frozen at T& T)
about 1/2 cup sugar
1 cup coconut milk
1/4 tsp salt

Wash rice thoroughly and soak for half an hour. Drain the rice and add the fresh water and pandan leaf. Bring to a boil, cover and let simmer on low for about 1 hour or until water is evaporated and consistency is porridge-like. Add more water if necessary. Add sugar, and cook for another 10 minutes. In another small pot, heat coconut milk and salt to a boil, and remove from heat. Serve in bowls with coconut milk swirled on top.

Barley Water is exactly what it's name says: water and barley. Sounds kind of boring, and well, maybe it is, but many of my favorite tastes are based on memories, and all the wonders created in my mom's kitchen. (I am still deeply fond of everything that comes out of my mom's kitchen, and creating new food memories there all the time :o) I had this drink at a Singaporean restaurant in Hong Kong a few years back, and was reminded of how refreshing a drink this is, especially in the stinking heat. I decided I had to make it for myself, and finally, the time came.

1/2 cup pearl barley
16 cups water
2 pandan leaves, tied in a knot (optional)
sugar to taste

Thoroughly wash the barley and put into a large pot with the water. Bring to a boil, and let simmer on low for about 45 minutes, or until grains have bloomed. Add the pandan (if you wish - I don't) and the sugar during the last 10 minutes of cooking. Cool, or add ice and serve.

Bori Cha is Korean roasted barley tea that is often served at Korean restaurants, and said to serve as a digestive aid. I first had it at Jang Mo Jib on Robson many moons ago, and was quite taken by it, as I love tea and discovering new brews. My sister-in-law heard of my affection for this tea, and promptly bought me a 5 kilogram bag. Thanks to her, I am now making it at home, and will continue to do so for some time to come :o) It is common to drink cold, and I do prefer it this way. Add a splash of Bek Se Ju (a traditional Korean herb rice wine), and some lemony water for a unique version of iced tea.

Recipe and Instructions for Bori Cha tea:
1/2 cup roasted barley (found at most Korean markets)
8 cups water

Bring barley and water to a boil, cover and simmer on low for 20 minutes. Drink and digest.

*Chua A Asia Market is located at 265 East Hastings (near Gore) and is a super place to find Southeast Asian foodstuffs.