Sunday, August 30, 2009

Hello, Hi Genki

The pike mackerel was so long it didn't even fit in the picture!
Next to it, is the salmon and tuna sashimi/teriyaki chicken bento box with potato croquette.

Hi Genki Japanese Restaurant is actually the cafeteria of The New Sakura-so and Nikkei Home: Japanese seniors' residences located at the site of the National Nikkei Museum and Heritage Centre in South Burnaby. But quite unlike most cafeterias found in care facilities, this one is bustling with patrons, not depressing at all, and serves damn good food. Not fancy food, but what feels like home cooking. Because it's primary purpose is to serve the Japanese elderly, dishes seem more authentic, and less catered to a Western palate. There are dishes here that you won't find at other Japanese eateries, and ones that you will too, which is what makes it a worthwhile visit that will please all involved.

On this occasion which was yesterday's lunch, I decided on having a bento box, which is always a good choice when you really want a bit of everything, or just can't decide what you want. In it, was super fresh tuna and salmon sashimi and boneless chicken with a perfectly light, sweet and savoury teriyaki sauce. In other compartments, were a lightly fried potato croquette (with crispy breading on the outside and soft mashed taters on the inside), rice, and a wee bit of salad drizzled with seasoned rice vinegar and toasted sesame seeds. What could have been a heavy box was instead, hearty and light.

My lunch pal had grilled pike mackerel with salad, rice, and a dollop of grated daikon on the side. Do watch out for the bones, as there are plenty of them in this fish, but it's worth the work if you like a fishy fish, as mackerel certainly is one. It was thoroughly enjoyed as it's rare to find whole pike mackerel on a menu, and it was perfectly grilled with not just one fish, but two.

Every main also comes with miso soup, and you can taste the real bonito flakes, a sign of true quality. Two can dine happily with drinks for about $25. (Did I mention that it is amazingly good value?)

Info can be found at:

It is run by Fujiya - the awesome Japanese market.

Calpeace. Actually calpis, a unique and refreshing Japanese yogurt drink.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A No-Tech Blackberry Experience, Part Deux

I have a lot of blackberries. And now that they are neatly packed in zip lock bags in the freezer, there is a very good chance I'll forget about them. And when I rediscover them, they will taste like cardboard. So, inspired by a recipe in my first Food and Wine magazine my sister kindly gave me (a very good read indeed), and the desire to not eat cardboard blackberries anytime in the future, I decided to make blackberry popsicles. The original recipe is actually for watermelon and mint popsicles, which sound incredible. Unfortunately, there hasn't been any good watermelon to buy nearby, which is a true shame because I do love watermelon. But I did have blackberries...

Recipe and Instructions: Blend fresh or defrosted frozen blackberries with lemon, sugar and water to taste. Strain if you wish (if you don't they will be a little seedy) and freeze in popsicle molds (so hard to find!), or an ice tray. If you're using an ice tray, leave it in the freezer for about 45 minutes so the ice can harden slightly, and then put in your sticks. I couldn't find popsicle sticks either, and figured toothpicks would be too flimsy, so instead used wooden skewers cut in half.

The result: A very nice summer treat, though eat them fast or it could get messy.

Blackberries are loaded with nutrients, so it really is best to eat them fresh. They contain polyphenol antioxidants (which are found in many "superfoods"), and are high in fibre and Vitamin C, among many other things. The seeds are also rich in essential fatty acids, Omega 3 and 6. When frozen, the berries do retain some nutrients, but lose some too. Ya win, ya lose...

Popsicles remind me of my two nephews who I truly miss, and who truly love popsicles. These two are for you!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Mmm...Smells Like Hamburger Helper...

...said my guy as he came though the door. And yes, true enough, the meat making stage of this dish does conjure up the smell of North America's iconic add-your-own-beef, boxed pasta. However, I rather think of the smell wafting through the kitchen as more akin to hamburger heaven. But wait, I wasn't even making hamburger! What I was making was what I call: Beef and Two Bean Rice. It really is a result of how many of my meals come to be: using up whatever is in the fridge, as I can't stand to see food go to waste.

What I had to work with were runner beans (courtesy of my mum's garden), and a pot of leftover rice. I also had a craving for the taste of *Chinese preserved black beans, and happen to always have those on hand. What I had to get was meat. (Okay, meat is not essential, but I love it. What can I say?) I got myself to Choices Market and into the meat section. As an aside, I love Choices for it's meat for a few reasons. It carries organic and specialty meat, and quite often marks down packages that are due to expire in a day or two, by a dollar or two. That means that you can often get un-medicated, local meat at very reasonable prices. And, their portions are always perfect for cooking for one or two people. (They have family packs too.) In general, the prices there can be high, but if you shop for what's on sale that week, it really is a good deal for natural and organic foods. And the best part is that it's B.C. owned and family operated.
(I ended up buying what was on sale of course - the organic ground beef.)

Now, back to Beef and Two Bean Rice. I have to tell you that this dish turned out much more impressively than I expected it would. It seemed so simple, and took only about 20 minutes to cook, and yet was packed with amazing flavour. Although the meat plays no minor role, the green and black beans are the real standouts. The crunchy freshness of the green bean works really well with the salty, slightly bitter, and earthy flavour of the black bean. Black beans are also full of iron, and sodium. Lots of sodium, so do taste before you add any soy.
Recipe for two people: about 4 cups of cooked rice (leftover pasta will work too), about 20 green beans sliced across the length in thin strips, about 1/3 of a kilo of ground beef, about 2 teaspoons of Chinese black beans, about 4 tablespoons of cooking oil, 1 tablespoon each of minced ginger and garlic, 3 tablespoons of diced onions, soy sauce, rice vinegar (optional), and white or black pepper to taste.

(You may notice that there is a lot of "about" for measurements. This is because I usually wing it when I cook. And also because the stuff I make usually has room for adjustments, especially depending on personal taste, and what you need to use up :o)

Instructions: Heat cooking oil in a pan and saute onions on medium heat until transparent, then add ground beef and cook until done. In another pan, add oil and saute garlic and ginger on medium heat until just about golden, then add green beans and stir fry until slightly transparent. Add black beans and stir until they are soft and beans are transparent. Heat the rice. (I usually re-heat leftover rice by adding water and steaming it in a pot, but you can also use the microwave for this). Then, while everything is hot, put it all in one big heap, stir it up, add soy sauce, rice vinegar and pepper as you wish, and eat it up!

It smells like Hamburger Helper, but tastes so much better :o)

*Chinese preserved black beans are the basis for the black bean sauce served in many a Chinese restaurant. You can buy the sauce in a jar at the supermarket, but it's quite easy just to cook the preserved beans up with garlic to add that distinct black bean flavour to your dish. If you want to replicate the stuff in the jar, add cornstarch emulsified in water to the beans and garlic, and heat and stir until thick. Preserved black beans can be found at most Chinese markets.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Herbal Magic

I am so happy to have a sunny patio on which to grow herbs. I have never really grown herbs before. Yes, there was the lavender plant that was only decorative really, though I did have sincere plans to use it in hot chocolate. And then there was the lemon balm that I had grabbed from a free bin at a yard sale, and which I made into tea once... This time is different. Everyday I dote on each container, checking for dryness and watering lovingly, pinching off tops for bushier growth, and squishing the life out of those damn aphids. In return, they have provided me with flavour, nourishment, and more than anything, inspiration. Lately, I have found myself creating dishes around my herbs. My mango and cucumber salad is one of them. Mix the two together, and add any herbs you wish. My favourite are cilantro and Thai basil. A hint of mint is also nice. Toss it all together with some Thai chili sauce and there you have it. It's the taste of summer in a bowl.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Sub Way

Do you want to get your stomach to where it wants to be, fast? Then the Vietnamese Sub is the way to go. This sandwich is the perfect balance of taste (savoury, sweet, tangy, spicy) and texture (chewy, crunchy, smooth). It's easy to find these at most Vietnamese cafes and at an alarmingly good value (usually around $3.00), but for an even better value, and mostly for fun, I thought I'd try my hand at creating my own. The result was a successful venture. You too can take your stomach on a taste trip.

Ingredients: A nice long, thin baguette cut into sections (or Portuguese buns), pate, cilantro, jalepeno peppers, Vietnamese pickles. Mayo, soya sauce and cold cuts are optional.

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Instructions: Plunk it all together anyway you like. If you like sauce, you can use the mayo and soy sauce as a base spread under the pate.

Okay, you do have to make your own Vietnamese pickles because I have yet to find a place to buy these. I always thought these would be hard to make and therefore never tried, but am I ever glad I did. Not only are they easy to make, they taste amazing on most anything, and are perfectly great on their own too.

Recipe for Vietnamese pickles: Cut carrots and daikon radish into long strips. (I can be lazy, so I cut mine in rather roguish fashion. They look prettier sliced thin.) Place into a dish and sprinkle all over with salt. Let sit for an hour. Strain any liquid off, and damp the carrots and daikon dry with a paper towel. Put into a glass jar. Make a separate mixture of vinegar and sugar. Use about 6 tablespoons of sugar per cup of vinegar. Pour enough vinegar-sugar mixture into the jar to cover the carrots and daikon. Leave in the fridge overnight. The next day, try some. If it's the brine isn't sweet enough, add more sugar, shake and let sit awhile longer. Now they are perfect and you can thank my mom for this pickle recipe ;o)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

A No-Tech Blackberry Experience

I don't own a Blackberry device, but what I do have in my fridge are real blackberries. Sweet and tart blackberries picked from scores of bushes lining the outskirts of a park nearby. On a cool evening after a sweltering hot day, my guy and I took our frisbee out to the park. After a good workout (really about 2o minutes worth of leaping and bounding), we noticed a lot of people hanging out in the bushes. They weren't "up to no good" - they were picking blackberries. One woman even had two large grocery bags brimming with her stash. We looked at each other and heard our calling. Luckily for us, we had our frisbee which proved the perfect vessel for our impromptu assignment. All along the path we picked, and soon we had our very own stash. Small, but substantial enough for a delicious dessert later that night - 2 dollops of vanilla ice cream topped with fresh off the bush blackberries. Yum.

Hooray for the blackberry, wild and free!