The Best of Cooking Light

CL Desserts

My copy of The Best of Cooking Light arrived in the mail today! It is heavy like a giant textbook. For me, the one thing about cookbooks is that they must have beautiful pictures. Colored ones. I can’t bring myself to buy a cookbook without a good amount of pictures in it. This one is beautiful. There are so many recipes and although not every one has a picture, there is photography on every single page. Some of the recipes are pretty straight forward with simple ingredients, but with over 500 recipes there really should be something that involves some degree of challenge. I can’t wait to try out some of this stuff, especially in the breads and desserts sections. (You can see that despite the urge to cook light I do so love my carbs!)

*sigh*

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Faux Sourdough and my first poolish.

If thou tastest a crust of bread, thou tastest all the stars and all the heavens.

– Robert Browning

Sliced sourdough

It is amazing what one little extra step can do. Something as simple as making a starter/sponge/poolish can do so much for the taste of bread. I made a faux sourdough the other day. Faux, since I didn’t use a real sourdough starter. I am trying master basic bread making, so trying to catch wild yeast and culture a real starter was a bit much for me. So, at 10PM I made the poolish by combining packaged yeast (1.5t), flour (1.5 cups), and water (1 cup), and let that sit overnight (about 9 hours). Here is the before and after:

Baby Poolish Poolish - morning after

I was happy to find the next morning that the poolish looked and smelled like it had ‘potential’. (Actually I woke up at 3AM and checked on it, and it looked pretty good already. Not too much had changed between 3AM and 7AM.) I then added the rest of the flour (less than 2 cups), buttermilk (2T), and salt (1.5t), and kneaded about 10 minutes. I used buttermilk (that I made from milk and vinegar) because I thought this would add to the tangy flavor of the bread. (I’m not sure if it did but I’d probably have to try just water the next time to see what that does.) I let the dough rise at room temperature for 90 minutes:

Baby dough After 90 minutes

I punched down the dough and kneaded it very briefly, then shaped my loaf, and let it rise, covered, for another 90 minutes.

Shaped Loaf

Just before I put it into a preheated 425F oven (I tried the ice cubes for steam, didn’t work >.<), I dusted the loaf with flour nad sliced it twice (rather slowly, too slowly. I have to work on my slicing.). After baking for about 10 minutes I lowered the temperature to around 375F and baked for another 10 minutes until I tapped the bottom and it sounded hollow. Finished product, just in time for lunch:

Sliced

It tasted like a mild sourdough, which is fine as I don’t like my sourdough too sour. The crust was hard and chewy but not as crispy as I had hoped. The bread was well recieved by all, and comments included “tastes like something store bought”. I would have liked more airy holes and a crispier crust. Lesson learned:

Bag of flour, dry yeast, some milk – under 10 bucks.

The entire process from making the poolish – 15 hours (about 13 of those involved passive waiting).

A baguette from the store – 2 dollars.

Baking your own bread and eating it – priceless. It was worth every minute.

一朗亭 Ichiro Japanese Restaurant (Great udon!)

It is hard to find a good Japanese restaurant in Vancouver, despite the vast multitude in the city (Dinehere lists 328 of them, which is double the number in the “pubs” or “pizza” or “family” categories). Maybe it’s my picky palate. I have gone places where I pay $30 for a few pieces of sashimi freshly imported from Japan, and came away disappointed. I have eaten sushi rolls so fusion-fancy and dressed up I can hardly tell what I’m eating. Us Vancouverites sure love our sushi (and quite literally, as sushi seems to be favored over other types of Japanese food such as don, men, nabemono, or yakimono). As long as there is rice, a piece of nori, and some fish all wrapped together in a neat little roll, we will eat it. Some probably love sushi so (blindly) much they don’t care they are eating at restaurants calling themselves Japanese, but have little right to do so.

Quite frankly, I’d be insulted if I were Japanese. It’s food-blasphemy!

It’s like if every Chinese dim sum place I go to the owners and chefs are speaking to me in Korean and putting kimchee in my char siew bao! (Hmmmm! Not that I wouldn’t love a kimchee bao!) But seriously, yes, fusion cuisine is all the rage and quite exciting, but “ethnic” cuisine is best enjoyed in true authenticity, no?

Anyway, I am hardly a connoisseur of Japanese cuisine. But over the years I’ve become a bit picky. My three basic requirements are quality, authenticity, and freshness. That means no all-you-can-eat, no eating at restaurants run by non-Japanese Asians, no sushi that comes in a foam or plastic box. (OK. The one thing I am guilty of is liking California rolls.) These three points are important because I adore sashimi, and you can go so wrong so easily if you eat sashimi at the wrong places. 

一朗亭 Ichiro Japanese Restaurant  (2nd Ave. and Chatham, Steveston) definitely meets the three requirements. Japanese-run, they serve fresh sashimi, tastey soup bases, and superb udon. Good service (though a tad slow), and gets quite busy even on weeknights. Below, a small sampling:

Uni sashimi (1/2 order):

 Uni

Words cannot describe how much I love uni. It is not for the faint of tongue, even if you don’t know what it is before you eat it. One of my favorite ways to enjoy it is freshly prepared and served atop the sea urchin shell itself. Ichiro serve all their sashimi on ice, although with uni it might not be the greatest idea – you have to eat it fast or it will not hold up against the melting ice! Very fresh though, and very… uni. $8.99 well spent for this uni aficionado.

Chicken Udon:

Chicken Udon Yum

Chicken udon – that default noodle in soup thing to order. But this is no ordinary udon. I don’t think any other place has udon so good: not thick, white and doughy, the perfect consistency with just the right chewy. Perfect slippery udon texture. It also soaks up the flavor of the soup so well that if they had served the plain udon in soup, it would be a delicious dish. Ichiro‘s udon is a definite must-try.

Sashimi: Sockeye and Yellowfin Tuna:

Salmon Sashimi Yellowfin tuna 

Pretty generous portions of sashimi, unlike a lot of places that try to cheat you with little thin slices. Again, served on ice. The Sockeye is nice, red, and oily. The yellowfin is definitely among the best I’ve ever had. And it’s just cheap, plain old yellowfin tuna! So many places serve flavorless tuna, with that still-frozen taste, or with this rough texture and feel and kind of falls apart funny in your mouth. Ichiro‘s consistently had the perfect tuna taste. Nice, smooth, yum.

Rolls: California, chopped scallop, Steveston:

Rolls 

These are pretty standard rolls, as are most of the rolls on their menu. The Steveston roll (which is just salmon, shrimp and scallop) is not that exciting even with the green tobiko. Ichiro doesn’t try to fancy it up like so many places nowadays by wrapping their rolls with thin slices of mango or avocado or salmon. Which is just fine. I am not that taken with their rolls as their other items. They are good, but slightly overshadowed by everything else. 

Deep Fried Sole:

Deep fried sole 

A delightful snack. Very light, and super crunchy without being overly salty. Yes, you can eat the bones, which I think is the best part. You can also eat the head. It is served with coarse salt and a sauce, but is just great on its own.

Beef Soba:

Beef soba 

I say their udon definitely rocks, but their soba is great too. Nice and light with a good texture. If you’re not a big fan of udon… well, you should order the udon anyway, then have your soba.

If you are like me and order a lot of sashimi (and are “adventurous” is what my best friend likes to call me) a dinner here costs about 30 bucks a person, which is not bad for the quality of food you are getting. They also have bento boxes and good looking desserts. Highly recommended by all dinnermates I’ve eaten with here.

A refreshing spin on the traditional. 炸兩.

Ja-leung (炸兩) is a popular Cantonese dimsum derived from two great Chinese foods: the Chinese fried donut (油炸鬼), and the rice noodle roll (). Basically, Ja-leung is made by wrapping the fried donut stick with a layer of rice noodle roll. Once it arrives at your table, the server cuts the Ja-leung into bite-size pieces, and it is doused with soy sauce. In one bite, you get the best of both worlds – sweet rice roll on the outside, crispy and chewy fried donut in the inside. Whoever came up with this is pure genius! (Apparently it was created by a dim sum chef in a restaurant known as 嚼荷仙館 in Canton back in the 1940s.)

At most restaurants I have ever been to, upscale or dai pai dong (foodstall),  that is how Ja-leung is enjoyed. It is somewhat reminiscent of Japanese maki rolls but different in that it is not “customizable” – nothing else is added to the roll, and you cannot substitute the fried donut for something else. Nothing needs to be added or changed, really, because Ja-leung is great just the way it is. What makes awesome Ja-leung is the marriage of two contrasting textures – the softness of rice roll, and the crispiness of fried donut. A Ja-leung that is soggy inside, or is sagging with a thick, heavy rice roll, or is so giant you cannot fit it into your mouth, is a bad Ja-leung.

On the rare occasion, though, you will happen across a certain restaurant that puts their own little spin on a traditional dish. When it is done subtly and without the pretention of poshness, it can be very refreshing. Such is the case with this particular Ja-leung at Shi-Art Chinese Cuisine (食藝海鮮酒家, Richmond Centre). Rolled alongside the fried donut is shrimp – not so much that it overpowers the other essential components, not so much it becomes a shrimpy rice roll, but just enough to create a little surprise and a bit of a deviation from the traditional. Nice.

Although not a Chinese restaurant I particularly prefer for dimsum (their other stuff is not bad, but not that awesome), points to Shi-Art’s attention to detail in their Ja-leung.

 Jaleung

Yeasted Spelt bread

Impetus: Japanese Melonpan 

The reason I decided to learn how to make yeasted bread (other than the fact that it is something on the list of things that I simply must learn), is actually because I hope to one day make Japanese melonpan. In order to make a good melonpan, I decided that I must first understand the basic art and science of working with yeast and dough.

Sliced

Background prep and knowledge: Close to none: Quick breads only, never with yeast. Yeast in the lab only, never in the kitchen When you think about the basic ingredients required (yeast, flour, salt, water, oven), bread making seems like a simple process. But making a good loaf is really a practised art and a precise science. (And I know because working with baker’s yeast happens to be my day job!) I have far from perfected this art, or fully grasped the science, but thanks to some online research (much thanks to The Fresh Loaf , and Baking911), I equipped myself with some basic knowledge to proceed.

Materials and Methods: Basics with a Spelt twist

I started with the most simple but vital of ingredients: a package of active dry yeast. In addition to plain flour though, I also used whole grain Spelt flour. (Yes yes, Spelt is a current favorite of mine. I love the nutty taste.) I also used milk because I wanted to see what it would be like.

1c all purpose flour

1c whole grain Spelt flour

1/2c milk

2t active dry yeast

1t salt

2t sugar

Put yeast in water and let incubate 15 minutes. Mix together the dry and the wet ingredients separately, then mix together.

Add milk as required to form a not-too-wet dough. Knead 8 minutes. Form into a ball and place into bowl. (I did not grease the bowl and the Spelt dough did not stick.)

dough

Cover in plastic wrap. Let rise 75 minutes. (It did not quite double in size, but I think this has to do with the low gluten content of Spelt.)

First Rise

Take out, punch down dough several times. Lay on dough on parchment paper and shape into a loaf. Score with sharp knife. Let rise again for 1hr. (Ooops. I then realized I scored way too early. I should have waited until this second rise was finished and scored just before putting the bread in the oven!)

Scored

Preheat oven to 400F. (I put some containers with water in there but that did not create enough steam. Next time I will try ice cubes or a water spray.) Bake (on parchment, on a cookie sheet) for approximately 30 min (my loaf was quite small, as was the oven I used.)

Take out, cool on a wired rack for 10 min. Slice. Served warm.

Results: You can’t really screw up with bread now, can you?

The top was brown, the bottom not so much, but I knocked on the loaf and it sounded pretty hollow. It was quite light as well, and I think if I had baked it longer the top might have been too brown. (You can see the uneveness of browning due to the way my loaf sat in the oven) There was no glaze on the bread. Next time I might go for a dusting of flour or an egg wash.

Spelt Loaf

Sliced: Not too airy. Dense and chewy, with the distinctive nutty and sweet aroma of Spelt. Time to 100% consumption: 1.5 days. Not bad for a first loaf.

 Spelt bread sliced

Oatmeal Spelt Muffins

A baking project was long overdue. So I made muffins. Oatmeal spelt muffins, to be exact – in blueberry, chocolate and walnut varieties. I have never made muffins from oatmeal before, and I didn’t follow any specific recipe. They turned out just fine – had the perfect moistness inside. (One sampler said a little too moist for her taste, it was fine for me.) So simple to make. So cute.

Oatmeal Spelt Muffins 

Recipe.

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Red meat? It’s gotta be juicey, gamey lamb!

I don’t eat red meat often, maybe once a month. For health reasons, and also because a giant slab of meat just doesn’t excite my palate. That being said, however, lamb is definitely my red meat of choice, and my preference for it far exceeds that of pork or beef. I love that gamey taste and smell that somehow stays in my head for days after eating lamb.

The most savoury and varied lamb dishes (of various incarnations such as stews, roasts, etc) are served at authentic Greek restaurants, who really know how to do their lamb. But over at Winsor Palace (8328 Capstan Way, Richmond), they can whip up some pretty good lamb for your typical HK-style cafe. When I go, I often order this one – the grilled rack of lamb with red wine and mint sauce, done medium-rare. 

Red wind and mint Chops

Winsor Palace does have a good menu selection for their price and quality range (but if you are looking for that slightly cheaper A+B+C+D+E+F+G…Z giant platter combos for 7 bucks HK-style fare, and don’t care much about more personable service, go dine somewhere like E-Canteen on Westminster Hwy). Dinnermates have had decent impressions of the spaghetti and meatballs, Hainan chicken with rice noodles, various Asian fried rice dishes, and the lobster tail. Me, I always go back for the lamb. Hmm!