Good morning banana crepes

Banana Crepes

Good morning banana crepes

Icky and grey autumn weekend means waking up and craving a warm, hearty breakfast – of the special, prepared variety. In other words, not your typical slice of toast with cream cheese, instant oatmeal from a bag, or cereal from a box, work-week fare. The problem with having to prepare any fancier a breakfast is that you are too famished, too groggy to realize where you are (much less where that non-stick skillet is), and were out too late the night before to foresee that you might need some … eggs the next morning. Thus, your low blood sugar levels signal your very robotic reach towards that very tempting box of cereal and…

No! Close the box shut!

So I’ve been making pancakes the past few weekends – I find their warm, tender fluffiness comforting on crisp autumn mornings. This weekend I decided to do crepes. I’ve never made crepes before, but figured they’re just really thin pancakes. They are actually pretty simple to make, and took less time than pancakes. I just stuffed these with sliced bananas (too bad – no Nutella lying around… but this is breakfast, not dessert, shouldn’t be that decadent … yet). Probably could have rolled them up prettier, but considering hunger levels and all, they tasted nice, had good thin-ness, and henceforth forever eliminated the need for getting my crepe-fill at a restaurant (Cafe Crepe sucks anyway). They also filled the kitchen with that sweet, eggy, nothing-else-says-good-morning-better-aroma. Mmmmm.

And of course I had to use a spatula to flip them.

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Spicy Udon with Chicken and Garlic Sprouts

Sobaya Spelt Udon

Spelt Udon

I came across these organic Spelt noodles from Sobaya at a specialty food store. They call it Spelt “udon”, but these aren’t thick like udon. They’re more like linguine to me. (In addition to udon, Sobaya also makes Spelt or Kamut ramen, which also contain buckwheat flour.) Anyway, I decided to cook some for lunch.

I used some shredded, left over chicken and fresh garlic sprouts (蒜心). These sprouts are really garlicky. A bit chive-like, but with more body and crunch, as they are not hollow inside. If you cannot stand garlic, stay away! Garlic sprouts will aromatize your kitchen enough to fight off a band of vampires.

Garlic Chives

Garlic Sprouts

 

I was going to do a udon in soup, but since these aren’t like typically fat udon I decided to omit the soup. I could immediately recognize the slight nutty smell of Spelt after cooking the noodles for a bit, but it was really quite subtle and wasn’t that apparent afterwards. Although the noodles are thin like pasta, they do have more of a soft, udon consistency. So I could imagine them to be much more udon-like if they were perhaps four times thicker. 

Spelt udon with chicken and chives

All in all, a satisfying lunch that took hardly any time to prepare.

Recipe follows…

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Kabocha Squash 101: Dissection

Fall – the season of pumpkins and squashes. Many people are turned off from buying whole squashes because they either don’t know what to do with them, or think it’s too much trouble. Unfortunately they then end up buying pre-cut slices of pumpkin wrapped in plastic, or not at all. Whole squashes are much cheaper and a lot fresher. It is not as daunting a task as it may seem, and the end result is well worth it.

The Japanese Kabocha squash is like a Buttercup squash and is sometimes labeled as so. At the perfect ripeness, it is sweet, starchy, with deep golden flesh – great on its own, in soups or stews, fried up as tempura, or beaten up as a puree. I can eat about half a medium-sized squash in one sitting, or finish one in two days. I have even gotten carotenosis from eating too much once. Not an expert, just an aficionado. The following is my protocol – you can enjoy Kabocha in less than 35-40 minutes.

 

Step 1: Selection

Kabocha squash

Choose a squash with dark, speckled rind that is dull looking. Avoid pretty and shiny – you want a “rustic” look. Don’t worry about slight imperfections or little orange/tan colored patches on the rind. Whatever size you pick, the squash should feel heavier than it looks. If the underside of the squash has a lightly colored ring surrounding the large dot in the middle, it is supposedly a good squash. (An old Japanese man told me this at an Asian market once, while he was watching me pick a squash.) Overall, I have found little statistical evidence supporting (or rejecting) this claim.

Step 2: Preparation

Kabocha cut

Because the rind will not be removed, wash the squash well with a large brush. With a very sharp, serrated knife, make a longitudinal section through the middle of the squash. Take out the seeds and the soft fibres in the cavity. (With a tool if you prefer. I just use my bare hands.) Save those seeds! (See Step 5)

Step 3: Cook

Steam Kabocha

At this point, you have several options: you could put the squash on a baking sheet and bake it at about 350F, or you can steam it. I prefer steaming because it doesn’t dry out the squash as much. Seasoning is not required. 

A squash that is about 1 foot in diameter usually takes 20 minutes to steam. Anything larger will take 30 minutes or more. Regardless, it is done when you can take a chopstick and pierce through it as depicted. The rind should be soft (there may also be some cracks on it). You should feel a slight resistance as you poke through the flesh, but not too much else the flesh will still be crunchy.

 Step 4: Devour

Removing squash from heat. It should cut through very easily, like a dense cake. Sometimes I drizzle a little soy sauce on top, but I usually eat it as is. The rind is soft and edible and quite yummy as it has a bit of a chew to it. If you need the squash for other recipes it can now be very easily skinned (good luck trying to skin it before cooking). Good tasting squashes are the older ones so they are starchy and very sweet – a bit reminiscent of a hard-boiled egg yolk. (A less mature squash will contain more moisture, might be “stringy”, and is less sweet, sometimes even pretty flavorless. Then you’ll know you have failed Step 1 of this protocol.)

 

Step 5: The Seeds

Pumpkin seeds

Another reason why you should buy your squash whole: Pumpkin seeds are delicious. And good for you. After removing them from the squash, wash them for a few minutes in a mixture a bit of water and cornstarch (I find this de-slimes them pretty well). Rinse off with water, and pat dry with paper towels. Place them on a baking sheet or large colander, and dry at room temperature for about 24 hours or until the shells are no longer soft. Good squashes come with large, meaty seeds that are a dull orange color, as depicted. These don’t even have to be roasted after they are dried, they can be easily opened and are great raw. If you want them roasted, place dried seeds on a baking sheet and bake at about 275F. Watch carefully and turn often to avoid burning.

中秋節 Mid-Autumn Festival

mini mooncakes

迷你冰皮月餅 Mini Snow-skin Mooncakes

Ah, the mooncake. The mooncake is to Mid-Autumn Festival as the turkey is to Thanksgiving. In other words, mooncake is not only the representative festival food, but it is also so substantial it is the festival meal. Traditional mooncakes are large, square pastries with a thin chewy crust made from a lot of sugar syrup and lard, and a dense, sweet lotus-paste filling. The filling can also contain several whole salted duck egg yolks, resulting in a wonderful melange of sweet and saltiness. Mooncakes are heavy like baseballs, and if you ever are daring enough to try you will see that no amount of napkins will soak the orange oil from it. (It is thus often enjoyed with hot, strong black tea to dilute out all the fat you feel clogging up in your esophagus.)

In our health-conscious days, you often overhear the following conversation among Chinese people as Mid-Autumn approaches:

“There once was a time when I would eat an entire mooncake in one sitting!”

“I used to finish a whole box in two days!”

“The double-yolk kind?”

“Quadruple-yolk!”

“Ah! Those were the days!”

“Now I can’t even eat a mini one!”

Due to health reasons and more possibly plain boredom, there has been an insurgence of fancy mooncake-spinoffs: smaller pastries, with different ingredients such as rice flour crusts, and fruit-based fillings. A popular one is the snow-skin mooncake (冰皮月餅). They were sold out of my favorite durian snow-skin mooncake at my favorite Chinese bakery this year, so my mother bought some mini ones from 美之香餅家 (Mega Bakery). These are small, individually-wrapped mooncakes with soft white skin, and come in a variety of flavors. $1 each. We got ones with mango, green tea, or sesame fillings. The mango was good – the filling didn’t have that artificial, made-from-mango-flavored-powder taste. Same cannot be said for the green tea. They looked and tasteed more like mochi than mooncakes to me:

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Mango and Green Tea

 

Mega Bakery 美之香餅家

Typical but quite complete bakery – pastries, cakes, rolls, breads, hot sandwiches and buns (pineapple buns too). A decent mix of Asian and Western style items. I like their many cute, individually-wrapped mini pastry items.

1163-3779 Sexsmith Rd, Richmond

Tried-and-true: Teriyaki Ginger Salmon

 Teriyaki ginger salmon

Teriyaki Ginger Salmon

 

I eat a lot of salmon – at least once, but often several times a week. This was for dinner – one of my tried-and-true, regularly-used recipes, because it is both easy and yummy. I typically don’t like to overpower the naturally rich flavor of salmon with heavy sauces. Depending on how I eat it, sometimes just salt and pepper will do. It is also very Cantonese of me to prefer my seafood fresh and prepared with a few simple ingredients (eg. steamed with ginger and scallions and a bit of soy sauce), since it is somewhat of a Cantonese mantra that thick, flavorful sauces are used to mask the fact that your meat is not as fresh as it should be.

There are many recipes out there for salmon fancied-up with such elaborate accompaniments as pestos, salsas, crusts, citrus fruits, strawberries… It’s probably great for people who aren’t fond of fish, but I don’t like it when the flavor of the fish itself gets lost in a sauce. Thus my teriyaki-ginger salmon – more zing and sweetness than regular S&P, but isn’t heavy and keeps the fish the star of your dish.

Recipe follows…

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Weekend Bread Project: Raisin Bread

raisin bread

Raisin Bread (Yeasted)

 

No time to research or make anything fancier for this weekend’s bread project, so I tried something simple that could come into good use during the week. As I didn’t have the perfect sized loaf pan for the amount of flour I used, this was a flatter looking loaf than I had intended (more a quick bread height than a commercial square shape). For the size of pan I had (8″x4″), I probably should have used twice the flour, but I didn’t want a big loaf. This tasted like raisin bread, and was well received. I don’t think you can go wrong with raisins. The inside was soft, but a bit more dense and not as airy-floppy as commercial raisin bread (perhaps due to the lack of oil and milk, my breads are never that fluffy). Good crustiness on the outside and a nice golden brown on top.

I made this using the “jelly roll” method – ie. after the first rise I rolled out the dough and sprinkled the raisins all over it, rolled it up, then went through the second rise. Some recipes out there put in raisins before the first rise, but I figured that wouldn’t give you as even a distribution of raisins throughout the loaf. And I’m a control freak when it comes to that. Looks like with my loaf here everybody’s going to get their fair share of raisins for breakfast tomorrow morning, no? ^__^

Recipe follows …

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Jang Mo Jib (外母屋) @ Aberdeen

Boo… Kimchee soon doo boo

 

This is a rarity – a food court post. I don’t do food courts. It’s gross, and fast food is not really food. But on the rare occasion, maybe you feel cheap. Maybe you feel like having that not-really-food food, and enjoying the frenzied food court ambience with your plastic tray, on your plastic chair, at your sticky table. And leaving feeling hungover, dirty, and stupid over your momentary lapse in judgement. “Food prostitution” – it happens.

That brings us to Jang Mo Jib (外母屋) at the Aberdeen Centre food court. There may be better choices, but at the time this seemed like a safe choice for lunch. (1. Customers present. 2. Run by Koreans. 3. Two Jang Mo Jib eat-in restaurants in the city.) They are also avid supporters of their national conglomerate, Samsung:

Jang Mo Jib 

There appeared to be some variety with the 19 items on the menu. Several samples are present for the shy, lazy, and mute to just point and pick. And look! “Today Specail“!

For the banchan picks: kimchi, bean sprouts, pickled radish, marinated kelp, or potatoes. Typical stuff, plain looking. Everybody gets to pick two banchan, but the lunchbox people get three. Maybe because they are … “specail“. For the meals you can choose from 4 grades of spiciness: Spicy, Medium, Mild and Not. Service is fast and accurate, with minimal speaking from all, and a lot of smiling from the kind Korean lady.

 P’s Beef Boolgogee lunchbox ($7.95) 

Chicken bulgoggee W’s Chicken Boolgoee lunchbox ($7.95)

  My Kimchi tofu pot @ mild spicy ($6.95)

 

I don’t think it says much when the best thing about the meal was the very ordinary banchan, and the second best the sticky rice. The third may be my can of Diet Coke. Nothing much in the Kimchi tofu pot: A sprinkle of green onions, a lot of tofu, and two pieces of kimchi. The soup had tiny bits of pork in it. And unless an egg looks like tofu, there was no egg as promised on the menu. At least they didn’t lie about the spiciness – The mild was mild, ie. just red looking and not at all spicy. (I also don’t notice any real vegetarian options here. Maybe you can tell them to omit the meat in the tofu pots but it looks like part of the soup base.)

Definitely on the B List, this one. I have never eaten at the actual Jang Mo Jib restaurants but now I don’t really want to.

 

 

Jang Mo Jib  (外母屋)

Take out: Aberdeen Centre Food Court , Richmond

2xEat in: 8320 Alexandra St, Richmond, and 1719 Robson St, Vancouver