Thursday, August 28, 2008

Cross-country for Cream Puffs!

I haven't posted for awhile because of a flurry of activity. We moved into a new house in Charlestown, MA -- for those non-New England readers, it's where Paul Revere ended his ride at Bunker Hill. This has increased my commute from 2 minutes to 25 minutes. Really not a hardship but a bit of an adjustment for my spoiled self. Look forward to some new kitchen adventures and some BBQ adventures! Once we get a BBQ for our deck that is!

Immediately after our move (we moved on Wednesday), we flew to San Francisco because my man friend's twin brother had tickets to the Outside Lands festival in Golden Gate Park. I'll reveal more about this silly adventure later. As expected, flying cross-country 1.5 days after moving into a new house was not the greatest idea for these two tired, old and boring people.

But really, it was all worth it to stumble upon a Beard Papa's just around the corner from our hotel when I was feeling exceedingly grumpy and crotchety.

There used to be one of these in Faneuil Hall but it closed down. Probably because people here thought it was weird, but I thought it rocked! They make fresh cream puffs right in front of your eyes. Injecting the cream into the puffy thing as you watch! There are also lots of other treats too. I've only ever tried the molten chocolate lava thing, which was deeeeelicious warmed in the micro-onde. Beware the hot molten choclatey center that can burn the roof our your mouth. They had tiramisu cheesecake at the location in San Fran, which I now regret not going back for. The flavour of the week this week was caramel, so we had one chocolate and one caramel.

Fraternal Twin cream puffs for a fraternal twin brother organized weekend!

I'll have to fly back there to get a green tea flavoured one, but will have to time it right since the flavour changes weekly. Maybe I'll call them before I fly cross-country again. And I'll try to schedule it at least a week after a major move. Could be tricky!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Authentic Japanese Feast - Part III

This is the final installment in my three-part Japanese feast. Tonight I will feature our desserts and an extra special Japanese breakfast!

We had two different desserts. The first was vanilla ice cream mochi. For those who have not tried mochi, it is a rice paste that is sticky and it often surrounds a small ball of ice cream. So cute and round.

Then we tried a very famous brand of cookie with some green tea. I'm not sure why this cookie is called "chocolat blanc et langue de chat". That translates into "white chocolate and tongue of cat". It makes it sound like a witch cookie.

I told my Japanese friend that I worked in vitamin K research and that I had heard of a natto being very rich in a certain form of vitamin K, but that I had never tried it. She was kind enough to go out an buy some natto for me to try!

Natto is a fermented soybean product that is a very common breakfast food served with white rice. The beans are rich in vitamin K because the bacteria that ferments it makes vitamin K! It is quite stinky and as you can see very goopy. The goop is much like okra goop but thicker.

Here you can see that I'm not quite sure if I should swallow it and my silly man friend is laughing at me. I'm not sure if I would replace my usual breakfast of yogurt and fruit or eggs on an English muffin, but it's good to know that I have options!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Authentic Japanese Feast - Part II

Here I will feature our fish courses of the Japanese meal.

According to my Japanese friends it is much more difficult to find sushi grade fish in Boston as compared to Japan, where it is readily available. That being said, she made some delicious sushi with smoked salmon. The presentation was beautiful, with them being housed in a two tier box. It was like opening a tasty present!

The second fish course was Roasted Mackerel with Herbs. It was again like opening a fish present, as it was wrapped in special Japanese wax paper. Mackerel (or Saba in Japanese) is a very popular fish to eat in Japan. I mentioned to my Japanese pals that while in Munich we ate "Steckerlfisch" which is essentially mackerel inserted on a stick and BBQ'd. They have never dined on it this way, but seemed enthusiastic to try it, especially when I mentioned it washes down well with a big stein of Biru!

The last installment in the trilogy will have the dessert course and a special traditional Japanese breakfast...

Monday, August 11, 2008

Authentic Japanese Feast - Part I

This will be the first installment in what I think will end up being a three-part series. My Japanese friend and her husband invited myself and the man friend over as we will soon be moving out of the apartment building we all live in. She promised a traditional Japanese dinner and boy did she deliver!

When we arrived at their unit it became very apparent that they had been cooking all day. There were yummy smells out in the hallway leading to their door. I think it must be a custom to have slippers available for guests. Whenever I've gone over there, one pair awaits me at the front door. This time there were two pairs for our four feet!

A beautiful salad was already occupying the table. It was Rei Shabu Salad. "Rei" meaning cold and "Shabu" referring to Shabu Shabu. Fun fact #1: Shabu Shabu is an onomatopoeic word: the thin meat makes that sound when it is dipped and waved around in the boiling water!

Also on the table was a Japanese Squash Salad. This squash is also known as Japanese pumpkin and I think is called "Kabocha". The outer skin is green and the flesh is orange. Fun fact #2: the Japanese do not celebrate Halloween.

My favourite dish of the evening was one of my friend's mom's specialties. It was asparagus wrapped in thin pork cutlet (tonkatsu) and then dipped in egg and breaded with panko. Delicious. Fun fact #3: Teenage boys especially enjoy eating tonkatsu with rice.

I was lucky enough to get some leftover asparagus and tonkatsu to bring home which we feasted on at various points throughout the next day. I was sad to see the last one pass my lips this afternoon.
More of the feast to follow...

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Gyoza Lesson

My language exchange has morphed into a recipe and cooking exchange which is perfectly fine with my belly. Food is after all a very important part of learning about a different culture. I introduced my Japanese friend to beets and how to roast them. In return she invited me over to make dumplings!

Still in the spirit of learning Japanese she prepared me an ingredient list with translations.

We mucked around a bit with the ingredients.

She had the coolest ceramic ginger grater that eliminates all the fibrous material from the ginger and puts all the gingery goodness into the surrounding moat. A quick google search found that I could easily purchase one for about 10-15$ or one that is in the shape of a blowfish for even less. Fugu!

And then we got down to business with the wrapping. Hers are prettier and less oozy than mine. It's a bit like arts and crafts and I'm like the toddler who uses too much glue and sparkles.

Fry em' up! Yum!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Gourmet Chocolate Bars

I first came upon Vosges chocolate bars when I was in search of the Bacon Bar. Yes... it is what it sounds like -- a chocolate bar with bits of bacon sprinkled throughout. Some of you may think it is gross, but everyone who has tried thinks, "yum!". If you think about how good pancakes, syrup and bacon taste then you may be able to imagine the goodness that is the Bacon Bar.

Apparently they sell Vosges at Whole Foods (or Whole Paycheck as one of my old professors likes to call it), but I found them at the same gourmet store in Copley, Gourmet Boutique, that I found the elusive Haribou Fruity Smarties at.

On a repeat visit I tried the following two bars:

Woolloomooloo Bar - Roasted and Salted Macadamia Nuts, Indonesia Coconut, Hemp Seeds,
Deep Milk Chocolate
I had a hard time tasting the hemp seeds, although I'm not sure what a hemp seed would taste like other than crunchy.

Barcelona Bar - Hickory Smoked Almonds, Grey Sea Salt and Deep Milk Chocolate
Of the two, I enjoyed this one much more. There is something about the taste of chocolate with a little hint of salt that brings out the flavour. Maybe that's why I enjoyed the bacon one so much.

At nearly 8 bucks a bar, it is a pretty pricey treat, but I definitely think the Bacon Bar is worth trying for the taste and for the novelty value.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Momma's Banh Xeo

Being up in North Bay, Ontario there isn't really much choice in terms of Vietnamese food (or many other types of ethnic food for that matter). Usually when I visit my brother there, my parents will bring various ingredients from Ottawa as there is a decent sized Chinatown there with lots of Asian grocery stores.

My inability to cook using measurements is both nature and nuture. Many will find this post frustrating for the low reproducibility of this dish known as the Vietnamese pancake or Vietnamese fajitas to some.

You can buy the packages of flour base for Banh Xeo that has some unfortunate "Engrish" instructions that may make things confusing for you... "one bowl of coconut milk"?! In case the print is too small for you to read (if you click on it you'll get the bigger version), you are also supposed to add 3 cups of water, some chopped green onions and a small packet of turmeric.

Once you're done the mixing it should look something like this.

We also cooked some mung beans for the filling and some other goodies for the filling too. The meat is usually shrimp and pork, but the only pork regionally available that day was about half a pig's worth so that was omitted.

Then you heat up a frying pan. My mom uses a paper towel dipped in vegetable oil to grease the bottom. Ladle in one spoonful of the batter and cook until crispy and a bit browned on the bottom.

You also need lots of greenery (cukes, lettuce, basil, mint), some carrots and some fish sauce for dipping. Fill, fold, eat and enjoy!