Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Why didn't I do this before?

Any of you foodies out there have to admit that being a foodie is great. Especially when your friends and family know about it. You're easy to buy for! Find a little gourmet goodie for us and we're through the roof with happiness and dreaming, cooking and sampling. Who needs diamonds and silks, when you can have artisanal cheeses or delicately flower-flavoured candies from afar? And those same family and friends are happy if you make a request of them--"find a local specialty for me please?". Or relieved if they know that the local candy they bring back from holidays afar will thrill you! It's probably the easiest interest/hobby I've ever offered the people in my life.

I have come to realize the truth to the above thoughts in the last month. Two friends have gone afar, leaving me in care of pet and/or homes for a time while they were away. One I made a request of, the other gave me an unexpected gift.

The first, Fair Funky Friend, went off to Mexico for a week and brought me back, at my request, the possibility to make REAL Mexican hot chocolate-two kinds of Mexican chocolate and a molinillo. One of the chocolates makes me shudder in delight at it's intense cocoa smell. When you smell it , it reaches into the tips of your toes and the ends of your hair. I can't wait to taste it. The other brings a smile, so lovingly perfumed with cinnamon that it haunts the recesses of your mind for some time after. The molinillo is just too funky and I can't wait to try it out. Frothy hot chocolate here I come!

The second, the unexpected present from Beloved Friend, was both charming and did reach into the local specialities as well. Some fair-trade dark chocolate with almonds (which is SO yummy, btw) by Cocoa Camino. Apparently the one I have (not for long!) won awards two years ago. In every bite I know why! Full-bodied and intense, it just lingers lovingly on the tongue with no weird aftertaste that poor chocolate can leave you. Another, more locally produced sweet from her trip was Ontario-produced maple syrup. The bouquet is delicate and not overly sweet. Apparently this kind won awards many times. It is quite obvious this is the real thing and not some cheap imitation. I think it is quite charming too in its little metal tin with its kitschy art and little rust spots. Any suggestions for use? And last, but not least, the collection of little plates decorated with wine label reproductions added some quirky and elegant fun to my growing plate collection. All this was overwhelmingly thrilling and touching.

Now I am thrilled by new foods to try, dishes to make, dishes to own... so why on EARTH didn't I do this before? Oh well... I'm doing it now ;-)

Friday, February 10, 2006

Gouda is gooooood

Three of us teachers did a shopping run last weekend to Vancouver Island to break up the February blahs and get some slightly more exotic food than is available to us in Waglisla winters. I think Beloved Friend and Kindy Teacher Pal may have wondered at the wisdom of a shopping trip when our ferry trip home was wracked with stomach-flipping deep sea bends for a couple of hours travel through pure open-Pacific power (driven on by wild windy winter weather). They both looked very green around the gills while I, knocked out by Gravol, dozed through the worst of it and dared not get up when I felt the ferry sway with heart-pounding angles.

But oh... this trip was worth it for some of the lovely goodies purchased. One such delectable was smoked gouda which I have since used on a yummy comfort dish known as "Smoked Gouda and Caramelized Onion Quesadillas". An elegant twist on a basic concept: bacon onion cheese and bread. If you are looking for the recipe, you'll find it here at
I used half the amount of sugar for the onions as they asked and it still was rather sweet. I suppose, honestly, you could leave sugar out and it would still taste good as fried onions.

The pictures don't really make them look very elegant. This time. But I know I'll be making this again. Sans sugar.

Another lovely find, this time on the ferry itself was Denman Island Chocolate.

We'd originally tasted a sample on Vancouver Island: Two ginger chocolate buddhas and one dark chocolate buddha (Chinese New Year theme, perhaps?). I had to have some again but I didn't expect to see them so soon onboard the ferry. So I took two samples: another Gingerama and a new one, Zesty Orange. Oooh yummy! As you can see from the picture they are not only a lovely dark chocolate (Belgian btw) but they are also ORGANIC!
The ginger is really nice. The intesity of the bittersweet chocolate has just a hint of candied ginger taste to tease you. The nice thing about this chocolate is that it doesn't leave a weird aftertaste in your mouth like cheaper bittersweets can. What you taste is the bitter chocolate on your tongue for about five minutes. It melts nicely in the mouth with a bit of friction but I don't think I ever let it melt completly before diving in the with my teeth. Zesty orange was a bit more disappointing. The orange essence it promised was ghostly at best, sometimes non-existant. But still, the chocolate itself was so good that I won't hold that against the company. I just won't get that kind again.

Foxy treats

Inari zushi is a favourite treat for Japanese fox spirits (kitsune). They are served to kitsune statues at shrines as a method of pleasing and appeasing these tricksie little vixies. I LOVE inari zushi. I would treat favourably ANYONE who gave me inari zushi. Does that make me a fox?

Unfortunately there are no people around here to feed this fox so I had to make my own. Like other kinds of sushi, making this kind is a bit time consuming and best not accomplished on a busy day. This recipe is an adaptation from my new recipe book: The Japanese Kitchen, by Kimiko Barber

1)Make dashi from scratch: Put one piece of postcard size kombu and 4 cups of water in a sauce pan. Heat gently and take out the kombu when it begins to float to the top of the heated water. Raise heat. When the water come boil, take off the heat. Add a handful of bonito flakes and let them settle at the bottom. Once all are settled to the bottom, strain broth through a fine strainer lined with paper towels (about 3-5 minutes for all the bonito to settle)

2) Prepare the sushi rice

3) Once the rice is cooking, open a package of deep fried tofu pockets (I use Sunrise tofu puffs). Roll a chopstick over each piece of tofu to make it more malleable (plastic chopstick works better than wood)

4)Gently open one end to make a pouch and place each opened pocket into a bamboo strainer or colander. Pour a lot of boiling water over them to remove the excess oil.

5) Mix together 1 cup dashi, 4 tbsp granulated sugar, 6 tbsp soy sauce (I ended up using tamari), 3 tbsp sake, 3 tbsp mirin in a bowl. Then pour mixture over tofu in the medium saucepan. Simmer over a low heat until most of the liquid is reduced (~ 20-40 minutes). Let cool, then drain. (At about this time the sushi rice should be cooling too. Letting it cool outside in the wind helped speed the process)

6)In a bowl, mix 2 tbsp toasted sesame seeds with cooked and cooled sushi rice*. Take about two tbsp of the rice mix and fill in the seasoned pouch. Don't overfill the pouch. Carefully fold the edges of the pocket inward. With a Sunrise pack this will create 9 large Inari-zushi. If you decide to cut them in half before boiling in the sauce it will create 18 ( in this case only use one tbsp of filling).

* I mixed some of the rice from a suggested additional filling in another book: chopped crab stix and cucumber.

The Frog wasn't totally impressed, finding it a bit sweet for his taste but I didn't care. That meant more for foxy little me ;)

Monday, February 06, 2006

Crawling Back from Oblivion

I've been a bit scarce of late but plan to rectify that very soon. As in hopefully tomorrow. In the meantime, here's something to fill in the gap.

I've had a couple of questions about the pictured recipes in the last post. One asked about the contents of the noodle soup. I hate to disappoint but it was rather simplistic. The liquid content was created from a bottle (Memmi Noodle Soup Base by Kikkoman). I have to admit that it wasn't the best soup at the start. Why? Because apparently I can't read English and misread the Memmi part to water parts on the label. Didn't help that I had a stuffed nose and so it was the Frog who pointed out that it was a bit of a salt lick and I promptly watered it down a bit. In the soup base were Chinese steamed noodles, frozen peas, chunks of leeks and a couple of prawns for each of us. Leeks weren't the best. Green onions would have been better. Not my finest hour in cooking but I plan to rectify it in the near future.

As for the first question I had-- S'kat's "How on earth does one prepare lotus root?" -- here is the answer from my new cookbook, The Japanese Kitchen by Kimiko Barber:

Renkon no kimpira (simmered lotus root)

2-2 1/2 cups lotus root, peeled and thinly sliced [had to fudge a bit with frozen]
1 tbsp each sesame oil and vegetable oil
2 tbsp each mirin and soy sauce
1 tsp roasted sesame seeds
Pinch of shichimi togarashi (Japanese chili pepper) to taste, finely chopped [I didn't have this so I used a tad of cayenne]

Soak the [thawed] lotus slices in cold water for 10 minutes and drain. Heat both oils in a sauce pan and saute the slices over high heat until they become soft. Add the mirin and soy sauce and reduce the heat to low. Cook until the juice is almost disappeared, then add the sesame seeds and stir well. Transfer to serving dish and sprinkle with shichimi togarashi [or cayenne], and serve.

That's it! Not hard at all and tasty too. Any water chesnut lover will like this dish too. It's a tad more chewy than water chesnuts but has that same slightly starch crunch when your teeth snip into them. Next time I am in the area of the Chinese market (in maybe a month and a bit?), I will pick up the fresh kind and try again.