Archive | May, 2010

Buttermilk Biscuits & Maple Butter

19 May

If you’re a foodie, wherever you travel you want to try something new, unique or local. So when I went to NYC last week, I wanted to try something that hasn’t really been developed in Vancouver – the BBQ.

I mean we have great seafood, Japanese food (hey, Tojo invented the california roll!), the best Chinese food outside of Asia, and world renowned chefs here, but no authentic BBQ houses. I don’t mean steakhouses like Morton’s or Gotham, but BBQ in the southern US sense. And no, the Keg and Red Lobster don’t count.

So my friend took me to Virgil’s BBQ (the “original New York City barbecue restaurant”) in the heart of Times Square and I pigged out on BBQ nachos (nachos topped w/pulled pork, jalapenos, cheese, bbq sauce etc.), sliced Texas beef brisket, pulled pork, collard greens… and if I had more room and time I would have had cheese grits, potato salad, ribs, bbq chicken, cornbread ….

But what really blew my mind, was the homely Buttermilk Biscuits and Maple Butter. Didn’t look like much, but it was  plump, buttery and savoury… and the maple butter? Foodie orgasm.

Southern Buttermilk Biscuits 

Serves 10

  1. Preheat your oven to 450°F.
  2. Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl, or in the bowl of a food processor.
  3. Cut the butter into chunks and cut into the flour until it resembles course meal.
  4. If using a food processor, just pulse a few times until this consistency is achieved.
  5. Add the buttermilk and mix JUST until combined.
  6. If it appears on the dry side, add a bit more buttermilk.
  7. Turn the dough out onto a floured board.
  8. Gently, gently PAT (do NOT roll with a rolling pin) the dough out until it’s about 1/2″ thick.
  9. Use a round cutter to cut into rounds.
  10. You can gently knead the scraps together and make a few more, but they will not be anywhere near as good as the first ones.
  11. Place the biscuits on a cookie sheet- if you like soft sides, put them touching each other.
  12. If you like”crusty” sides, put them about 1 inch apart- these will not rise as high as the biscuits put close together.
  13. Bake for about 10-12 minutes- the biscuits will be a beautiful light golden brown on top and bottom.
  14. Do not overbake.
  15. Note: The key to real biscuits is not in the ingredients, but in the handling of the dough.
  16. The dough must be handled as little as possible or you will have tough biscuits.
  17. I have found that a food processor produces superior biscuits, because the ingredients stay colder and there’s less chance of overmixing.
  18. You also must pat the dough out with your hands, lightly.
  19. Rolling with a rolling pin is a guaranteed way to overstimulate the gluten, resulting in a tougher biscuit.
  20. Note 2: You can make these biscuits, cut them, put them on cookie sheets and freeze them for up to a month.
  21. When you want fresh biscuits, simply place them frozen on the cookie sheet and bake at 450°F for about 20 minutes.

Hot & Spicy Maple Butter for Biscuits

 Serve on buttermilk biscuits alongside your favorite barbecue.

SERVES 8

  1. Mix together butter, maple syrup and hot pepper sauce in bowl until well blended.
  2. Serve on buttermilk biscuits.

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What’s a girl to do, when you’re too short for your rainboots?

18 May

So last September (yes, that’s how long this post has been in ‘drafts’) I bought a pair of rainboots that I’ve been coveting for the longest time. Living in Vancouver for all of my life, rainboots fell off the style grid around grade 6, and didn’t come back in style full steam till my late 20’s. Now it’s all about the Hunters, the Chookas and everything else in funky prints and trendy colours.

I’m a classic no-nonsense girl at heart, and wanted something classic, traditional and timeless, and something without a big round toe that I could march around fearlessly in. I found exactly what I was looking for in the Burberry Barnham Rubber Rain/Riding Boot (was available on www.neimanmarcus.com).

Forgetting that I was 5’2″ for a second, and not taking into account the boot shaft length (see below for diagram), I was grieved to find that the boots, though they fit, went all the way up over my knee. As this being hard rubber, the top would cut into my thigh while walking, and made sitting and driving impossible!

So I pondered. Can’t cut the rubber, can’t put in a heel… and then I remembered something about Tom Cruise and Prince and being short and… LIFTS! *dingding!*

Pretty much shoe lifts are inserts that you put into the heel part in the inside of the shoe to give you a discreet “lift”. So I bought a pair of gel lifts from Taller Heels, and now I can sit/drive, my boots are uber comfy and I am 1.5″ taller, though I’m still wearing “flat boots”. It’s all an illusion. =)

Note: If you want to buy lifts, first try lifting your heel in your boot to see if there’s room for a lift to fit in comfortably.

Getting Lashed – where to get your lash fix in Vancouver

17 May

THE places for lashes:

  1. Wink Beauty Lounge is the original Vancouver lash lounge. Focuses on lashes but has other services as add ons. Your go-to place if you want to have everything done at the same time for a night out on the town: lashes, facial, wax, spray tan, mani/pedi. I am slightly dismayed by the ‘U.S.-type’ pricing for the lashes, as in ‘per lash’ though. *shudders* Edit: After some thought, they are just being honest and giving you an idea about the number of lashes applied as a half or a full set or more. But it gets us thinking: are you really counting the number of lashes being applied? (Gastown)
  2. Noir Lash Lounge – This is a successful local company that has given new life and new hype to lashes. It’s quite obvious that the proprietor is an addict herself, as her marketing, services and pricing reflect years of experience of being a lash extensions customer. Borrowing the business model and marketing tactic from Blo, Noir offers a menu of lash styles, so it’s a no-brainer.  Pick what you want, and get what you expect. Prices are $35 for a half set, $65 for a variety of full sets. Quality at a reasonable price, but I am somewhat sensitive to the lash glue and the removal solution that they use.  (Yaletown, South Granville)
  3. Tiffany’s Spa – I’m all about the deal, as well as the quick and dirty. This was my go-to place when I had my lash extensions for a year. You might want to communicate to the owner of how you want your lashes (the curl, length, volume, flare) if you’re picky, or just let her go at it for a natural look, but at $35 for a full set, it’s a steal. Like Noir, She to Shic and a couple of other places, a ‘set’ means as many lashes as it takes to get the look. Get a massage and your nails done while you’re at it as well. (Vancouver)

Places to try: (I welcome your reviews!)

  1. She to Shic Beauty Lounge  – Might try this place because it’s a 10 minute walk away and it’s all eco-friendly. Full set synthetic $55. Silk set (ooh!) $70, mink $80. I’ve never seen Mink lashes so affordable before! And get my nails done as well. (Kerrisdale). Sign up for the Kitty Card and you get 50% off your 2nd service.
  2. Elan Beauty is more of an ‘cosmeceutical spa’ offering permanent makeup (aka permanent eyebrow/eyeliner tattooing), laser hair removal, lasers and peels and teeth whitening. Uses US-made NovaLash’s premium products, notably the Platinum Bond Lash Adhesive, the only eyelash extension bond that is U.S. Pharmaceutical Grade tested (U.S.P. Class VI / ISO 10993 Certified), formaldehyde-free, and physician formulated for safety. No more red eye for me! Pretty pricey at $99.95 for a full set (as in doubles your lashes), but offers student discounts.
  3. Sweet Nail Salon Also sorta does the per-lash thing, but also has a menu of lash styles so prices vary. (Richmond)

Notes:

  1. I also highly recommend using some sort of lash conditioner when you have your extensions in. My product of choice is Rapidlash. Though I haven’t noticed a growth spurt of lashes, they look healthier and don’t fall out as much. It’s important to maintain your lashes when they’re under so much stress with the extensions on! Found at Shoppers Drug Mart.
  2. If you want to remove your lashes, first rule of thumb is DO NOT REMOVE THEM YOURSELF. With the obvious said, because different places use different glue, the removal solution is different. So go back to the same place. Most places offer free removal, but call and check. If you get a new set at the same time, full removal should be free. But don’t take my word for it. Hey – I still don’t understand why some places charge for a blowdry when you go in for a colour or cut – so I should walk out with wet hair if I don’t want to pay the extra $30-45? But that’s another rant/entry in the making.

My disclaimer: I’m not here to promote or discredit any institution. I’ve been a patron of all and would like to remain that way. Thanks. =)

Asparagus Soup

16 May

If you didn’t know already, it’s asparagus season! I’m trying to do more with seasonal ingredients (last season it was brussel sprouts) and though I don’t have a Farmer’s Almanac or have a green thumb (far from it, actually, as I managed to kill a cactus once) I take cues from what I see at the local grocers (Young Bros. on West Broadway and Southlands Farm Market, being my faves) and what’s the daily special at fine dineries.

My first taste of asparagus of the season was for Mother’s Day dinner at Province Marinaside, where I had asparagus soup. $9 a bowl? Thanks, but I think I can make it myself. I bought a bunch of asparagus to sub in for haricot verts (aka green beans) in my nicoise salad (recipe to come soon), and couldn’t help but stare at the wasted ends. As you know, you have to bend the asparagus till it snaps, separating the tender bits from the not so tender. But I’m chinese and I hate to waste anything, and I ended up snapping off 1/3 of not so tender bits. So I thought of putting them to good use and pureeing them to make a soup. No one would know, right? Below is the Asparagus Soup from Saveur.com and my tweaks and notes.

Asparagus Soup

SERVES 4 – 6

Asparagus growers usually discard the skinny shoestring asparagus spears, but they are perfect for this preparation.

2 lbs. fresh shoestring asparagus
4 cups Chicken Stock

4 tbsp. butter
4 tbsp. flour
2 cups milk
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Prepare asparagus by holding bottom half of each spear with both hands and gently bending it until it snaps where it naturally breaks, separating tough fibrous end from tender part. Discard ends. Drain and cut into pieces.

2. Put asparagus and chicken stock into a medium pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until very soft, 10–15 minutes. Set aside 2 cups of the broth. Working in batches, purée asparagus and remaining broth in the bowl of a food processor or jar of a blender, then return to pot and set aside.

3. Melt butter in a medium-heavy saucepan over low heat. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, for 2 minutes. Whisk in reserved warm broth. Increase heat to medium and cook, stirring, until smooth and thickened, about 5 minutes. Transfer to pot with asparagus purée. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring often. Add milk and return soup to a simmer. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (see note below about salt)

My take:

1) Cut off the tips and reserve. Snap the asparagus to separate tender and not so tender ends. Slice the not so tenders vertically and in quarters. Cut the tender ends into small pieces. When boiling asparagus, put not so tenders in first for a few minutes, then tenders, and let boil till soft. At some point put in the tips to cook, but remove and put in an ice bath after it turns bright green. Reserve for garnishing.

2)Instead of chicken stock, I used the canned chinese chicken broth. Use less if you’re going to go the canned route (less 1/3) and take into account that it’s already salty, so hold off on the salt at the end! You may need to add more milk and cream if it’s too salty!

3) To make it creamier, I added a bit of evaporated milk, but use cream if you have it on hand. Adding more milk would dilute it instead of making it more creamy. Dollop with creme fraiche.

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Spicy Dumpling Sauce

15 May

One of my fave dishes at BBTEA cafe is the spicy dumplings. I always end up with a runny nose during the meal, but refuse to admit to defeat and cease eating. It’s not the dumplings that’s tasty, but the sauce! Here’s my version of it:

As usual, measurements are just for reference. I just go according to ratio and adjust to taste.

  • 50ml light soy
  • 30ml mirin
  • 1.5 tsp black vinegar
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • squirt of fish sauce
  • red thai chili, chopped

Combine all, let sit for 10 minutes, or longer if you want the sauce to be hotter. Don’t dilute with water. This is not really a dipping sauce, but you spoon on top of boiled and drained dumplings, along with a handful of chopped cilantro.

Lavender Honey Ice Cream

13 May

So I’m hosting a cheese and wine thing this Friday – doing the usual pairings: 

  • meats from Oyama Sausage Company on Granville Island – wild boar procuitto and lamb chorizo.
  • condiments – Silkameen honey, spanish peppers, cipollini onions, date bread, quince paste
  • cheese – a blue, stilton, cheddar, riopelle, a spanish hard cheese.
  • fruit – pears, dried figs and cranberries
  • drinks – a Moscato d’Asti (my drink of choice for a sunny Sunday afternoon), Golden Star White Jasmine Sparkling Tea and a Kettle Valley Starboard (port).

So what am I missing? Dessert! Which will be Lavender Honey Ice Cream. Variations of the recipes below. Bon appetit! 

Lavender Honey Ice Cream – from The Perfect Scoop, by David Lebovitz  

  • ½ cup good flavored honey
  • ¼ cup dried or fresh lavender flowers
  • 1 ½ cups whole milk
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 ½ cups heavy cream
  •  5 large egg yolks

1) Heat the honey and 2 tablespoons of the lavender in a small saucepan until the honey is fluid. Remove from the heat and set aside to steep at room temperature for one hour. 

2) Pour the cream into a large bowl and set a mesh strainer on top. Pour the lavender infused honey into the cream through the strainer, pressing on the lavender flowers to extract as much flavor as possible, then discard the lavender and set the strainer back over the bowl. 

3) Warm the milk, sugar, and salt in a medium saucepan. In a separate medium sized bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Slowly pour the warm milk mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly to prevent the eggs from cooking, then scrape the mixture back into the saucepan. 

4) Stir the mixture constantly over medium heat with a wooden spoon, scraping the bottom as you stir, until the mixture thickens and coats the spoon. (UPDATE: Don’t think that it’ll turn into a thick custard! Just when it starts to get glossy and thick, get it off the stove or in a few seconds it’ll turn into scrambled eggs!) Pour the custard through the strainer and stir it into the cream. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons lavender flowers. Refrigerate overnight. 

5) Before churning, strain the mixture again. Press the lavender flowers to extract as much of their flavor as possible. Discard the flowers, then freeze the mixture in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. 

TOPPINGS: Roasted Blueberries :  spread fresh or wrinkly blueberries out on a cookie sheet, sprinkled them with sugar and roasted them at 400F until they soften and release their juices. OR throw them into a pot of maple syrup and warm it until they pop. 

NOTES: Since whipping cream comes in 355ml(?) and it calls for 275ml, what to do with the 80ml? Dump the whole thing in I say, cut down on the milk if you want to. More lavender better than less. Infuse the lavender and honey overnight if you want, final infusion 12 hours at least. Don’t overdo the sugar.

Update: This is my go-to HG recipe! HG in makeup speak = holy grail. The honey binds the flavours together creating an all rounded taste. Best part is, no one can guess that it’s honey.

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More sorbet recipes for inspiration – the Alcoholics Anonymous edition

10 May

Finally a use for leftover wine! – always adjust my measurements as you see fit!

Passionfruit Sherry Sorbet

  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 passion fruit pulp.
  • 1/4  cup water, apple juice or passionfruit juice
  • 4 tbsp sherry

Combine sugar and liquids (minus sherry) over low heat till the sugar is dissolved. Add passionfruit. Cool in fridge and then make according to ice cream maker’s instructions. Add some sherry before it reaches a hardened consistency.

Pomegranate Chardonnay Sorbet

  • 3 cups fresh pomegranate juice or 1 (24-ounce) bottle pomegranate juice
  • 1 cup chardonnay
  • ½ cup sugar
  • Fresh pomegranate seeds

1. Place juice, chardonnay and sugar in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes. Remove from heat, and chill well.

2. Pour into the canister of an ice-cream freezer; freeze according to manufacturer’s instructions (or for granita, pour mixture into a 9×9-inch pan, and freeze 8 hours, scraping occasionally with a fork). Spoon into a freezer-safe container; cover and freeze 1 hour or until firm. Garnish with fresh pomegranate seeds. Serves 8.

Recipe by High Cotton Food Styling & Photography, “Relish the Healthy Table,” December 2006

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Why the only newspaper I will ever read…

10 May

is the New York Times, moreover, the MASSIVE Sunday Edition that will seriously take a whole Sunday to read. The other news media outlet I read to catch up on mundane local news is 24 Hours because it’s no fuss, compact, and free.

I love the New York Times, as well as New York Magazine. Not because it’s about New York (oh it’s so much more than that), but because it is SO well written, so intelligent and so interesting. If I could take 5 items with me to a deserted island, it would be moisturizer w/sunscreen, designer sunglasses, lipbalm w/spf, laptop w/internet connection and a subscription to the Sunday Edition.  Ok, so I kinda cheated by combining things.

So I ventured out early last Sunday to buy it. As of 10am, 2 places were sold out. When finally I got my grubby little hands on the 2.25″ thick paper, I was appalled to hand over $10.00 CDN. With a sigh I realized that I would have to treasure this moment because I will never buy this in print again, and vowed to read EVERY last word from ads to fine print.

As of today, I’m still reading it.

But it’s not about news. News is pretty much already old once it’s printed – it’s the opinions and the articles that don’t go stale. I’d buy it just for NYT Magazine and the Style mag- those are going on the coffee table.

Take this A-HA! moment I had while reading this interview with Charlaine Harris, author of True Blood:

Why do you think vampires are omnipresent in popular culture?
People are really interested in the concept of eternal youth in this plastic-surgery culture. Vampires never die.

A-HA!

Now that was worth my $10.

And I haven’t even started on the infamous crossword yet. If you like the NYT sunday crossword, you’ll like Wordplay, a movie that focuses on the man most associated with crossword puzzles, New York Times puzzle editor and NPR puzzle-master Will Shortz.

When I get my ice cream maker…

9 May

I’m gonna make:

Sake Sorbet

I have been OBSESSED with sake sorbet ever since tasting it in NYC. It was smooth, sweet and refreshing, and perhaps the lone reason why I shelled out for a Cuisinart Ice Cream maker. That, and because the weather’s getting warmer, guests are coming over, and I have tons of leftover liquor in the fridge waiting to be put to use. Also my next big purchase will be a BBQ so I can grill. If I’m too lazy to bake for dessert, why not serve a delicious frozen treat instead?

  • 1.5 cups sake
  • 1.5 cups simple syrup
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1tbsp lemon peel

Or sub lime for lemon, add a bit of yuzu – anything citrusy, Serve with, you guessed it, anything citrusy. Use the cheaper Gekkeikan for the sorbet (1.5L for $21.99). Save the exquisitely smooth and sweet (one of the few sakes that can be heated, not all of them can so read the label) YUKI HOTARU SAKE – ECHIGO DENEMON for sipping instead.

Update 2: Maybe I should have included some instructions. Combine all ingredients and freeze according to ice cream maker instructions. Apparently alcohol will NOT FREEZE (or anything over 5%). So either combine the sake with the simple syrup and heat, OR make the sorbet without the sake (add more juice or water) and add the sake to the ice cream maker when it’s close to solidifying and adjust to wanted consistency. So since I don’t have any cheap sake, I think I’ll make some pear sorbet, and add a few tablespoons of the good sake to taste. Hey, experiment! Don’t think you can go too wrong with this.

Simple Syrup:

1 cup white sugar, 1 cup water
In a medium saucepan combine sugar and water. Bring to a boil, stirring, until sugar has dissolved. Allow to cool.

Update3: MY PEAR RIESLING SORBET IS A SUCCESS! In a pot on the stove on med heat combine sugar and water (1/1) until dissolved. Add juice on one lemon, and cubed pears. Cook till pears are soft but not brown or mushy. Add riesling or chardonnay. Simmer for 5 minutes for alcohol to burn off. Cool and add to blender to puree. Put in fridge overnight (6 hours). Make sure ice cream bowl is chilled at least 12 hours. Make according to manufacturer’s instructions. If it’s still a bit too soft, put into container and into the freezer for 15-20 minutes to firm up.

Note: Like boiling water, if you watch it, it won’t freeze. So go away and do something non-constructive and come back and be surprised!

 

Today’s makeshift dinner: Pasta with Tuna and Peas

8 May

Sounds gross eh? Like something out of a terrible childhood memory. That, or something British.

So I had a dining dilemma tonight. I had pasta, but no packaged ragu/alfredo/vodka/rose sauce. Not even canned cream of mushroom or parmesan to use. What to do? I had a steaming colander of cheese tortellini waiting to be seasoned. So I dug up:

  • olive oil
  • shallots, minced
  • garlic, minced
  • capers, drained and rinsed
  • tuna in olive oil (that I had been saving up for my nicoise salad)
  • frozen peas
  1. Heat up the olive oil on  medium heat – you don’t want the garlic and shallots to burn easily. You want a bit more olive oil than usual because the warm oil is to coat the pasta as well.
  2. Sautee garlic, shallots and capers.
  3. Add drained tuna – break up with fork/spatula.
  4. Toss in defrosted peas.
  5. Toss with pasta, top with pepper

Quite tasty, though it could be much improved. If you have any suggestions let me know in the comments!

Note: try to use deep fried capers next time