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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Things to do with that dick-looking vegetable

... besides, you know, the obvious.

But I mean come on:


Okay, maybe not a dick, but a '70s dildo at least for sure. At any rate you get the idea.

Don't know what it is? Well then you're missing out. It's called a daikon, or lo bok. It's also called both a Japanese and Chinese radish. It's like an English radish but less peppery, more mild. It's flavour is a little like a turnip, with a kick. It's lovely on it's own with a little salt, but it's also great in this salad or salsa, determined by the size you make the pieces:

Beet and Daikon Salad
1 large beet
1 large piece of daikon (they can get enormous so the general rule for this salad is to make the ratio of beet to daikon roughly the same)
1 bunch cilantro (about 3 tablespoons)
lemon juice to taste
olive oil to taste
sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper

Peel the beet and the daikon and slice into matchstick pieces (for the salad version) or small cubes (for the salsa version). Place in a mixing bowl. Chop the cilantro fine and add to the bowl. Add fresh lemon juice and olive oil to taste (I'm a big believer in the free hand pour when it comes to those two ingredients), the salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly and leave to stand for about half an hour so it can marinate, then serve

Goes great with toast, on a potato, or alongside curry. It's fresh taste makes it great for summer (I've taken it on picnics and it's been fabulous). Plus it keeps for days.

(whoever has Rebecca Black's terrible "friday" fucked up song stuck in their head, raise your hand *raises hand*. By and large I know nothing about pop culture, I listen to scratchy jazz records on a rebuilt Philco, and I don't know the names of most celebrities. But this came across my desk and I couldn't help but be entranced by it's horribleness. My favorite part is when she feels the need to explain the days of the week (tomorrow is Saturday/then comes Sunday). I feel like shouting "THOSE are the days of the week? And those two together comprise a weekend? GIT OWWWWWTTTTAA HERE!"). Some people's kids.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Ninterview

I work with two Indians; Nin and Nav.

Some white folks in the office (Nadine) interchange their names as though interchangeable Indians are just a reality in the workforce of today. In this spirit, I decided to pigeonhole them even further after deciding I would like to learn to cook Indian food (I talked about how it was my favorite cuisine if I had to choose one a few posts ago). I did this by assuming they would be able to give me a tutorial of sorts, which if you think about it is no less obnoxious than asking a Korean why Kim Jong-Il looks so batshit crazy all the time, or asking a Canadian if it's "cold back home". Oh well, too late.

When they stared at me blankly, I just asked them what their favorite Indian dish was, and decided whatever they named, I would make. We agreed on chicken Vindaloo. Fortunately many Indian recipes are easy to Nav-igate (see what I did there? See? See?)

Chicken Vindaloo
1 large yellow onion
3 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp ground mustard
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 ground ginger
1/2 cinnamon stick
1/2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp ground cumin
3 cloves
1 tbsp white vinegar
1/2 tsp brown sugar
1/4 cup ghee or vegetable oil
2lbs of chicken pieces

Roughly chop the onion, add all the spices together in a blender and puree the shit out of it. Combine chicken and spices in a bowl overnight.


Put ghee or vegetable oil in a saucepan or dutch oven and heat over medium, add the chicken pieces, then reduce heat to medium low and cook for 45 mins. Serve over rice.

In addition to guiding me on the choice of dish, Nin and Nav have given me the inside scoop on a wonderful Indian custom, which I’m sure has a proper name but I will call the Exchange of the Coveted Indian Blanket. According to Nin and Nav being given an Indian blanket happens at special occasions, like weddings, where typically one man will present said  blanket to another man followed by an awkward, bromantic hug. Receiving an Indian blanket is both an honor and a hindrance: it’s a sign of respect and much appreciated, but you are also then stuck with an insanely bright and/or pattered blanket that is the size and weight of a Japanese car. Although they are hideous, Nin says there is nothing they can’t keep warm. When you come home after a commute spanning the length of several cities and are chilled to the bone, cuddling up in one or more Indian blankets is known as “blanket power”. Respect.

It should be noted here that Indian blankets are not made in India. Who knows where they're made. They are made of 100% unnatural fibers and are the softest things in the world. Nav has let me cuddle with myself inside her Indian blanket (which is a less-than-blinding-although-not-by-much blue colour without any patterns on it) and secretly I really wanted a big, bold one of my own. To complete this post, I was originally going to post a photo of one of Nin's (several) Indian blankets here so you could get the general outline of what their polyester awesomeness is all about. Imagine my delight on coming into the office and finding this on my desk:


MY VERY OWN INDIAN BLANKET!!!!!

That's right, Nin's mom bought me one out of the kindness of her heart. If you can't tell what the pattern is, it's a bouquet of pastel calla lilies. Things are going to go down between me and this blanket. This blanket is my personal life. I'm never going to take it off. I'm going to sleep in it. Next time I have to go somewhere formal, I will fashion this blanket into a strapless floor-length evening gown. Don't believe me? Wait.

Of course, the second I got home I put the Indian blanket down near the couch in its plastic suitcase. I turned around and it took Stella 5 seconds to knock it over and claim it:


(Note she is now perfectly healthy and cone-free. It turns out after all those tests she's just weird. I didn't need a vet to tell me that). I managed to wrestle it away from her and spread it out, inhaling its not-found-in-nature smell as I did so.

Whose house looks like the set of Roseanne now? Mine does!


Read and reflect upon this amazing turn of events. And yes, I can feel your jealousy from here.

Oh,. the food? It was okay, but definitely missing something. I asked Nin's opinion (opindian?) and he says try it with lamb as lamb soaks up marinades a little better. So I will try this and let you know. Honestly though right now I couldn't give a fuck. All I'm thinking about is my Indian blanket. Someone in India had the right idea! I love that person.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Incredible Whiteness of Being

Yesterday I was sitting in the Yaletown marina, with my Earl Grey tea latte, watching the sun on the water and enjoying the smell of the sea, when it hit me: I am so white.

Seriously. What is up with white people? In North America (I don't know anything about Europe so I'm not going to pretend I do) white people do what I was doing all the time, we sit around having deep white-person thoughts on a perfect background template. Our relaxing times are moments to revel in our own awesomeness. They don't just occur anywhere. We are high-end relaxers. Relaxing, to our minds, should be done on the set of a Folgers commercial.

If you haven't read Stuff White People Like, you should because it's so accurate it's spooky. As Nadine says it's "too close to home". I fit the bill perfectly. I read a lot of David Sedaris, I get a lot of pedicures. I love me a good farmer's market. Realizing you are a stereotype is a funny thing. I have enjoyed it because I enjoy humility, it fits in with what I perceive to be the correct order of things.

Upon the realization that I am whiter than white I was forced to think of all my posts relating to Asian food. Why are white people so attracted to the cuisine of other cultures? Well, because ours is mind-numbingly boring. We forgo the murky cuisine of our frigid ancestors and choose yours because it's far more interesting. Plus, white people like to think of themselves as "cultured".

So, what is a white North American dish? Turkey at Thanksgiving? Corn Flakes? Macaroni and Cheese? Wonderbread? Froot Loops? I don't know, but I'm going to check it out. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, I'll try to be less of a stereotype. Or not. Either way doesn't really matter to me, as long as I don't turn out like this:


(Shout-out to my grandparents Ed and Lois, who are celebrating their 57th wedding anniversary today. 57 years! I usually get sick of people after about an hour. Just sayin'. Respect.)

Friday, March 18, 2011

Conehead

Poor Stella. Recently her strange habits have caught up with her, as she has licked the fur almost completely off one side of her belly and has been using her poo box every 4 minutes. Now granted, she is a strange cat, so for her to do one of these things doesn't make me bat an eye. However, put the two together, and I've started to think she might have a bladder infection, or something like it. So as a good kitty mummy I made her a vet appointment and hauled her screeching ass into the Urban Animal Hospital here in the West End (if you need to take your beast to see a vet, I recommend them, they are lovely).

Other than her screaming all the way down the street in her cat carrier, other than the 3 (3!) people in the vets office who had to don elbow-length leather gloves just to handle her, other than the $150 bill for what felt like 5 minutes, it was fairly pleasant experience in the life of a pet owner. Pleasant turned to ecstatic when I found out she would need to wear a cone for the next few days. It might sound insensitive, but there is something about a cone on a cat that makes me giggle like a maniac. It's the same part of my brain that makes me giggle every time I hear the word "Regina". Anyway, I digress.

As soon as we got home and she got settled and less pissy, I made her don the soft cone at a jaunty angle and proceeded to take about 400 pics of her on my phone. And it was so worth it. At first, she seemed genuinely surprised:


Then, she got her drama on:


I call the above pose the "go on without me"


*moan*

Oh, Stell. (Yes, that's tape on the arms of my couch. It's to prevent the beast from turning it into an $800 scratching post)

In honour of her innagural sporting of the cone, I decided to make nori cones for dinner:

Vegetarian Nori Cones

1 package nori sheets (sushi-grade seaweed)
1 bunch enoki mushrooms
1 green onion, cut into scallions
hot sauce (optional)
1/2 avocado, cut into slices
1 cup white sushi rice

While rice is cooking, chop the green onion and avocado. Separate the mushrooms into individual threads. When rice is finished, take two tablespoons and place on the left hand side of a half sheet of nori. Lift up one corner of the nori and fold over to the right, continue rolling horizontally until a tight cone is formed on one end. Dip into hot sauce and soy sauce, alternately, and gobble up.

If it's your first time dealing with nori, you may find you feel about cones the same way Stella does: they make you want to kill yourself. But a little fiddling will make them form somewhat correctly. And if they don't, they're still edible.



I like to put the hot sauce directly on mine, in case you were wondering what that red stuff was. And yes, this is a terrible cone. I'm still a novice, okay? Fuck.

After dinner, Stella seemed to accept her fate and cleverly figured out how to use her cone as a pillow:


Adaptation at it's finest. There's some lesson here for me, but I'm a little thick and don't get it yet. Enjoy and happy Friday!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Ram-a-lamb-a-ding-dong

One of the things I love best is cumin, either in whole seed or roasted ground form. It's wholesome yet exotic fragrance can make a bowl of plain white rice seem decadent. After discovering that I could recreate the amazing hot and sour potatoes, I decided I could try another of Sha Lin's great dishes, cumin lamb.

It wasn't hard like the potatoes, it was easy and straightforward, producing spectacular results:

Cumin Lamb
1/2 lb of lamb, thinly sliced
2 1/2 tbsp roasted ground cumin
1 tbsp Chinese (Shaoxing) cooking wine
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
2 tbsp light soy sauce
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 clove of garlic, run through a press
red pepper flakes to taste

Mix this marinade together and place the lamb in the mixture, stirring until all the lamb is covered. Let sit in the fridge for 30 minutes.


3 tbsp vegetable oil
3-4 dried red chilies
1/2 medium onion, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
cilantro to taste

Once the lamb has marinated, heat a wok or stir fry pan on high heat and add the chilies, garlic and oil. Stir for a few moments, then add the lamb, into which you have stirred the onion at the last minute so it too is covered in the sauce. Cook on high heat until cooked through, then remove from heat and add cilantro on top. Serve over rice.


It was pouring rain in Vancouver (as usual) when I wrote this, and it seemed to have an extra big attitude about it (I'm raaaaiiinnnnnnggg, fuckers! And you thought you could have a nice walk! Fuck you!). Coming home from errands to cook this, it warmed me up and wiped the scowl off my face. Works great as leftovers too.

One of the problems with living alone, although I love it, is that you can carry on whole conversations with yourself and make all kinds of anti-social noises while you're eating and not even realize it. Of course I did this while eating the lamb and didn't realize it until I had eaten it all, and therefore didn't have any reason to make more noise. It was the silence that startled me. That's fucking nuts. But that shouldn't stop you. Eat hearty.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

At last!

A few years ago, when my now friend Dave and I were dating, he took me to a genuine Sichuan restaurant in Vancouver called Sha Lin. On our first date, he ordered a dish in Chinese (which I didn't know he could speak and made me think for a minute that I was hallucinating) and once it arrived, asked me to guess what vegetable it was. It was white, cut into thin strips, crunchy, hot and aromatic. I guessed it was flash-fried turnip, but I was wrong, it was hot and sour potato. Easily one of the best things I've ever eaten. After this, I searched high and low to find a recipe, and found several imitations, but not the original. I had a few bungled attempts, with rice vinegar and rusty, dirty looking potatoes cut too thick and overcooked. So it makes me even more excited to inform you that after combining three recipes I found, while keeping the memory of the dish at Sha Lin as alive in my memory as I could, I have found it:

Sichuan Hot and Sour Potatoes

serves 6

2 large russet potatoes
1 green pepper
1 tsp white peppercorns (whole)
2 dried chilies (1 for every potato)
1 clove garlic, pressed
vegetable or sesame oil, to taste
1 tsp salt
4 tbsps white vinegar

For starters, in order to prepare this dish properly, you need a mandoline, and you do not have to pay hundreds of dollars for one. A handheld one works great and will set you back about $20. Otherwise, you cannot get the potato slices quite thin enough, and they will not be uniform. Plus, it will take years.

First, peel the potatoes so they are completely free of skin, no dark spots. Chop in half and slice on your mandoline. Place on a plate next to your work area. In small batches, take the slices, stack them on top of each other, and slice into matchsticks. The thinner, the better:


Once all are chopped, place in a bowl of lukewarm water and table salt (2 tsps for every 4 cups). The water should cover the matchsticks completely. Leave to soak for 15 minutes. THIS IS KEY. If you do not complete this step, not only will your potatoes look like wet cardboard strips, but the crispness which makes the texture of this dish incomparable will not exist.

Heat a few good glugs of oil in a stir fry pan or wok, into which is placed two chilies, the peppercorns, and the clove of garlic, pressed directly into the oil. Heat to medium, allowing the group of seasonings to bubble for a few minutes. Drain the potatoes and add to the oil, along with the roughly chopped green pepper. Stir almost continuously.

The time this dish takes is a matter of taste and some debate. The best advice I can give is to cook until the potato matchsticks are translucent and limp. But suit yourself: Taste before you take them off the heat. Once translucent but not quite limp, add the vinegar and the salt, and allow to burn off somewhat, stirring constantly again until the potatoes become limp, then remove from heat. Serve immediately.


The lion's share of the advice on how to (finally) achieve this dish came from this fantastic Chinese food cooking blog I happened to stumble upon called "Lj's Food Party". This woman LJ's use of English is downright creative, and pretty much how I'm going to try to speak English from now on. Passages of note:

"cut the garlic into pelletizing"
"delete the starch"
"put the peppercorns in them, blow out flavor"
"After plastic, a sour, crunchy potates can be severed for tonight dinner."

After reading her blog I have to say I have fallen a little bit in love with Lin Jun Jun. Her ESL interpretation of English has made something better than English, it's SuperEnglish. If there is a land that speaks LJ, I want to move there. Her blog can be found here

I was so happy when I bit into this and realized it was exactly what I was trying for all this time. Talk about satisfying, particularly when cooking is your drug of choice and an elusive recipe is your dealer. I recommend this as a side dish, or a full meal over rice. Enjoy.

And may your Sunday BLOW OUT FLAVOR!!!!!!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Choose your own (pasta) adventure

Knowing I had shrimp in the freezer, and that I would be embarking on a deluxe, complicated meal later this week (stay tuned!), I decided to make one of my favorite pasta dishes, that I invented myself. It's based on a lemon pepper prawn fettuccine in white sauce they used to serve at this pub near the first office I worked in. The girls I worked with and I used to go there every Friday for lunch. That was back in the day when I was a receptionist, and remembering it makes me feel proud that my career has gone the way it has. Anyway, I digress:

Hot Lemon Pepper Prawn Pasta

1 cup orzo (or to taste)
12-15 prawns
1/2 lemon
1 small Roma tomato
2 cloves garlic
1/2 small yellow onion
hot sauce
sea salt
fresh ground black pepper
grated Parmesan cheese

Defrost or prepare prawns. Cook orzo until al dente or to taste, drain and set aside. In a frying or sauce pan, heat finely chopped onion and garlic in high quality olive oil. Once brown, add the prawns and fresh squeezed lemon juice, sea salt, pepper and hot sauce, reduce. Pour over orzo, top with tomato and sprinkle with Parmesan.


I have found something odd lately: if I chop onions in larger pieces, I don't cry, but if I chop them fine, I practically weep. There is a wonderful book called "Like Water for Chocolate" that recommends you put a piece of onion on your head to keep from crying. I haven't tried it yet for one reason, and that is I can't stand the thought of my hair smelling like onion. If I have one vanity, it's that I like to smell nice.

This makes the kitchen smell wonderful as well as taste delicious. Prawns were made for lemon and garlic, it's a holy trinity as far as I'm concerned. It's good every once in awhile, in the midst of trying new things, to come back to old favorites that you can make in your sleep without measuring a thing. Enjoy this or your own version.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Sunday Night Soporific

My mother has major food allergies. As a result, my childhood diet was punctuated by healthful substitutes for mainstream foods, such as rice milk, rice bread and tofu mayo. Ever since I've been an adult and learned to cook for myself, I've avoided these ultra-healthy foods, probably because I don't need to eat them anymore, I can have the real thing. They aren't bad per se, but there not good, either.

Things have changed a lot since I lived at home. Now we have something called almond milk, which I've seen around in Choices, Whole Foods (I call it Whole Paycheque) etc, but never tried. Until I went to my friend Tracy's house. She made me a cup of red rooibos tea with vanilla flavoured almond milk that she heated slowly in a tin urn over her gas element until bubbling, then sweetened with honey. Holy shit is this good. I immediately went out and bought the ingredients to make it myself. Most dollar stores will sell metal cups that you can place directly on your stove element, and this is what I bought and used. Fill the cup with almond milk, place on the element and heat on medium low until bubbling hot. Add honey to taste. Cut with a little hot water and pour into a mug in which you've placed a red rooibos tea bag. Serve immediately.

Besides being delicious and cozy, it has an unexpected side effect of making me sleepier than the best sleeping pills (and I've tried every one you can get). I had some this afternoon then fell asleep on the couch for 3 hours. This shit rules. I encourage you to make your own and fall into your own, sleepy Sunday coma.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Indian food by a white girl

If I had to pick a favorite cuisine, I couldn't, but if I had to name one of my very favorites, it would be Indian. Curries incorporate some of the most complex tastes and flavours on earth. For my birthday my mom gave me Vij's latest cookbook. If you are not familiar with Vikram Vij, he and his wife Meeru Dhalwala run two restaurants in Vancouver, Vij's and Rangoli. Both are delicious and affordable (Rangoli more so than Vij's) and not to be missed. If you're visiting, or you live here, you should go.

I love seafood probably more than is healthy, so for the first recipe I would make out of this beautiful book, I chose prawns in pomegranate curry. It seemed fairly simple, although if you are cooking for one or two you should half or third his recipes, they are for large crowds, which you kinda gotta love.

Prawns in Pomegranate Curry


12-24 prawns, fresh is best
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup cooking oil
1/2 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 red onion
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon chopped jalepeno pepper (fresh)
1/2 tablespoon fresh chopped and peeled ginger
1/4 cup fresh pomegranate juice
1/4 chopped cilantro

Pour the oil in a skillet and heat on medium high. Add the cumin seeds and let them sizzle for 45 seconds. Add the finely chopped onion and cook for a few minutes until completely browned with dark edges.


Reduce the heat to medium and add turmeric, salt, cayenne, stir, saute for 1 minute, add the jalepeno and ginger and saute for 1 minute more. Add pomegranate juice and bring to a boil, add prawns and stir gently, cook prawns for 4 minutes, remove from heat and add cilantro. Serve with bread or over rice.


I have always had curry with rice so this time I tried it with toast, and it was an interesting alternative, but I like rice better. This dish is ridiculous. It's salty and sweet and spicy like good curry should be. All in all it took me about 20 minutes and was completely worth it. Try it!

And speaking of spicy, the girls of the Eastern Bloc recently indulged in one of our favourite rituals: turning the communal area cat calendar page at the beginning of each new month. And this month the kitties are:


These two cute scrappy little Scottish folds mixed with something! I want to eat their faces. The little one looks like he's saying "you mad? 'Cause you look mad".

Of course, we had to reenact it:


Carri and Nads did an excellent job portraying Grey Biggie and Blonde Tiny. Go Carri! Go Nads! (see what I did there?)

(recipe courtesy of "Vij's At Home Relax, Honey" cookbook)