Old Dog, New Tricks

I come from a long line of over stocked kitchens and too many gadgets. My mother’s and my grandmother’s kitchens were crammed with pots, pans, containers and containers with utensils. Either because of small kitchens or an affinity to collect stuff, probably both, their kitchen counter and shelf space was always packed.

My inherited propensity to acquire things is abated by an abhorrence of clutter. This is why I hate special purpose gadgets. Like cookie scoops.

I once made fun of my daughter’s boyfriend’s cookie scoop. This was when they shared a studio apartment with a ticker tape sized kitchen. Of all the practical, multi-purpose kitchen tools to have, a cookie scoop was not one of them. Even if he was an avid cookie maker, a teaspoon and finger seemed more than adequate for the job.

Fast forward to my year in culinary school where a mandatory tool kit included a #40 cookie scoop. I was disgusted with having to buy this and kept it hidden away in my kit bag for months.

Eventually I had to make cookies. On a whim, I dusted out my cookie scoop and gave it a try. What a time saver! How evenly sized were the cookies! I could make more cookies in half the time! Why had I never tried this before!

So, I am a convert. My cookie scoop has moved out of my kit bag and into my kitchen drawer. It’s a bit cluttered in there but if I move things around and the jiggle the drawer, it will close just fine.

Ucluelet, Vancouver Island. July 2019

Borscht Soup in Hong Kong


The last time I was in Hong Kong I ate at a neighborhood ‘diner’ style restaurant. They had a similar layout to the familiar, western style diners – leatherette banquettes, sticky ketchup bottles, surly wait service and plastic covered menus. The menu was a mystery, full of Chinese characters and colloquialisms which Google Translate had a hard time deciphering. Luckily for me, some items were in English and I found unexpected western classics like steak, club sandwiches and borscht soup.

Here’s an article which outlines the interesting history behind how this Russian dish became a Hong Kong staple.

“How Russian borscht became a Hong Kong staple” – Terence Lau

 

Suan Moi Ap, A Hakka Classic

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I have so many good memories of eating ‘suan moi ap‘.

This was a staple at special occasion dinners at my Granny’s.  At one end of a heavily laden table the classic poached chicken (pak gam gai) would sit and at the other the darkly delicious sweet and sour duck.   I would bypass the chicken and go straight for the duck, load up on the luscious dark meat, sweet tangy gravy with hot steamed rice and settle in for a fine dinner.

In Toronto with it’s many BBQ shops & excellent roast duck, it’s easy to make a quick version of suan moi ap by mixing up the sauce & adding it to the duck gravy. It’s a lazy man’s way of getting a suan moi duck fix.

In Ucluelet where I spend the summer, this is not an option.  The  nearest BBQ shop is in Victoria, a tortuous six hour drive away.

This article in The Woks of Life website got me thinking. Could I follow my Granny’s old style way and make suan moi ap from scratch?   Did I have a dutch pot, heavy enough and deep enough to brown a whole duck? Not having an outdoor kitchen like my Granny, was my under-powered range hood strong enough to take away the spray of duck fat? Could I even purchase a whole duck in the village co-op?  Did I have a snowball’s chance of finding a jar of Koon Chun pickled plums on this side of the island?

The answer to all of these questions is NO.  Unfortunately, I can only reminisce on how suan moi ap used to taste  and wait until I’m back in Toronto.  Duck is a cold weather dish anyways. Right. That’s no consolation whatsoever. Hmmm.

In duck-less Ucluelet on Vancouver Island.  July 2019

Chicken

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I liked this article QZ: Rotisserie chicken but I took exception to some of its claims. For instance, it says

“the modern-day rotisserie renaissance—cheap birds in take-home containers at supermarkets and big-box stores—can be traced back to the early ‘90s”.

Now wait a minute. I remember salivating over rotisserie chicken at Monty’s Inn in Kingston, Jamaica in the early 70’s. My mother refused to buy it, saying that it was tasteless and overpriced.  That never stopped me from sniffing and wishing for it.

And what about Swiss Chalet chicken?! In Toronto, it’s the family friendly food chain restaurant that’s been the favorite of every kid growing up since 1954.   It serves luscious rotisserie baked chicken with perfect fries and dunk-addictive ‘chalet sauce.’  There’s nothing remotely Swiss on the menu but no one even questions that anymore. Swiss Chalet is just is.

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Hmm. Swiss Chalet Festive Special: Chicken, Stuffing AND Chocolate!

But maybe the salient word is ‘cheap.‘  In Costco (the #1 seller of rotisserie chicken) a cooked 1.2kg bird is  $7.99 CAD ($4.99 for my US neighbors.)

Silly me, I thought the Costco chicken was my personal bargain budget find. Who knew that it was just a ploy and that the extra large, 2L bucket of potato salad and 1kg of Cesar salad was what Mr Costco actually wanted me to buy!

 

Whole Grain Breads

Buttermilk WW and Spelt

Get ready to be bored by a weekly barrage of bread. I’m back to school at George Brown College learning all about Whole Grain Artisan Bread.

This being the first of twelve weeks of classes, I was embarrassingly unprepared. I remembered the essentials of my uniform (pants, jacket, apron and hat)  but I had to re-assemble my kit. This being a bread making class I packed the minimum (scale and scrapers) and removed the unnecessary (scissors and knives.)   Or so I thought.  After all, we were  going to make flat bread and pan loaves in Week #1. For what would we need scissors and knives?

Lesson #1:  Scissors are absolutely necessary.  Many whole grain and specialty flours are vacuum packed in one kilo packages.  Ripping them open with your teeth is not allowed.

Lesson #2:  Flatbread flavored with a whole head of garlic and two hanks of fresh herbs requires chopping.  A lot of chopping.

Luckily my bench partner and I were a complementary pair.   She had all the tools I hadn’t packed and I had all the items she’d forgot.

Here’s a look at the bread we made:  Stone ground whole wheat bread made with buttermilk and honey.   Flatbread made from spelt flour and flavored with garlic and herb infused olive oil.

Both were tasty, especially  the WW bread which was dense, chewy and slightly sweet.  These were hearty, European style  breads, perfect for open faced sandwiches, teamed up with steaming bowls of soup.

The Evolution of Zuke

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The zucchini looked big in Cody’s box.  It looked even bigger on its own.  I weighed the monster on my Iron Man scale (so called because … isn’t it obvious?)

What do you do with a 1.675 kg Zuke and his 536g younger brother? It’s going to take many meals to find out.

King Arthur had some interesting ideas.  Roasted veggie pizza for instance.  Actually, the King suggested a galette but I had pizza dough in the fridge.  The recipe said to roast sliced zucchini and tomatoes in a 425F oven for 15-20 minutes.  It also talked about making a ricotta cheese base but I don’t like fresh cheese.

For the pizza which should have been a galette – I rolled out the dough, dressed it with olive oil and fresh basil and layered it with a scant topping of roasted tomatoes, zucchini, mushrooms and onions.  To maintain it’s integrity as pizza, I sprinkled on a bit of cheese.  It was very good.

For dessert, King Arthur had an eye catching suggestion: Chocolate Zucchini Bread.  Now that’s a puzzle. Are vegetables allowed in dessert?

Based on stuff on hand and personal preference, I made a few adjustments to King Arthur’s recipe.  The bread came out nice except it didn’t taste like bread.  It tasted like a lovely moist chocolate cake.  It was not too sweet and was excellent with a cup of tea.

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For my version of Double Chocolate Zucchini Bread Cake, here you go.

 

 

 

 

 

Cody’s Box

The Sandy Chronicles

Cody's Veggie Box Cody’s Veggie Box

Cody is an organic farmer who sells veggie boxes every other week or so.

In olden days people would push carts of fruit and vegetables around and call out what they had to sell. Housewives would poke their heads through the window, flag them down and buy the makings for dinner.

In new-present day, Cody pushes out a Facebook post:  He’s coming through town with boxes to sell!   I message him and he comes directly to the front door. First to Message, First to be Served.

The model doesn’t  work for big cities but it scales just right for Ucluelet.

So here’s my box of vegetables.

Gigantic Zucchini’s.  I’d heard that zucchinis can get big but this is ridiculous.

Kale.  Lots and lots of Kale. Much too much. I’m still trying to figure out why Kale is so popular.  I think it falls in the category…

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Giving Rye a(nother) Try

The last time I made Rye bread it was at the King Arthur Flour Baking School in Washington. It was a 100% rye brick. It was so hard I could not cut it with a knife.  Since I didn’t have an axe on hand, I threw it into the garbage bin where it landed with a thump and a din.

Since then I’ve only used rye in very small quantities in my sourdoughs. However at 30g a batch, it’s going to take a while to work through my 5kg bag. I decided to give Rye another try.

Paging through my Gisslen’s “Professional Baking” book, I chose his version of Pain de Campagne. This is a straight dough made with a rye poolish. Overall it’s 30% rye-70% wheat combination with 65% hydration. It is very sticky dough to start (now I remember) but it firms up nicely when developed.

I couldn’t resist cutting it soon after cooling. The crumb is fine & even (which I think is typical) and the crust chewy & nutty. I had it with a slash of cold butter and it was good. I could imagine this with as an open faced sandwich: cream cheese and smoked salmon or grilled cheese with tomatoes or smoked meat with honey mustard.  Hmmm. I  could make this again.

Campagne Rye 2

Campagne Rye

Ucluelet, BC. August 2018

Hong Kong style Buns

A recent article on Tangzhong breads got me yearning for Hong Kong style buns.

In Hong Kong and Singapore it’s hard to find a bakery not selling these pillowy soft breads.  They are slightly sweet, tender and chewy with a butter slicked soft crust.  Fillings tend towards sweet – red bean paste, coconut and custard – and salty sweet – cha sui buns, curry beef and onions, ham, cheese and onions. My kids favorite were hot dog buns – unadorned sausages wrapped in a spiral of bread.  In Singapore, variations included bright green pandan, light brown gula melaka and brilliant yellow mango flavored buns.

Nice though it was, this sweet bread was the ONLY style of bread available in Singapore bakeries.  Good on its own for snacks,  they are less than satisfying with soups, meats and meals.  Eating them at dinner was like eating Twinkies with your roast beef.   The unavailability of ‘regular’ bread was the reason I started making artisan breads at home.

Now that I’m back in Canada and living in remote British Columbia, the situation is reversed.  In my little town, there is no bakery.  There is a supermarket with an in-store bakery.   It does passably well with white and whole grain pan breads. Their  danishes and croissants are of the pre-made, mass produced variety.  Their Hong Kong buns?  Nonexistent.  My solution? Start making it at home.

Here’s my first batch. Shaping is not as good as it could be and it’s a bit too brown on top but the taste – it’s just as it should be.    Want to give it a try? Here’s a recipe.

Ucluelet, B.C.  August 2018