Monday, December 25, 2006

Happy Christmas!!

Happy Christmas!

We had our Christmas dinner last night with all the usual suspects, turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, mashed butternut squash, absolutely delicious and indulgent Cream-Braised Brussel Sprouts from Orangette, cranberry and port sauce and pickled red cabbage. For dessert, there was Christmas pudding with cardamon and ginger XTC gelato, chocolate XTC gelato with chocolate raspberry sauce. Cheese course was served after a Christmassy DVD of Wallace and Gromit as was present opening.

And in all, a fabulous food filled Christmas. Here's wishing you all a very yummy Christmas.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Our meaty friends

In other parts of the world, there are people who dress up as big furry creatures, sometimes to amuse children, like in Disneyland, and sometimes to titillate, which is very disturbing to the average adult. Sometimes, however, it is to promote something, to sell or to attract.

Usually they are dressed to be cute, cuddly and make people smile.

Last night, however I found a curious pair dressed up to promote a restaurant. What attracted a second look, however, wasn't the 'cuddly-ness' of the pair but rather the....for lack of a better word.... meatiness of the pair.

You see, one of them was dressed as a steak. And not just any steak, check out the marbling! That must be Wagyu or something, with his sidekick, the grill.

Only in Hong Kong would that be appealing, most of all, to me.

Japanese Yakiniku WAKO Restaurant
3/F Richmond Plaza
496 Jaffe Road Causeway Bay
Tel: 2117 4286
Fax: 2117 4269

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

F-odd: Snip and poke

I had an extremely short trip to my favorite snacking city in the world, Taiwan, recently.

Although I was only there for an evening, I did manage to sneak in a bag o' treats between meetings (or rather pre-dinner).

I had an hour between appointments to kill and decided to go to the infamous Shilin market. Besides picking up three pairs of shoes for a song, I was stopped in my tracks by a queue of people. Being the nosy busy body I am, I had to have a look at what they were queuing for. Once I found out it was edible, I naturally joined the queue.

It was a large plastic box, mounted above a moped which had all manners of ... brown bits.

I know it seems like brown bits isn't a very good description but it was exactly what it is. Bits which had been simmered in brown, flavored soy sauce for a long time, taking on the flavors of the sauce.

What kind of bits? Well, among the ones I saw, there were chicken necks, hearts, kidneys, livers, wing tips, pig skin, ears, and snout, duck gizzards, tongues, wings, dried tofu in a variety of shapes and some vegetables too.

These bits were cut into bite size pieces, tossed in the bag with a splash of chili oil, salt and white pepper and loads of tangy, sour-sweet preserved vegetables. You are given two skewers and a pat on the bottom and off you go. Actually you don't get a pat on the bottom. You pay extra for that. Two blocks down.

So what bits did I end up getting?

The pig skin, which you see as the bright brown red curls just above my skewers. These were lovely, all chewy, with no fat stuck onto the skin and the errant hairs plucked out (I've seen this being prepared before, they really do use tweezers on the stubborn hairs!).

Hey, before you go all "eww, grosss" on me, in the West you have crackling and pork rinds... leave me alone.

Nestled straight in the middle was a mushroom, next to a young bamboo shoot. Right at the bottom, the black speckled bit is congealed pig's blood with glutinous rice, above which is a delicious chicken heart. On the right, a bow type dark thing? That's wakame, thick, chewy seaweed. All the greenery you see there is the tangy preserved vegetables.

It was a highly satisfactory snack and reasonably priced at NT$80 for the lot (HK$20).

Long live brown bits!

Friday, December 08, 2006

Die, Tea, Die!

I was recently given a gift of tea.

Now normally, I would be very pleased as I do enjoy my tea.

However, it was DIET Tea.

Now I know I've put on a few, ahem, pounds, since Sui Mai but still, a gift like this is very telling. And deserves a gift in kind. Like a punch in the mouth or something of the kind, wrapped up in a lovely fist.

Upon seeing the not-too-grateful expression on my face, the gift giver took a huge step back and proceeded to exclaim...

"You asked me to!"

A split second later and I was thanking and apologising profusely.

I had forgotten that several months ago I had asked her to pick me up a box when she commented that her colleague had had much success with it.

So, upon my return from my eating spree in Montreal and with the looming certainty that I would have to fit into the dress I bought months ago for the boy's sister's wedding next week, I decided to test out the tea.

The first day I brought it into the office, I asked a colleague to translate the instructions regarding frequency and infusion. When she saw the box, she was immediately alarmed.

Apparently I'm not the most pleasant person to be around whilst on a diet. Who knew?

In any case, she felt compelled to tell me that this tea is very famous and that it has certain side effects which I should be aware of.

Particularly the effect which may send me running to the loo clutching my ample bottom.

I debated...

but I went ahead, risking the runs.

So, with great apprehension, I had a cup a day.

My apprehension quickly turned to doubt which then turned to annoyance.

I had been expecting that I may have to visit the throne on a regular basis but that was not the case. In fact, I felt no changes rumbling around in my intestines.

I quickly called up my friend asking about the effects. Not having been silly enough to indulge herself, she was not sure but somehow felt awkward asking her colleague if she had the runs, claiming that she didn't want to know. Disloyal cowardice is what I call it.

I became annoyed and impatient and doubled the dosage.

...still no toilet visits and no weight lost.

In conclusion, save your money to bribe photographers to use Photoshop.

(photos of non-pooing and non-diet tea to come)

Monday, December 04, 2006

Try, try again

I just won't give it up you see.

How can I not be able to bake? I didn't fail any of my chemistry experiments in school and I can follow instructions...well, kinda.

I tried Too Many Chefs' Chairman Mao Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies and yes, with substitutions... but only because I didn't have "chocolate formerly in the shape of a communist leader"!

However, like all good students, I know where I went wrong....

The instructions said to 'cream the butter with the sugar'

I know what that means: soften the butter and beat in the sugar (by hand as I don't have a Kitchen Aid mixer....ah HEM).

Did I soften the butter?

Well.....kind of. It was a little hard so I thought I would put it in the microwave for a bit. After just 5 seconds, I checked...nope, still too hard

Unfortunately just at this time, my poor sick dog decided to start an asthsma attack, which can only be soothed by a firm yet gentle stroking of his neck.

By this time the butter was liquid.

Needless to say, as usual, instead of waiting until the butter hardened, I thought I'd proceed... after all, what could happen?

Only that it spread into a big sticky mess and burn. No problem at all.

Luckily my poor office mates are very forgiving and always eat my attempts at cooking, no matter how disasterous.
And NO, I don't make it part of their KRAs..... you cheeky monkeys!

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Salty chocolate

Despite loving the full bitter flavor of pure dark chocolate, I have a great weakness for contrasts.
I have an obsession with dark chocolate covered candied oranges (including the non-edible but droolable blog Orangette!) or lemon peels.

I am also always open to trying other combos; chocolate mint is a good, although tricky to manage the right chocolate : mint ratio. Dunking gummi bears, pretzels and particularly plain potato chips are also the standard when I break out the chocolate fountain. Salty and sweet just seem so right together...

I have just discovered salted caramels which I have just been introduced to, makes caramels perfect in my opinion. In their true form, caramel has never been a favorite of mine, finding it too cloying, buttery and sweet but with the addition of salt, it makes its flavor more true somehow with non of the cloying sweetness.

So it was fated that I buy Genevieve Grandbois' tablette, Le Carre de Sel.

A good size tablet of thin chocolate emblazoned with "Les Chocolate de Genevieve Grandbois, it was made of 70% dark chocolate sprinkled with fleur de sel.

You'll be happy to discover (as I was) that the flakes of fleur de sel is distinct, forming little pockets of saltiness and goes perfectly with the rich smooth chocolate.

I had planned on taking it to work as a good afternoon pick me up indulgence. Truth was, by 11am, the whole tablet was gone...

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Montreal 6 - Of Pigs and Feet

It was the one thing I insisted on doing in Montreal when asked.

Dinner at Pied de Cochon.

Heavy handed foie gras, a passionate chef, rave reviews from fellow chefs, how could I resist?

Luckily for me, my timing was spot on, with Martin Picard having just launched a 'Au Pied de Cochon' cookbook recently.

However, it was to my dismay that the bro and my lovely hostess seemed to have not had great experiences. In fact, both of the declined to dine with me and the boy despite my standing offer to treat! Shockingly, our table of five diminished to a table of two but no matter what they said, I was determined to go.

I arrived at my appointed time of 8:30 and waited a short while for a table. We were seated in the noisy and bright restaurant with a full view of the kitchen and of Mr Picard! It was very much like on TV, with full concentration of the kitchen staff on what they were doing and much hustle and bustle.

We decided to start with foie gras poutine (of course!) and the pickled venison tongue, just because it was different.

The poutine was very, very, very good. So good in fact, that I seriously considered a second order. The boy and I almost had to compete for our fair share of the plate. Cheese curds, perfectly brown cooked fries, topped with a slab of pink foie gras covered in a rich gravy.

The pickled venison was served with thin French bread toasts with mustard. It was not to my taste, not because I'm squeamish (if you've read other entries, you will know this is not an odd choice for me) but it seemed a little too soft in texture and not pickled enough for my tastes. The boy happily ate it all up. This was surprising as I adore ox tongue whereas he usually refuses my offers of tastings....silly boy!

I chose the Pied de Cochon as my main, which was a slowly braised pig's trotter, served with a sauce of tomato, onions and cabbage, with a side of mashed potatoes. It was very good but unbelievably rich and heavy. I ate the meat, scraped off the fat onto a side plate so I can eat the chewy, crispy pork skin (deliciously flavorful), a few mouthfuls of the buttery, creamy mashed potatoes. It was very nicely flavored but a very rich dish, perfect for winter. However, even with my appetite, I only managed a quarter of the dish. My plate of fat, which I had begun to become much excited and amused by, grew by the the minute as you can see here! ------------->

Also accompanying the dish was a large deep fried cube, with a fancy mustard M. It was only fancy-ish thing on the plate. I had a taste, thinking it was a hash brown and it was quite liquidy inside, a bit mushy and a little unidentifiable. So I asked the server what it was. With a half proud, half amused expression, he explained that it was the remaining cartilage, fat and scrapings from the pig's foot, deep fried in lard. Unsurprisingly, I became happier and even more fascinated with the foot and ate about a third of it until I began to feel a little sick. It was incredibly heavy, not bad tasting but I kept thinking it would be delicious in a bowl of congee. I liked the fact that nothing went to waste.

The boy had the duck in a can. This was a brilliant 1/2 magret de canard, cooked with a piece of foie and other flavorings. This was deliciously tender and upended onto two pieces of bread topped with mashed potatoes. The boy was in absolute ecstasy, and kept making embarrassing 'mmmnn' noises until I asked for a taste. Then he was quiet for fear I'd ask for more.

We finished with a maple tart to share. Served with real vanilla ice cream, it was delicious, soft and with a strong, pure maple flavor, it was Canada in a bite.

Absolutely delicious, rich as anything, we felt like we had sold our souls.
Martin Picard was very sweet, quite shy but agreed to sign my cookbook and I even used my Asian-ness to coerce the poor man into taking a photo.

Restaurant Au Pied de Cochon
536 Duluth St. East
Montreal, Quebec
H2L 1A9
Tel: 514 281 1114

Apologies for the was due to technical problems, aka, my own incompetence.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Montreal 5 - Beans, beans, the musical fruit

Being an obnoxious, pushy older sister, I don't take kindly to my brother giving me advice.

Not that I don't think he is smart, right or knowlegeable, it's just that as the older sibling, I think I know best.

So when he suggested La Binerie for lunch, I hesitated. I thought we'd stop by for a look since we were in the neighborhood but that we'd pick somewhere else for lunch. I mean come on! A lunch of beans? I don't think so! Besides, I think that my hostess would be appreciative of two beany guests.

Anyhow, we got to the shop and it turned out to be an adorable little diner full of workmen and elderly couples hunched over the counter reading the paper and shovelling mouthfuls of thick Quebecoise Soupe au Pois in their mouth.

Completely charmed, I tripped in (literally, the floor was uneven).

Despite the stares and feeling completely out of place, we persisted in sitting down and were reluctantly handed down a menu by the man on the stool next to us.

We ordered an Asiette Maison, a full lunch which came with soup (My French Canadian pea soup shown here. The boy had beef and barley. I thought mine was better)

the platter with Tourtiere, Ragout de Boulettes (meatball ragout), mashed potatos and vegetables, which pleased the boy to no end, being basically pie and mash,

those 'wonderful little beans' (said the man when he put them down)

all washed down with delicious Spruce beer which tasted like Christmas

and a Pouding Chomeur (cake with a brown butter sauce) for me

and a Blanc Mange for the boy.
Prior to this, the boy and I had no idea what blanc mange was but he declared it was like cold custard and in the time it took me to turn my head around to ask the man for coffee and look back at him, the whole dish was gone. Yep, it had took exactly 8 seconds to inhale that gelatinous white custard.

Needless to say, this was very 'diner' homestyle cooking and very 'stick to your ribs' type of stuff, filling and hearty.

I loved it! I'm sure that it could all have been better and fancier but as it was, in the little Binerie, it was perfect. Especially as we had to walk around in the cold rain for another 4 hours.
La Binerie
367 Ave du Mont-Royal Est,
Montreal, Quebec
H2T 1R1
Tel: 514 285 9078

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Montreal 4 - Smoked heart attack

We had to go

Even though it was dangerous, we had to do it.

We went to Schwartz's.

We ordered 2 smoked meat sandwiches (medium fatty-ness please), which was absolutely delicious with yellow mustard, juicy pink meat which was interspered with hear clogging bits of fat, fragrant with the peppercorns and other spices,

liver entree, which was perfectly grilled until pink inside but still a bit dry for my tastes,

one half
sour pickle, still crunchy and a nice vibrant green,

one dill pickle, nice an tangy, a must have, if only to break up the richness of the food,

a plate of fries, beautifully cooked and tender, addictive,

and a black cherry cola to wash it all down.
A veritable Montreal institution and still producing huge quantities of delicious smoked meat everyday to feed the hungry hoards of people who pack into the tiny place everyday.

We went at almost 2 pm and it was still packed to the gills, with the same old grumpy, impatient servers with attitude.

Of course it was great and no matter what people's thoughts are on the smoked meat and how it compares to other's, I don't care, it was damned good.

Two days later and I'm still full.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Montreal 3 - A fooding we will go...

The boy, the bro and my dear friend jumped into the car.

We were late.

We had meant to be at the market much sooner.

However, when complaints of empty tummies were heard, my tireless friend swerved to do a run in at St. Viateur's for warm hot bagels. However, the brakes were stomped on and parking found when Genevieve de Grandbois chocolate shop was spotted.

We split up. The bro went to fetch, in his words, “the best coffee in Montreal”, while the boy, the friend and I stopped for chocolates.

After buying one of everything in the store (literally...including the rich, thick hot chocolate), the bro had arrived with our hot coffees.

A hop and a skip down the block, we were in the tiny St Viateur bagel shop, warming our hands on our coffees and inhaling the aroma of freshly baked bagels. A dozen was quickly bought and our mouths full of sesame bagels before we left the shop.

Down another two blocks to the kosher bakery for chocolate, cinnamon and jammy croissant bites, before shivering all the way to the car.

Straight to Jean Talon market, the entrance of which distracted us with the bison ribs, bags of home made chips (that's crisps to you English!), sauerkraut with Italian sausage, baby scallops with lemon and tartare sauce.

The boy, the bro and the friend had to drag me away from the man opening oysters for $1 each to passerbys. I kept dropping loonies (that's $1 dollar coins to you non-Canadians!) in his tin and he kept opening the deliciously cold fresh oysters, what was a girl to do?

I downed 5 of them before they could distract me by waving the scallops under my nose.

We then entered the market whereupon my posse seriously wondered if I had ADD as they kept having to stop and find me whenever I wandered off, enticed by a huge freezer stocked full of sausages, or to a shelf full of home made preserved, or to the pieces of milk fed delicious veal being cooked in front of me, or the veal pate being proffered to passers by.

Churros was at another stand, in addition to fresh pressed apple cider, slices of orange, pineapple, crisp Cortland apples and bags of earthy, beautiful beets. Huge fennels, cauliflower the colour of vibrant Easter eggs and tomatoes, tomatillos fighting for attention next to the baskets full of apples, pears and others was almost too much for me to handle.

Bakeries, patisseries, the Italian deli, cheese store and the produce stores surrounding the market had me weak at the knees and when my posse had lost patience with me, they dragged me kicking and screaming to the car, where, a dense loaf studded with cranberries, chocolate chips and liberally sprinkled with large chunks of salt was shoved in my mouth just to keep me quiet.

Dinner was cauliflower soup with pesto, served with homemade croutons,

The most excellent fennel and mushroom salad from Orangette,

Pan fried smoked pork chops,

Finishing with a pineapple upside down cake baked to perfection, with crusty caramelized toffee bit edges.

It was a good day.

Just a side note about this pineapple upside down cake. My lovely friend whom I am imposing on while in Montreal, as a thank you once gave me a slice of this cake back when we were studying in Vancouver and I was driving her to the airport. It was the 'edge' piece with two sides of crusty caramelly bits and it was heaven. For 6 years (!!) I had been trying to find and copy this cake, I have never, ever found something similar. Back then I was too polite to harrass my friend for the recipe. This time I was bold. In fact, I was pushy. Here I am, staying at her gorgeous condo and basically pulling on sleeve, pleading with her.

A simple phone call was made. (No, not from me...I'm not part of the Chinese triad)

This was to her father, Guy Gauthier, who is a fabulous (and I mean, FABulous) cook. When he heard that I was whining and being a complete nuisance to his lovely daughter, he promised me the recipe (and a self made 'Best of' cookbook he put together himself) if I would shut the hell up.

So, you lucky people, here's the recipe. Many, many, many thanks to Guy.

Pineapple Upside-down Cake

- 1/3 cup of butter
- 3 eggs
- 3/4 cup of sifted flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 1/3 cup brown sugar
- 1 cup white sugar
- 1 can of pineapple rings with 4 tbsp juice reserved
- candied cherries optional
- 1 pinch salt

Melt the butter and mix with brown sugar.

But at the bottom of the pan.

Lay pineapple rings with cherries in the middle on top of the sugar mixture and press slightly.

Mix white sugar and flour and add pineapple juice. If too stiff you may add a touch more pineapple juice.

Mix in the egg yolks then add in the egg whites.

Pour the batter on top of the pineapples and sugar mixture.

Cook for 45 minutes at 350 degrees.

Let stand for 10 minutes before flipping and serve at room tempurature.

Montreal 2 - The Great Spice Adventure

Do you know this man?

Well you should.

For one thing, this is a man who trekked for nine days in Chengdu to bring you imperial peppercorns, three months to track down mastic and who can smell the difference between different types of Szechuan peppercorns.

This amazing man, who has travelled far and wide to bring the best of spices to the market, who is utterly charming, incredibly friendly, is a force to be reckoned with. Dedicated to his work, his passion for spices, cooking, adventure, without any of the ego, I hope and pray he gets a TV show soon, if only to keep up with his adventures.

I had visited Olive et Olive after reading about the amazing spices in the most excellent Montreal blog, An Endless Banquet. I was at the shelf containing spice sets, lovingly and usefully for me, categorized into cooking types, mulling over what to buy when a gentleman standing nearby approached me asking if he could help. After speaking to him I selected a box of spices and upon thanking him, asked him if he was working there. I wasn't sure as he had recommended a larger set of spices due to the value of the spices, saying that the smaller one was on the expensive side for the amount of spices you received. He also wasn’t at all pushy, which made me wonder. To this, he laughed and said that he owned the shop and wasn’t just another shopper. After overcoming my extreme embarrassment and shame, we got to talking and it slowly dawned on me that it was THE Philippe de Vienne, the man who had sourced the very spices I held in my hands! I was appalled at my own ignorance but in awe at the man who generously went around recommending a variety of spices, some his own and some commercially made which was of good quality. He described tales of his adventures in Turkey, China (sourcing imperial Szechuan peppercorns), Greece and other far flung places on the earth to find the very best.

This was a man who was at once dedicated but not aggressive and helpful. When I said I wanted to buy a gift for a friend skilled in ice cream, he recommended the mastic from Greece as well as Turkish malheb, which is used in Middle Eastern cuisine, the same way we use vanilla.

It was inspiring to meet the man of the spices. When he said how happy he was to be doing what he does, combining his love for travel and adventure with his passion for food and cooking, all I could say was how grateful we are too, for people like him, sourcing the best of the best from all over the world for our gastronomic pleasure.

Luckily for all of you, he does mail order for spices all over the world.

Email for an ever-evolving list of spices at

Monday, November 13, 2006

Montreal 1 - Cheese Museum and L'Atelier

First full day in Montreal and the focus was on dinner. Why not? Friends had driven 5 hours from Toronto to join in this reunion of classmates. Granted there were only really 4 of us who were classmates but with assorted friends and family, we were nine and we headed off to a new-ish restaurant in town, L'Atelier, which was described as French food, tapas style.

However, first we gathered at my lovely hostess' gorgeous condo for some cheese and wine. I jumped at the chance to go shopping for the cheese and she took me to a cheese shop described as having a museum-like feel, Yannick's.

It was like I had died and gone to cheese heaven. Two servers (of which one was Yannick) were standing behind a large counter behind which were heavy wood framed glass cabinets full of cheese. In front of them were all the specialist cheese on display and cut for tastings. It was mouth watering. After a short debate we settled on the Comte Fort des Rousse (aged 24 months, from France/Jura, a raw cow's milk), a Brie aux Truffes, a pungent and delicious Lavort from France/Auverned which was made from a raw milk of sheep, and one which the boy found hard to resist, a layered local blue cheese with sheep's milk cheese. Accompanied by wine, rillettes au lapin (rabbit), some saucisson sec, and a baguette, we found it hard not to stuff ourselves before dinner.

At L'Atelier, introductions made and kisses distributed, we looked at the menu, which consisted of approximately 24 dishes without categorization. Our server recommend that we choose 2 to 3 dishes per person as they were quite small but to be careful not to choose 3 meat dishes, which would be too heavy. The concept was small degustations (tasting) of dishes rather than a full three course meal.

We started with an amuse-guele of a fresh raw shrimp marinated ceviche style with a mango sauce. It was nice but the raw onions used were quite sharp and overpowering and the shrimp could have been slightly fresher.

As a group, we tried a mix of the following:

Black cod with morels

Horse tartare – quite shocking and different to all of us but everyone was feeling quite adventurous and when it came, everyone except for 2 people had a taste, which was impressive. One friend loved it, the texture of the lean meat and the seasonings while another found it overpowered by the raw onion yet again. I agree that it would have worked better with a milder onion.

Black cod with morels

Magret de canard (duck) tartare – even more overpowered by the seasonings than the horse

Pork – delicious, soft and delectable (sorry, no pic)

Veal cheek in foie gras sauce served on spaetzle with grilled artichokes- The standout dish which had everyone scraping the dish hoping for more was the veal cheek which was outstanding, melting in your mouth and with a sauce so rich and delectable, it was hard to resist not licking the plate. We had tried to order seconds but it had sold out.

Seared tuna and bison – interesting but quite dry

Deer with a monkfish and butternut squash puree – beautiful pieces of deer, slowly braised in a dark, rich sauce, this meat was deliciously meaty yet slightly gamey and was incredibly tender.

Lamb ravioli topped with a giant seared scallop – this was a single fried ravioli stuffed with lamb topped by the scallop. Unfortunately, the scallop, perfectly cooked so that it retained slightly raw in the middle, had soaked through the ravioli and made it quite mushy.

Poutine – this was a bit of a disappointment and consisted of fried potato chunks tossed in sauce, topped with sheets of parmesan.

As you can tell, nothing escaped our appetite. We consumed a total of 7 types of meat including poultry and not including seafood.

It was all delicious and a revelation to everyone around the table. Everyone enjoyed the experience and for this group of usually “safe-eaters”, I was impressed at how open everyone was to trying something new and different.

Highly recommend it and loved the fact that it was served as small plates which were not too filling but substantial enough to be of value.

Cost of each dish ranged from $9 to $26 (all prices in Canadian dollars)

Fromagerie d'exeption
1218, rue Bernard
H2V 1V6
Tel: 514 279 9376

5308 St Laurent
Montreal, Quebec
Tel: 514 273 7442