Thursday, September 29, 2016

Learn To Cook: How To Cook Should Start With How To Shop...

Knowing how to cook is just as important as knowing how to shop for the ingredients. This is a full lesson in itself-- not being familiar with navigating the store can turn one right off from grocery shopping further than their basic needs and thus not inspire regular cooking habits. Being limited to cooking the same thing over and over can easily lead one to reach for a variety of convenience or ready-made meals and take-out menus. If you are not confident shopping for your ingredients, that feeling will spill over in the kitchen when you attempt to cook. Maybe you didn't quite get all the ingredients, or get them all properly, and you start to feel it's a disaster before you even begin.

My approach for teaching cooking basics starts right at the store with the five Ws and a bunch of Hows. Its ideal for me to shop for the ingredients with my friends and clients wanting to learn to cook something specific or get meal inspiration from the store walk-through or just to know where everything is so they won't have to search high and low. Learning from them during these visits are valuable so I can offer suggestions and tips that can make a difference in how they can shop more efficiently and economically in the future. First off WHO are you cooking for? That will determine what kind of meal you will be making, if there are discerning ingredients to consider that may call for substitutions and if it's for a picky eater, whether it is the right dish to introduce those flavours. For the latter an example could be instead of tofu in soup, perhaps pan-fry sliced egg tofu as a tasty bridge to trying tofu for the first time. 

Next, WHAT are the recipe ingredients and WHY is it crucial for recipe success? It can be the cut of meat- tougher parts are more economical and better for slow-cooking such as braising and not for fast cooking like grilling. It could be the type of flour-- cake and pastry flour should not be treated like all-purpose flour as they absorb moisture differently. We always think fresh is best but did you know that studies suggest frozen veggies have just as many nutrients (if not more) than their fresh counterparts as they are picked at their peak, so somethings are best used frozen (and cheaper too). Or if some veggies or fruits are not in-season, frozen is a great option and don't go canned. Fresh herbs and spices compliment certain foods known as flavour affinities and you just can't substitute them without changing the profile of the dish, for example parsley instead of cilantro in guacamole. Some ingredients are easily interchangeable so if you can't find asparagus, use green beans in the salad. These are conversation pieces that can be had on the spot in a market setting as you come across or think about certain foods and packages.

WHERE do you find them in the store? Going into say an Asian supermarket may be a challenge when locating a specific item if you are not familiar with the sections. The condiment aisle for example is daunting and the labels could suggest a different name to what you're looking for. Sometimes you think something should be refrigerated and they are actually shelf-stable or vice versa. Maybe you expect to find pork bones packaged in the meat section but they are served at the butcher counter. Or you are looking for sugar in the baking aisle and it turns up in the seasoning section.  Lastly, WHEN will you use them? If you plan to cook right away, great, often there are leftovers, so keep that in mind when shopping for quantity and what you will end up doing with the remainder shortly. Of course always look at expiry or best before dates and dig in the back of fridges and bunkers for the latest product dates. 

Then the HOWs-- there's so many you can cover while browsing, but essentially HOW do you shop economically, HOW to choose the meat cut or produce, HOW to cook, HOW to store the ingredients and HOW to be creative with leftover ingredients so not to waste! Taking the recipe from store/field to kitchen to fork teaches so much with lots of as-you-go practical tips along the way!

My friend has been wanting to learn make my wonton soup and today was our day! But first a trip to her local Asian supermarket to get the dibs on what to buy and where everything is!

Shopping with my bestie Kaitlyn!

One of my favourite soup tips-- keep a couple of frozen cornish hens handy! It is a cinch to take out and thaw over a day to make your own pot of chicken broth, cheaper than whole chicken and they take little space in the freezer. Remove the internals (often you find them stuffed in a small bag) in its cavity, boil then cook on medium heat in a pot of water to cover for 1-1/2 hours, then use a fork to take off the tender meat. You've got a hen doing double duty as soup and meat in the same meal or a separate one.

It is always smart and wallet-friendly to give the reduced-price produce area a once over. Yes these are vegetables and fruit that have slight bumps and bruises, but often if you plan to use it the same day, those blemishes could be cut away and the rest is still incredibly edible. We scored a good bunch of Chinese greens yu choy with a few wilted leaves for my friend's wonton meal being served that night for a fraction of the regular price. 

Don't waste! Check out the produce clearance section!

It's wonton-making time!

Salted turnip slices are perfect in flavouring soups-- no additional salt needed!

Nothing beats hands-on step-by-step cooking to teach a recipe especially in their kitchen! My friend likes to cook simple dishes and she was looking to expand her family meal repertoire with one of her favourites-- my wonton soup. Cooking in her element, using her tools and equipment gives her know-how and the confidence to do it again without me in tow. 

Wonton filling consist of ground pork, shrimps, chives and black mushroom fungus.

Eating some tonight, traying the rest to freeze for another family meal!

Meanwhile, the soup has been cooking for two hours... (and it's done)!

Pork and Chicken Bones Soup

Let's get these babies cooking!

For a thorough step-by-step on how to make dumplings see my Wonton Post.

Dinner is served at Kaitlyn's home to her eager family! And the verdict is written all over her son's face :)

"I just love soup. All kinds of soups. But wonton noodle soups holds a special place in my heart. When I was living with my best friend Susan, she would cook delicious meals for us but the one that I always remember was her wonton noodle soup. It was always steaming hot, the broth was tasty, the noodles tender and the homemade pork/shrimp wontons was juicy. I knew it was a lot of work to cook the soup from scratch but with Susan helping me with the process from beginning to end, the task was not as daunting and quite manageable. My husband and kids loved eating it as much as I enjoyed cooking it for them."
-- Kaitlyn's Testimony

Thank you Kaitlyn, the pleasure was all mine... Happy to shop and cook with you!
Soup nourishes the soul and I'm glad it nourished your family!

I love seeing a cup of milk for the son and a glass of wine for the husband... Lol

For an alternative take on wonton dumplings, try their heartier cousin Sui Gow Dumplings. Cantonese-style "Sui Gow" (水饺) are large boiled Chinese soup dumplings that literally translates to "water dumplings" made with mainly shrimp, minced pork, black mushroom fungus and bamboo shoots.

 Sui Gow Dumplings 

Monday, September 26, 2016

Bún riêu cua (Vietnamese Crab Noodle Soup)...

Seafood and tomato come together in this heady intoxicating soup that hails from North Vietnam, where it is traditionally made with small rice-field crabs. Many crabs are cooked to extract enough flavour-- their back shells first removed, body pounded and then mixed with fermented shrimp sauce to create a broth base. When heated, crab solids rise to the top creating a flavour-rich seafood floater which forms the signature of the soup. Parts of the floater is spooned onto vermicelli (bun) before the broth is ladled into each bowl. Crunchy raw bean sprouts, fresh herbs and a splash of lime finesses.

Canned crab meat seasoned with bún riêu cua makes it super convenient, so you don't grapple with fiesty snappy crabs and the flavouring is infused. However, despite the crab, labour and time challenges, I want to make my soup from scratch using fresh crabs to produce an authentic flavourful broth. The only way I enjoy making time-consuming soup is to go big! A big pot to make enough for leftovers another night and/or to share with friends! It is not tradition to use ground pork for the seafood floater, but I do to plump up the light texture of the crab in the floater, to extend the meat and to give a heartier mouth feel. The smaller the crabs, the more you will need to get enough broth flavour and meat, so be prepared to spend lots of time on this step alone- cooking, cleaning and picking the crabs through. A weekend-worthy meal to cook when there is more time and to excite the family's senses with the heaven;y aroma!

Bún riêu cua (Vietnamese Crab Noodle Soup)
Makes 12 servings

14 cups water

1 live Dungeness crab (1-1/2 lbs.)- I used 8 blue crabs, rinsed (yields 1-3/4 cups meat extracted)
2/3 cup dried shrimps
1/4 lb. lean ground pork
1-3/4 tsp. salt, divided
1/2 tsp. sugar
3 Tbsp. fish sauce, divided
4 eggs (traditional recipe uses 8 egg whites, but I prefer to use the whole eggs)
3 Tbsp. canola oil, divided
1 pkg. fried bean curd or tofu cakes
1 onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 large tomatoes, diced or 1 can (796 mL) diced tomatoes with juice reserved
3 Tbsp. fine shrimp sauce
prepared bun rieu cua paste (optional)

1 lb. vermicelli thin rice noodles, cooked according to package instructions, rinse and drain
green onions, thinly sliced
cilantro, leaves removed and chopped
bean sprouts
romaine lettuce, halved lengthwise and cut into 1/4" ribbons
rau ram
saw tooth cilantro
lime wedges
red chilis, sliced

Small blue crabs (look for lively and sparring ones)

They don't want to let each other go!

Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil, add the whole crabs one at a time. Cook for about 15 minutes until cooked through. Carefully remove with a slotted spoon into a platter and let cool slightly. Reserve the cooking liquid for the broth. Remove coagulated bits with a small sieve for a cleaner broth.

Crack the crab shells. Clean and pick crabs and set the meat and tomalley (crab fat- soft yellow and green substance) aside. If you don't like the tomalley discard along with the shell bits. Pick the meat thoroughly to ensure all the shards and bits are removed.

You don't need the big knives as the crab is soft to work with after its back shell is removed.
A lobster cracker and picker is handy for removing the meat.

Remove the bottom gills, pry open the back shells, scoop out the tomalley (or discard).

When working with many crabs, remove the same part for all the crabs and work to extract all their meat and tomalley before moving on to the next part. I find it goes faster this way!

I personally love sucking out the saucy crab-laden rich tomalley!

With your index finger and thumb, pinch the extracted meat to carefully feel out the hard bits and shards to discard.

Rehydrate the dried shrimp by cooking in a small saucepan with 1-1/4 cups water, bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook for ten minutes until soft. Add cooking liquid to crab soup and set shrimps aside (alternatively soak dried shrimps with water to cover for one hour to hydrate). Put the shrimp in the food processor and process to grind to a coarse texture. Add the crab meat and tomalley. Pulse three times to combine (do not over grind). Transfer to bowl with ground pork, add sugar, 1/2 tsp. salt, 1 Tbsp. fish sauce, 1 Tbsp. prepared bun rieu cua paste (optional) and the eggs. Whisk mixture with fork to combine. 

In a medium pot, heat 1 Tbsp. oil over medium-high heat. Pan-fry the beancurd cakes until golden brown about a minute on both sides. Remove and set aside. Reheat the pot and add remaining two Tbsp. oil, then the oil, onion and garlic then cook, stirring occasionally for a minute until fragrant. Add the tomatoes and their juices and the remaining 1-1/4 tsp. salt and bring to a vigorous simmer. Cook, stirring frequently for 10 to 12 minutes, or until most of the liquid has evaporated and the mixture is thick. Add the tomato mixture to pot of reserved crab liquid along with bean curd. Bring to a gentle boil, add remaining 2 Tbsp. fish sauce, shrimp sauce and bun rieu cua paste to taste. 

Look for prepared condiments in the prepared sauce aisle in an Asian supermarket.

Use a large spoon to slowly stir in one direction, and with the other hand slowly pour in the crab-pork egg mixture. Keep stirring, and the egg mixture will cook and either float to the top or stay at he bottom (this is more likely with using just egg whites). Let the broth cook undisturbed for five minutes. When small bubbles break the surface the soup is done. Adjust seasoning according to taste preference.

Heat up the noodles and place in individual serving bowls. Top with seafood meatballs, tofu and pour hot soup over. Garnish with raw veggies, a splash of lime, fresh herbs and chilies (optional).

This is becoming a family favourite! The kids could not get enough after having leftovers over two meals! 
"One of your best noodles mom ever," one son beamed! I beamed back!

Heady, seafood-rich aromatic, a hot bowl is divinely intoxicating for the senses! 
Thin rice noodles soak up every bit of flavour from the tasty soup, whetting the appetite bite-after-bite!

Love the scrumptious crab-shrimp-pork balls!

You can redden the soup by making a red oil with annatto seeds. In small pot, heat 1/4 cup canola oil with 1-1/2 Tbsp. annatto seeds; stir until red colour is released and aromatic. Remove seeds, pour oil into soup and stir. 

Great Substitute: Alternatively you can make a meat ball mixture with 2 lb. shrimps, minced instead of crab and use its shells to make the broth.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Crunchy Maple Fruity Granola...

I love granola-- the homemade crunchy crispy toasty kind with oats and all sorts of nuts, seeds and dried fruit. Skies the limit what you want to mix in but make it go a longer way nutritionally focusing on a chock-full of healthy ingredients with added goodness such as flax and/or hemp seeds. I made a big batch early in the week and it served the family well all times of the day- over breakfast, as a portable toteable snack and a quick go-to when the munchies struck. You can use honey to tie it altogether or like I did here, with maple syrup to make it maple-ly sweet delicious! That's my Canadian way, eh?

Crunchy Fruity Granola
Makes about 12 1/2 cup-servings

2 cups rolled oats
1 cup mixed seeds (ie; sunflower, pumpkin, sesame)
1-1/2 cup mixed nuts (ie; walnuts, almonds, pistachios, hazelnuts, pecans)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/3 cup canola oil
1 cup assorted dried fruit (ie; cranberries, raisins, black currants, apricots, blueberries, cherries)

1/4 cup flax seeds, chia seeds or hemp seeds (or a combination)

Great Substitute: Replace maple syrup with 1/2 cup honey and 1 Tbsp. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350F. Combine oats, seeds, nuts and salt in a bowl. Whisk together maple syrup (or honey and vanilla) and oil, and stir into dry ingredients. Spread granola in one layer on baking tray lightly greased with cooking spray or spread on parchment paper-lined baking tray for easy clean up. (A thin layer creates a crunchier and more toasted result).

Bake 15 to 18 minutes, or until golden brown, stirring once or twice during baking. Cool on tray until dry and crunchy. Break granola into bite-size pieces, and stir in dried fruit. Store in airtight container.

Let it cool completely to crisp up for a crunchier break-apart granola.

A perfect snack to tote for a nutritious energy-booster after yoga, work-out or a run.

A healthful energy-sustaining breakfast of yogurt and a hearty topping of crunchy granola.

Or whenever the snacking attacks-- go for a longer lasting nutritious packed snack instead!

This is a fantastic recipe for your kids of all ages to get hands-on (measure, mix, pour, spread, and break) while creating their own customized granola with ingredients they like. Consider also coconut shreds, dark or bittersweet chocolate chips and sugar-free cereal. Skies the limit but keep it mainly chock-full healthy!

Food Revolution Community Cooking Event at Sobeys

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Happy Chinese Harvest Moon Festival...

Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as the Moon Cake, Harvest Moon or Lantern Festival is one of the most important annual festivals for the Chinese people including the Vietnamese, and dates back over 3500 years. Held on the 15th day of the eighth month on the Chinese calendar, the festival is held to celebrate the harvest as well as to worship the moon. Moon cakes are eaten and exchanged as gifts because they symbolize the roundness of the moon. Families gather to attend big lantern parades and exhibitions. They join to light their lanterns and enjoy the sight of the full moon together. And of course celebrate over a dinner feast. Moon cakes have a distinctive chrysanthemum pattern, embossed Chinese characters and are filled with a myriad of variations from red adzuki bean, date, chestnut or lotus paste. The prized ones include a salted duck egg yolk and sometimes two. 

Happy Chinese Harvest Moon Festival with a different kind of sweet and pretty moon cake-- dried fruit jellies (pineapple & peach and blueberries & black currant) encased in mochi (glutinous rice cake). Fruity and delicious!

Isabelle Gifts from Taiwan

Harvest moon festival dinner at my parents with the whole family and some incredible guests. It is such a privilege to honour tradition and food culture with others trying some new foods for their first time. My brother's son's friends and their mother joined us at this fabulous gathering and they really liked-- coming back for seconds! My mom made a few dishes and the meats were bought at a Chinese deli shop.

From top left to right clockwise: Bitter melon and egg omelet, roasted BBQ duck, 
steamed chicken with ginger and onion oil condiment, Chinese greens, BBQ pork, 
Chinese broccoli, more roasted duck and braised shiitake mushrooms with sea cucumber.

Where ever you are celebrating this great moon festival, enjoy your time with family and friends!

Traditional moon cake with adzuki bean paste.