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Saturday, January 28, 2012

No Fat Jokes Please

The slumbering dragon awakes and cringes every time he hears the auspicious greeting of Chinese New Year bastardized to highlight the one word that seems to have an English anchor:  fat.

But perhaps fat is a rather auspicious word:  may your new year be fat... with friends, laughter, learning, family and health.

Your belly and your ass?  Oh, they're going to get fat too with 15 days of obligatory, but nonetheless pleasurable, eating.

Here is our completion dinner...a feast to bridge the old and new years when the entire family gathers around the dinner table to gorge itself on food rich with symbolism.

 The Chinese word for fish, yu, sounds like abundance. 

"White-cut" Chicken lightly poached and served with a scallion ginger sauce. 

Shrimp...or "ha" for much laughter in the new year. 


Sesame balls that resemble laughing mouths agape;  savory crackers that  masquerade as coins; and sweet glutinous cakes or  "goh" that mimic the verb, to rise or grow.  

Go head, say the fat word...I'm too busy eating.  

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Bone-in-the-Fire Beef Stock

Here is what I imagine to be the origins of this recipe.

Sometime long long ago, a particularly voluptuous (what can I say?  I like my women curvy, and this is my fantasy) cave woman was carrying the mammoth bones left over from the slaughter to the pit for boiling when she tripped over one of her children's hastily strewn toy clubs...again.  The bones slipped from her finger tips, arched across the sky and tumbled with a clatter into the fire.

She gave the boy a firm yet supportive reminder to put his toys away and proceeded to salvage the bones from the fire,  As she approached, she noticed the charred licking of the flames had somehow intensified the mammothiness of the bones.  On a whim, she threw the charred bones into the cooking pit along with some hot stones, and the roasted-bone broth was born.

And so, the course of human history was changed forever.  I've adapted the recipe below for modern cooks.

1-2 stalks of celery, each cut in half
1-2 carrots, each halved lengthwise
1 onion, quartered
2-3 cloves garlic, crushed
2-3 pounds of mammoth bones - in a bind, you can use beef bones but make an effort to find mammoth
2 pounds stewing mammoth, in chunks - beef is okay but nothing beats mammoth
1 onion, roughly chopped

3-4 tablespoons olive oil

1.  Place all the above ingredients in a shallow roasting pan or cookie sheet, drizzle with olive oil and toss to cover.  Arrange the bones and meat on top of the vegetables
2.  Roast at 410 degrees for about 40 minutes or until the bones/meat are browned and slightly charred.

3-4 bay leaves
stems from one bunch of Italian flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
20-30 whole peppercorns wrapped in cheese cloth

3.  Transfer the whole shebang into a large stock pot.
4. Place the roasting pan on a burner on low and pour in a cup of hot water and scrap every golden bit of awesome beefiness from the pan - this is what is going to make your stock gold.  Pour this sweet liquid into your stock pot.
5.  Add the bay leaves, parsley stems, peppercorns and hot water up to about 2 inches from the top of your stock pot.
5.  Simmer on medium low for at least 4 hours, adding more hot water as needed.
6.  Remove the solids with tongs or slotted spoon and strain the stock through cheese cloth drapped over a sieve into another pot. Put the cooked veggies into the dog pot but keep the meat.
7.  Allow the stock to chill overnight in the fridge.  Once it cools, the fat will solidify on top and can be easily scooped off.
8.  This beef stock can be stored in an airtight container in the freezer for up to 6 months.

Roasting the bones makes all the difference.  I recommend this stock be used for BFF Beef Barley Soup.

BFF Beef Barley Soup

This soup takes a bit of extra effort as it asks for homemade Bone-In-The-Fire stock, but it is worth the extra love. When I do make this soup, I make a vat to share with best friends.  As always, use happy beef and the soup will be happy too.  I suppose you could use stock from a carton, but make that soup  for  mediocre friends.

Warning:  if you dispense this beefiness without caution, you may end up with more BFFs than you want.  It's a bit disconcerting, really. Do they love me? Do they love my soup?  Do they love me?  Do they love my soup?

-all ingredient amounts are adjustable to personal taste.  If you like a chunkier soup, add more solids, if you like a liquidy soup, add fewer vegetables.  You get the idea...

5-6 carrots, cubed
5-6 stalks celery, chopped
3-4 bay leaves
1.5  cups barley
1 large can of diced tomatoes
2 zucchinis, cubed
12 cups or 3 quarts of bone-in-the-fire stock
1 bunch of Italian parsley leaves, finely chopped
salt and pepper to taste

1.  Skim off the fat from the beef stock and bring to a gentle boil
2.  Add the vegetables, bay leaves, tomatoes and barley.
3.  Add more stock or water to within 2 inches from the top of the pot. If you need to, you can use two pots as the barley will swell.
4.  Simmer gently for about 30 minutes, adding more water as needed.  You want the vegetables to still have some crunch.
5.  Add salt and pepper to taste and stir in parsley and simmer for 2 minutes longer.
6.  Serve with a crusty loaf of bread.
7.  This soup gets better on day 2 but it will also thicken up. Add some water or stock and adjust seasoning.  It also freezes beautifully.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Rotten Green Thumb

English is my mother's fourth language; there was singsong Vietnamese, cacophonous Cantonese,  and vowel-laden French before the jagged English of her adopted Canada.  To a non-native speaker, English's idioms amuse at best but abuse more often.

When a casual acquaintance declared that my mother had a "green thumb,"  she was mightily offended at this Canadian insult.  How is it that her thumb could be called green, like some rotten and festering decay?

Oh, how I wish for that green thumb now, even rotten and festering...perhaps that organic decay would help my little garden grow.

My thumb is not verdant but rather brown and caked with my attempts to coax and cajole some sustenance from the soil.  I planted salad when it was too hot and beets when it was too cold; my arugula went to seed and the squash blossoms could never get their timing right to mate.  I even tried a bit of squash artificial insemination.  A little bulge did tease my excitement, only to be knocked to the dirt by an excited Australian Shepherd.

Despite my ineptitude, inexperience and neglect, the four raised boxes Glenn built did produce. Next year, next year, my thumb will be green.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Flight and foccacia

Family, teaching and food ground me.

I need grounding-lots of it.

If not for their reassuring downward pressure, my feet would surely pull upward until my toes skim the surface of the dirt, and I lose contact with a whispered gasp.

Some people are born with their feet rooted firmly in the soil; I have to work against the insistent  upward pull.  It has always been there.

My mother could not name us.  After all, she had borne three daughters; this regulated her into that in-between, that temporary...not quite part of the family and yet responsible to it.  Grandfather decided on Phoen, the celestial Phoenix of Chinese myth, that symbol of woman, those who are born only to be given away.  My name was his declaration and his judgement:  another girl.


When a Vietcong soldier moved into our house after the Communist North had marched into Saigon, my parents, two sisters and Grandfather left our home and climbed aboard a rusty cargo ship called the Tung-An, flying under the Panama flag.  In an instant, home and neighbourhood and knowing faded.  I strapped myself to my mother's arm on the boat and later in the refugee camp, sensing that she would inevitably be snatched away.


Food is one counter weight and one constant.  

I eat it, and I cook it, not to feed my belly, but to anchor.  Food is permanent.  It is home and family and safety.  

Thus, I find it impossible to waste or throw it out.  It can be saved, transformed into something beautiful...more beautiful.

After returning from a weekend camping trip, I found four forlorn gala apples, forgotten and wrinkling, at the bottom of the refrigerator.  Coincidentally, I had also lost track of the proofing time of a big bowl of gurgling sourdough; its yeasty life was draining away.  The loaf would not rise, golden and dome-like.    I cradled the bruised apples and the sagging dough, unable to let them go.  Here's what I came up with.

Apple Rosemary Foccacia

1 pound of bread dough, limp and weak
4 gala apples, after youth has abandoned them, cut into thin wedges
1 tablespoon of rosemary, from the garden
3 tablespoons of honey
2 tablespoons of flour
2 tablespoons of butter, melted
2 tablespoons of raspberry jam, slightly diluted with water

Spritz a baking dish with some olive oil.
Spread the dough with fingertips to cover most of the pan.
Spritz top of dough with more olive oil.
Toss the apples with the flour.
Arrange apple wedges in a pretty pattern on the dough.
Paint with raspberry jam, drizzle with honey, and sprinkle with chopped rosemary.
Bake in a preheated 420 F oven for about 15 minutes.
Brush with melted butter and return to oven for 5 more minutes or until lightly golden brown.


Monday, July 18, 2011

when the dust settles

The fireplace has come down, brick by brick, and revealed the optical illusion that has duped the inhabitants of this house for over 40 years. Yes, a volume of bricks can inexplicably triple when demolished, only to lie in scattered disarray, smirking and dusty, on one's back patio for over 14 months.

I must admit Plywood has a certain Bohemian and rustic charm but only for 6 months.  Anything beyond may amount to... giving up.

Complaints about the lack of counters or  a stove is ever so bourgoise when there is that roaring camp stove and 1980's electric wok to keep the kitchen sizzling.  

I am not bitter; in fact, I am rather sweet, in a sour type of way.

The renos that started last summer have crossed the line from temporary to our new reality.  We haven't had a single dinner party (beyond the very good friends  who are too soft-hearted to judge us for our reno squalor) in over a year, so food blogging has been swept, with the rusty nails, dry wall dust and wood splinters into the corner.  

A martyr is noble; a whiner is annoying.  We have not wasted way.  We have moved beyond canned goods and microwave dinners to cooking in, around, and despite the detritus.

So I'm sweeping off the old blog with a duster in one hand and a spatula in the other.  Steel-toed boots are the hottest new kitchen gadget.  

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Errrrrr...flight or bite?

Slip of the Tongue

Getting to know the man who raises the meat I eat has its perks.  In my weekly sojourn to the farmer's market this summer, a slip of the tongue about our efforts to eat nose to tail resulted in a gift of the gab...or, moo.

Barrie presented me the following week with a thick disembodied cow tongue...complete with taste buds and cow spots.  Not only did Barry slip me a tongue, he also gave me his heart - but that will be another post...

I carried my precious cargo home, excited to taste that tongue in my cheek.  The tongue was the size of my forearm and was shrouded in a thick skin.  I simmered in in a stockpot with:

two large onions, peeled and roughly sliced
one head of garlic, peeled and crushed
6-7 bay leaves
1 tbsp of peppercorns
2 tbsp of kosher salt
enough water to completely cover the tongue

1.  Bring to a rapid boil and then reduce heat and simmer for 3-4 hours or until the tongue is very tender.

2.  Cool slightly; remove the thick skin and the rough bits at the bottom of the tongue.
3.  Slice into 1/4 inch rounds and julienne.

4.  Pan-fry until golden brown in some olive oil.

5.  Serve with  warmed flour tortillas, fresh lettuce, tomatoes, salsa verde, cilantro, red onions avocados or other favourite taco toppings.

Verdict:  the meat was surprisingly rich and fatty and reminded me of the consistency of corn beef hash.  It was very beefy and was a perfect foil for the acidity of the salsa verde and fresh vegetables.  The girls gobbled their tacos up without batting an eye lash.  Jian even insisted on helping me to peel it.  It was delicious though Glenn was not as excited as the three of us.

Even the cat wanted in on the action; the cat got my.......nah!!!!!!!!!! See?  I held my tongue on the puns.