Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Patati Patata

4177 boulevard Saint-Laurent
Montréal, Québec

My sister and I were in downtown Montréal and started getting hungry right around lunch time. We agreed on hitting Patati Patata because I had a hankering for fries. Patati Patata, a play on the word patate (potato in French) is a small restaurant specialising in fries, poutine and burger joint.

It's tiny, tiny so my sister and I had to squish through to get to our seats at the open kitchen counter. There we were able to watch the cooks grill burgers and prepare salads. We looked up to read the posted menu, which was very vegetarian friendly, including many tofu based offerings. We saw many tofus being cooked on the grill. They even have a vegetarian poutine called patatine and a vegetarian stir fry. Prices were very affordable with nothing higher than $6.50 although you have to order fries separately and pay extra for certain toppings like cheese.

Packed everywhere and the menu's above the bathroom.

Since it was a Friday and my family abstains from eating meat on Fridays during Lent, I decided to have a pieces of pan fried sole with fries and a salad. My sister L got the Tofu Bourgeois, the tofu burger. While we waited for our food, the cook/waiter presented us with 5 squeeze bottle and explained the condiments in each: two homemade vinaigrettes for our salads, mayo for the fries, ketchup and tartar sauce for my fish (yeh! no gross little plastic packages!).

When we got our dishes, we were really impressed that the salad was not the generic iceberg only salad. There were peppers, tomatoes, red onion, olives which made our plates so colourful! We really enjoyed the sundried tomato and coriander balsamic vinegar on our salads. L loved her tofu burger, that she topped with additonal cheese. My sole was good, albeit a bit small. I could probably have eaten two pieces! The fries were thin and crispy. Yum!

L ordered the Tofu Bourgeois ($1.75) with cheese ($0.50). Fries and salad was $3.00

My panfried sole was $5.00.

Patati Patata is a great place to go for a cheap meal if you're in the area. You might have to wait a bit since it's so small and gets packed quickly. It seemed they also did brisk business from takeouts. I noticed as I was leaving that they had a fancy coffee machine and they also serve beer. I would go back another time to sample their burgers, which we noticed were quite small when they were grilling them, when I can eat meat!

Patati Patata Friterie de Luxe on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 30, 2009

Cháo Gà (Chicken Porridge)

With the leftover cooked chicken liver from miến gà (Vietnamese chicken bean thread noodle soup), my mom made cháo gà (chicken porridge). While the fish porridge recipe I have previously posted is a Chinese dish, this chicken porridge is Vietnamese. Just like chicken soup, it is a great comfort food and pretty easy. We like eating it with gỏi gà (Vietnamese chicken salad).

Cháo Gà (Chicken Porridge) - Serves 4-6

* oil
* 1 garlic clove, minced
* 1 cup rice (preferably jasmine rice), rinsed and drained
* 3 L Vietnamese flavoured chicken broth
* 100 g cooked chicken livers with onion
* 1 cup cooked chicken, shredded
* salt and pepper, to taste
* green onion
* coriander

Sauté rice and garlic in oil in a big soup pot until the rice has dried up.
Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil.
Lower the heat and cook for 20-30 minutes, until the rice is cooked through.
Add the cooked liver and chicken until heated through.
Taste the soup and adjust to taste.
Garnish with green onion and coriander.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Bánh Da Lợn (Pandan and Mung Bean Sweet)

My sister took advantage of my blog writing and suggested I learn to make bánh da lợn. Her ulterior motive was to have someone make her homemade bánh da lợn! Bánh da lợn is a coconut flavoured sweet, with alternating mung bean and pandan layers. The term "da lợn" means pig skin, referring to the chewy texture similar to pig's skin. The texture comes from the use of tapioca flour.

My mom boasts to have an authentic recipe from my aunt, my father's eldest sister. My father's family is Cantonese and this recipe is originally Chinese. The Chinese name for this sweet treat translates to "nine layer cake" so traditionally, there should be 9 layers. Supposedly, my aunt took cooking lessons in Chợ Lớn, the Chinese district in Saigon. My mom learned the recipe after she came to Canada, during one of our yearly visits to Sandwich, Massachusetts (in Cape Cod) where my aunt now resides.

My mom's notebook with her precious recipes.

Bánh Da Lợn (Pandan and Mung Bean Sweet)
This recipe isn't too difficult, once you translate the "rice bowl" quantities to cups. Steaming each layer is just a bit labour intensive. The liquid to flour ratio should stay consistent. Otherwise, the liquid can be different combinations of coconut milk, milk and water. The liquid is combined with the tapioca and rice flours to make a basic batter that gets divided in two and mixed with pandan leaf and mung beans. The two mixtures should be approximately equal.

Basic Coconut Batter
* 200 g tapioca flour
* 60 g rice flour
* 250 g sugar (reduced from the original recipe - my mom remembered it being too sweet)
* 1 can coconut milk (about 2 cups)
* about ½ cup water or milk (the total of coconut milk and water should add up to 2-½ cups)
* ½ cup water (to dissolve the sugar)

Heat up ½ cup water in a pot and dissolve the sugar in it.
In a bowl, mix the tapioca and the rice flours.
Add the coconut milk, little by little, and mix so the mixture is even.
Add the syrup to the batter (water and sugar).

Mung Bean Mixture
Mung bean is used in both savoury dishes (like bánh ít trần) and sweet dishes like this one in Vietnamese cuisine.

* ¼ package of mung beans – about ¼ lb
* ¾ cups water
* ½ of the coconut batter (above)

Soak mung beans for 2-3 hours.
Rinse the beans and drain.
Cook the mung beans in 3/4 cup of water.
Bring to a boil and turn down to medium.
Cook for another 5 minutes.
Mix and make sure the beans are have softened.
Lower the heat and continue to cook for another 15 minutes until the water has evaporated.
Pound down the mixture to a paste.
*This should make about 1 cup.*
Add half of the coconut batter to the mung bean mixture and blend using an immersion blender, or by hand, until even (we found using the immersion blender prevented having chunks of mung bean).

Coconut batter and the mung bean paste.

The coconut batter being blended with the mung beans.

Pandan mixture
Pandan leaf is commonly used in Vietnamese desserts. It is the source of the green coloured cakes.

about 4-5 pandan leaves - the more added, the greener and flavourful it is.
* ⅜ cup water
* ½ of the coconut batter (above)

Blend the pandan leaves and the water in a food processor.
Drain the pandan through a sieve and discard the pandan remains.
Add the (green) liquid to the remaining half of the coconut batter.
The two mixtures (pandan - green and mung bean - yellow) should be approximately be equal.

Pandan leaves or in Vietnamese, lá dứa.

The pandan leaves, which can be purchased at Asian grocery stores, is blended with water and the liquid is mixed with the coconut batter.

Steaming Bánh Da Lợn

Set up a steamer and bring water to a boil.
Turn down the heat to Medium.
Meanwhile, line a 8” pan with parchment paper.
Place the pan into the steamer.
Add about 2 ladles of the pandan mixture until the surface of the pan is covered (unfortunately, this is when we discovered something was not straight, either the element or the steamer, which would affect the layers of the banh - so make sure nothing is crooked).
Steam for about 4 minutes until the layer is no longer liquid so it can support the next layer – it does not have to be cooked through since it will continue steaming as the layers are added.
Add about 2 ladles of the mung bean mixture and cook for 4 minutes.
*If you look at the top picture, the mung bean layer (yellow) is thicker than the pandan layer (green) because it isn't as runny, so you need a bit more to cover the whole surface area of the pan.*
Repeat until you have a total of 9 layers (optional) or until you run out of the mixtures.
Remove the pan from the steamer.
Let cool and cut into pieces.

Alternating the green and yellow layers.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

India's Oven

454A rue Jean-Talon Ouest
Montréal, Québec

My sister L and her boyfriend D love Indian food. They went to India's Oven the previous week and enjoyed it so much they wanted to go again. Since my mom's husband H also enjoys Indian food, we decided to meet up on a Thursday night - my mom is not a fan of Indian food.

The restaurant wasn't too busy but there was a large group near us. The staff served us water and brought us a wine opener when they noticed we brought wine (it's a bring your own wine restaurant). However, we had to ask for menus before they brought us some, maybe because we were still waiting for H. While the appetizers came quickly, it took a while for the main dishes. L & D also experienced slow service the previous week.

We decided on our usual two Indian appetizers: samosas and pakoras. The samosas, for $2.99, were stuffed with the usual potatoes and peas. The vegetable pakoras ($3.99) had a lot of vegetables (and not just batter like they sometimes are).

We ordered 5 curries and each came with one naan bread. Naan breads usually have to be ordered separately at other Indian restaurants, for $1-2 each, so this was a nice saving. We were asked what level of spiciness we preferred and decided on spicy, which was perfect for me and maybe a bit too slightly for L.

We ordered two chicken dishes: butter chicken for $9.99 and the tikka masala for $9.99. We also ordered three vegetarian dishes: chana masala (chickpeas) for $7.99, mutter paneer (peas and cheese) for $9.99 and baingan bartan (eggplant) for $8.99.

Top left, going clockwise: mutter paneer, baingan bartan, chana masala and chicken tikka masala. (The butter chicken photo was too blurry.)

Ordering 2 appetizers and 5 main dishes was more than enough for four people. While each curry dish seems similar, we enjoyed each of them. It's all about the sauce and dipping your naan bread in it. We had a concessus that the bartan dish was our favourite; it had a sweetness we all enjoyed. We also really enjoyed the dense pieces of paneer in the mutter paneer. I liked that the butter chicken was more shredded rather than the usual cubes of chicken. Definitely worth going back, with expectations of slow service.

India's Oven on Urbanspoon

Friday, March 27, 2009

Mom's Birthday Dinner: Indonesian Fried Chicken and Fries

The main reason I came home to Montréal was to celebrate my mother's birthday. My sister L and I wanted to make her a special dinner. A couple of issues arose. First of all, when my sister and I get together, sparks often fly. The second is that it's hard to figure out what to cook for someone who cooks so well.

After putting our heads together, we narrowed down our meal options. My mom likes fried food and she likes coconut. We didn't want to cook Vietnamese because she can cook it herself and we want her to try new things. She does not like any dairy. So we picked South East Asian dishes that she was not familiar with.

The Menu
* Shrimp Satay
* Green Papaya Salad (Tom Som)
* Fried Chicken with Lime and Coconut (Ayam Goreng Kalasan)
* Tropical Fries Basket
* Stir Fried Baby Bok Choy
* Pineapple upside down Coconut Cake with Coconut Sorbet

Shrimp Satay
After figuring out our main meal, shrimp satay seemed like the perfect appetizer. Everyone seemed to enjoy it since they went pretty fast. We used a recipe online (the first one that popped up on google actually).

Green Papaya Salad (Tom Som)
Again working around our main fried chicken dish, we decided to make a green papaya salad, as the equivalent of coleslaw, from my sister's Williams-Sonoma - Savoring Soups & Salads cookbook (a gift from me!). Vietnamese people also use green papaya for salads but we top it with beef jerky. Interestingly, this Laotian recipe called for the addition of yard long beans, something my sister and I have never cooked with. We really enjoyed the addition of the kaffir lime leaves that gave this salad a very nice flavour and aroma.

* 125 g yard long beans, cut into 1" sections and blanched
* 1 small green papaya (about 1 lb), julienned - my mom thinks this could be grated
* 1 small carrot, julienned
* 1 tomato, cut into thin wedges
* 2 kaffir lime leaves, spines removed and finely shredded
* 2 tbsp fresh lime juice
* 1-½ tbsp fish sauce
* 2 tbsp sugar
* 2 cloves garlic, minced finely
* 1 bird eye chili, sliced thinly
* coriander, for garnish
* roasted peanuts, for garnish

Place the beans, papaya and carrot in a large bowl and mix together.
Mix the lime juice, fish sauce, sugar, garlic and chili.
Adjust to taste.
Pour over vegetables and mix thoroughly.
Garnish with coriander, lime leaves and peanuts.

The papaya should be peeled and seeded.

We bought our own papaya and sliced it thinly.

Fried Chicken (Ayam Goreng Kalasan)
We came up with our menu around this Indonesian fried chicken dish from Williams-Sonoma - Savoring Meat & Poultry. My mom LOVES fried chicken. This dish was intriguing since it required the chicken to be braised in coconut juice prior to frying. Braising the chicken allowed it to remain moist. The recipe called for a whole chicken cut into pieces but we replaced it with chicken legs.

* 6 chicken legs
* salt and pepper
* 6 peppercorns
* 2 jalapeno chilese, seeded and quartered
* 2 large shallots, quartered
* 3 garlic cloves, quartered
* 2 cups frozen coconut juice, thawed
* 1 lemongrass stalk, tender mid-section only, mashed
* 5 kaffir lime leaves, spines removed
* 1 bay leaf
* 2 tsp salt
* ground pepper
* oil for frying

Rub the chicken with salt and pepper.
In a blender, process the peppercorns, chiles, shallots and garlic to form a spice paste.
Place the spice paste in a large pot at medium heat.
Add the chicken pieces, coconut juice, lemongrass, lime leaves, bay leaf, salt and ground pepper.
Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium.
Cook for 20 minutes.
Remove and drain the chicken, and set aside.
Strain the liquid and return to pot.
Cook until it becomes a sauce like consistency and set aside.
Pat the chicken pieces dry with paper towels.
Heat up about 2" of oil in a large pot.
Deep fry each chicken until golden brown, about 5 minutes per side.
Transfer chicken pieces to paper towels or a wire rack to drain.
Serve with the sauce.

Tropical Fries Basket
My sister had the idea of frying different types of tropical potatoes, for lack of a better word. We fried five different types of root vegetables: sweet potato, taro root, lotus root, yuca (also known as cassava) and plantains. We had never done this before and learned a few things I'll share below.

Starting from the left and going clockwise are two brown yuca's, a large piece of taro root, a plantain, two small pieces of lotus roots and two larger (purple-y) sweet potatoes (with white flesh).

Yuca. My sister is showing that you can see a line in the cross-section and to just peel the yucca following that line.

Lotus Roots and Plantains. The lotus roots were simply peeled and sliced about ¼" thick. My sister realized she should have bought a green plantainto make patacones, twice fried Columbian plantains - our was too ripe. To make pacones, slice them about 1" thick and smash them. You can cook them in the microwave before deep frying.

We sliced the yuca and sweet potatoes into wedges.

L also made two homemade mayonaise for the fries: a lime/ginger one, and a chili/garlic one. She simply added lime juice and lime zest into her mayo, and chli and garlic into the second.

The taro root was sliced into triangles. We thought the lotus roots were the prettiest and that the yucca stayed crunchy the longest!

Stir Fried Baby Bok Choy
L simply stir fried some baby bok choy with a bit of oyster sauce as a vegetable dish.

Pineapple Upside Down Coconut Cake
My sister's boyfriend D was responsible for dessert. He followed a coconut cake recipe from Sugar on top of pineapple slices. The pineapple was supposed to be in caramel but there was an issue because brown sugar was used and it was hard to figure out when the sugar caramelized...

* sugar
* water
* pineapple slices
* 2-⅓ cups unsweetened flaked coconut
* ⅓ cup vegetable oil
* 1 cup coconut milk
* 2 large eggs, separated
* 2-¼ cups pastry flour
* 1 cup + ½ cup sugar
* 1 tbsp baking powder
* 1 tsp salt

Cook sugar in water until caramelized on high heat.
Add the pineapple slices and coat with the caramel sauce.
Preheat oven to 375 °F and grease and line an 8-inch square pan with parchment paper.
Place the pineapple slices and caramel at the bottom of the pan.
Whisk vegetable oil, 1 cup of coconut milk and egg yolks until evenly blended.
In a separate bowl, sift flour, 1 cup of sugar, baking powder and salt.
Add flour to coconut milk mixture and stir just until blended.
Stir in 1-⅓ cups toasted coconut.
In another bowl, whip egg whites with remaining ½ cup sugar until they hold a soft peak.
Fold a third of the whites into the cake mix until incorporated then fold in remaining whipped whites.
Spoon batter into prepared pan and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until top turn light brown and spring back when touched.

L & D served the pinepple coconut cake with my mom's favourite: coconut sorbet from Le Bilboquet!