Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Turkey Meatballs

I was in the meat aisle, wondering what meat to eat when I saw ground turkey. I regularly have turkey sausages, but never buy ground turkey. I have bought ground chicken, but not often either. Interestingly, ground turkey is healthier than ground chicken because chicken skin is usually ground up with the meat (this, I learned on Oprah!). So I bought the lean turkey to make meatballs. It was really good and I think I might even prefer it than ground beef meatballs (not sure about ground pork though!)


Turkey Meatballs (about 12 small meatballs)
I used the ingredients from Marcus Samuelsson's Swedish Meatballs recipe, that I used for spaghetti & meatballs.

* oil
* ¼ onion, finely diced
* 2-3 tbsp breadcrumbs (I used panko because that's all I had)
* 1 tbsp honey
* salt and pepper, to taste
* 200 g (about ½ lb) ground turkey

Cook onion in oil, until softened and set aside.
In a small bowl, combine breadcrumbs, cooked onions, honey, salt and pepper.
Stir with fork until smooth.
Add the ground turkey and mix.
Test the seasoning by frying one meatball and tasting it.
Adjust the seasoning as required.
Shape into small meatballs (about 12) and fry the remaining meatballs in a bit of oil - alternately, they can be baked.
Serve in tomato sauce with pasta.

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Panko breadcrumbs, cooked onion and honey go into the meatballs.

IMG_8870Satisfying meatballs.

For other pasta recipes:
Asparagus alla Carbonara
Baked Chicken Penne in a Rosé Sauce

Chicken and Mushroom Orzo
Eggplant Parmesan
Pasta with Pesto, Grilled Chicken and Vegetables
Penne with Sausage and Swiss Chard
Pumpkin Ravioli
Roasted Vegetable Lasagna Roll

Shrimp & Pesto Alfredo
Spaghetti & Meatballs
Spinach Stuffed Pasta Shells

Monday, September 28, 2009

Corn Soup with Dill

It's been corn season for a month or so and I've been on a corn kick! I've had it on the cob (for quick cooking, run an ear through water and microwave for 5 minutes), slathered with scallion oil, as a salad, added to chili or quickly stir fried with some onion. There's nothing like eating sweet corn at the end of the summer, so much so, that I decided to cut kernels and freeze them for the winter.


Freezing Corn
I really like canned corn but I don't like the added sugar to it. Frozen corn has no sugar added but I don't like it as much - mainly because it's not as sweet. I thought I could save some sweet summer corn by freezing them myself! I'll find out this winter if it was worth the effort.

Slice off
kernels off the cob with a large knife, into a bowl.
Save the core of the corn for vegetable broth.
Separate the kernels with your hands.
On a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, spread the kernels.
Freeze overnight or until they get hard.
Put kernels in a bag and place in the freezer.
Enjoy when corn is no longer in season.

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Slicing kernels off for freezing.

Corn Soup with Dill
I remember this recipe from my days living with ex-roommie Trapezista. I really liked the unusual pairing of corn with dill. The recipe was originally a cream of corn but I replaced the cream with milk. Feel free to make it creamier with... cream! Using skim milk made the soup rather runny, but still enjoyable nonetheless. Adding a cooked potato does help thicken the soup.

1 small onion, chopped small
2 cups corn kernels, fresh or frozen
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup dill
salt and pepper, to taste
5 cups veggie stock
1 bay leaf
1 cooked potato
½ tsp dry rosemary
½ tsp dry basil
1 tbsp dijon mustard
1 cup milk (or cream)

Sauté the onion in oil.
Add the corn, garlic and dill.
Season with salt and pepper.
Pour in the stock and add the bay leaf.
Add the cooked potato, rosemary, basil and mustard.
Pour in the milk.
Taste and adjust seasoning.
Blend if you'd like (I just realized writing this that I totally neglected this step!).

Corn and dill.

The sweetness of the corn should really come through!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Elgin Street Diner (Ottawa)

374 Elgin Street
Ottawa, Ontario

On my last day in Ottawa, my sister and I headed out for breakfast, before she started classes and before my long drive back to Hamilton. My sister suggested going to the popular Elgin Street Diner. If you ever go for breakfast here on the weekend, you will likely have to wait in line. However, we were there on a Wednesday morning and there was no waiting involved.


I love the authentic diner furniture.

I had been to this diner once before and my one memory was not really liking the mashed up, home fries. What I did not remember was the prices of the breakfast combos. Slightly higher than I expected but not too bad since they all include coffee. We both got the breakfast special ($7.99) that included two eggs, bacon, home fries and baked beans. I actually liked the home fries this time, mainly because of a spice in it - I think fennel. I'm not a fan of baked beans but did not mind them either (although I definitely did not eat all of it!).

Breakfast special for $7.99.

I was tempted to try out the hangover special, which includes poutine instead of home fries. However, I couldn't justify the extra $4. I'm glad I didn't because there was no way I could have finished it. Maybe next time, when I have a more empty stomach and a fuller wallet.

Elgin Street Diner on Urbanspoon

Friday, September 25, 2009

Shafali Restaurant (Ottawa)

308 Dalhousie Street
Ottawa, Ontario

After my visit to Montréal, I drove to our nation's capital Ottawa with my sister L. She is going back to university to become a high school teacher. Another engineer changing her career! I spent a couple of days there for moral support and we got to eat out a couple of times. On our first evening there, we dropped off some of L's things and went to look for dinner. We walked by Parliament Hill and headed off to ByWard Market. We agreed on Indian and ended up at Shafali Restaurant.

IMG_8816Parliament Hill.

IMG_8818 IMG_8819Ottawa is very pretty!

After going back and forth, we decided to go for a vegetarian combo meal for two. We started off with a plate of appetizers, consisting of pakora's and samosa's. My sister and I can never resist Indian appetizers! Both were served with a tamarind sauce.

IMG_8824 IMG_8825Starter of pakora and samosa.

Our combo included two curries and rice. We asked to change one of the curries to matar paneer (one of our faves!)and the waiter was happy to oblige. The second curry that was included was podiyal, a South Indian vegetable with coconut dish. We had never tried it before and it was good. You could really taste the coconut. There were no leftovers after this meal!

Rice with fried onion. Yum!

IMG_8826Matar paneer.

IMG_8829Vegetable podiyal.

After we finished our curries, the waiter came up to us and asked if we preferred gulab jamun or payesh for dessert. My sister likes both desserts and I definitely have a weak spot for payesh (rice pudding) so we had the rice pudding. Even though we were both stuffed to the gills, we managed to finish our rice pudding. It was creamy and not too sweet. Perfection! My sister told me she sometimes makes this at home. I will definitely have to try this! I rarely have dessert at Indian restaurants because I'm usually too full; however, it's included, I won't refuse it!

It was getting dark so this was the best shot of my rice pudding topped with almond.

Shafali's Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Bánh Bèo Two Ways

One of my favourite Vietnamese dishes (and a rather labour intensive one) is bánh bèo. Bánh bèo is made up of small steamed rice flour cakes with a topping. The cakes can be served in individual dishes (bánh bèo chén) or laid out in a plate, and come in different sizes. I had many varieties when I was in Vietnam. The most commonly known is bánh bèo Huế because it originates from the ancient capital of Huế; it is topped with shrimp and eaten with fish sauce. However, there is another version that originates from Quảng Ngãi, where my mom comes from. These are made thicker because a sauce is served on the cakes. I also had a chance to try these when I was in Quảng Ngãi.

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Bánh Bèo - Making the Cakes (Makes 40-50 cakes)
Making the batter is not the intensive part of the recipe. It's steaming them in individual little dishes. It just takes some time. It's best to use little sauce dishes but as you can see below, my mom took out any small dishes that she owns. If you're lucky, you know someone who sells them. My mom does and sometimes orders them when she's lazy. It's sold in quantities of 50 or 100.

* ½ lb rice flour
* 2 tbsp tapioca flour
* 2-¼ cups water
* 1 tsp vegetable oil

the flours together in a large bowl.
Slowly add
water while mixing, to prevent lumps.
the vegetable oil and mix in.
Set up
a steamer and place dishes you will be using.
about 1 tbsp of batter (a bit thicker for the sauce topping).
for about 4 minutes.
the cakes with the help of a small knife and place them in a large bowl.
again and again until you run out of batter.

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My mom says the perfect bánh bèo should have a small circular valley in the middle, like the smallest dish in the middle of the steamer.


Bánh Bèo Huế
Even though I'm from Quảng Ngãi, I prefer bánh bèo Huế. I love every component of this dish: the delicate bánh bèo, the salty, shredded shrimp topping and everything doused in fish sauce. The cakes are also usually topped with deep fried pork rind, which adds a nice crunch.

Shrimp Topping
The shrimp topping can be made with fresh or dried shrimp. My mom always makes it with dried shrimps. Using fresh shrimps would follow a similar process, cooking them until they are dry.

* 1 package dried shrimps
* water
* oil
* ½ onion, sliced thinly

the dried shrimps for an hour to hydrate them and drain them.
Heat up
oil in a pan.
shrimp and onion slices, until the shrimps have dried up again.
in a food processor until you obtain orange strings of shrimp goodness!

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After soaking in water and cooking with onion.


Pork Rind Topping
Traditionally pork rind is used for the crunchy topping but I've also seen it being replaced by pieces of deep fried bread (similar to croutons).

* oil
* sheet of pork rind, cut in little cubes

Heat up
a good amount of oil in a pan.
Deep fry
the pieces of pork rind and drain on paper towel.

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Sheet of pork rind, deep fried.

Putting it all together
* bánh bèo
* hành mỡ (scallion oil) shrimp topping
* pork rind topping nước chấm (dipping fish sauce)

bánh bèo on a plate, slightly overlapping them.
some scallion oil on the bánh bèo.
the shrimp topping on top of all the bánh bèo.
the pork rind topping.
fish sauce and dig in.


Bánh Bèo Quảng Ngãi
While I admitted preferring bánh bèo Huế, it's nice to be able to be able to have... both! I think this is my mom's favourite of eating bánh bèo. It's more of a sauce than a topping, and so, I think, makes it a more comforting dish. My mom likes making a thicker bánh bèo to hold up to the sauce. When she orders them, she'll ask that a few be made thicker and makes the sauce herself.

* 1 tbsp oil
* 150 g ground pork
* 50 g shrimp, finely chopped
* 1 bunch of green onions – white and green parts separated
* 2 tsp salt
* 1 tbsp sugar
* 1 can lobster paste (or shrimp/crab paste), about 3 oz
* 2 cups water
* black ground pepper
* 2 tbsp tapioca flour (or cornstarch)

the white parts of the green onion, shrimp and pork in oil.
the salt and sugar and mix.
in the lobster paste.
with ground pepper.
Bring to a boil
and turn down the heat.
tapioca flour dissolved in ½ cup water.
Stir in
and mix in green onions.
Cook down to desired consistency (it should be a bit runny).
the sauce onto a plate of bánh bèo.


Ground pork and shrimp for the sauce.


This saucy version is also pretty good!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Tôm Kho (Braised Shrimp)

My sister not only brought back lobster and crab from her trip to PEI, she also brought back lobster paste. Lobster paste has always been a staple ingredient in my mom's pantry to add extra flavour from the sea. My mom would often use add it in different soups such as bún riêu, xúp bột bán (tapioca and crab soup) and xúp măng cua (asparagus & crab soup). As it has become harder to find, my mom has been using crab paste instead. However, she was very excited to use the lobster paste for tôm kho (braised shrimp).

Tôm kho
is the ultimate accompaniment to rice because of the sauce. You can eat the shrimps and when you run out, just eat rice with the sauce. Sometimes, when my mom makes something sauce-y, she'll add rice to the pot and let it sop up the leftover sauce. It's extra, extra yummy!


Tôm Kho (Braised Shrimps)
1 lb. shrimps
1 tsp salt, or to taste
ground black pepper, to taste
1-2 garlic clove, minced
½ onion, chopped finely
½ can of lobster paste, about 1-2 oz
¼ cup water
2-½ tsp sugar

Generously season the shrimps with some of the salt and pepper and let marinate for 2-3 hours.
Heat up some oil in a small pot.
Add onion and garlic and cook until softened.
Add the shrimps and cook until they are cooked, about 5 minutes.
Add the lobster paste and water.
Add the remaining salt and sugar to taste.
Bring the sauce to a boil and turn back down.
Taste the sauce and adjust seasoning to taste.
If the sauce is too liquid, remove the shrimps and cook the sauce down (don't leave the shrimps or they will overcook).
Serve with lots of rice.

IMG_8787 IMG_8785 Acadian lobster paste and sautéeing the shrimps.

IMG_8792 Perfect with a bowl of rice!

Sunday, September 20, 2009


When I was writing the BBQ Chicken and Ribs post, I realized I've never specified in many recipes what kind of lemongrass to buy. Lemongrass is frequently used in Vietnamese dishes to flavour meats; in these recipes, minced lemongrass is used. You could process your own lemongrass (below). However, you can also purchase minced lemongrass in the frozen section of your nearest Asian grocery store! It's much easier to keep a container of minced lemongrass in your freezer, to use whenever you need it.

Frozen minced lemongrass.

Recipes using minced lemongrass:
Bò Lá Lốt (Beef Stuffed Wild Betel Leaves)
BBQ Lemongrass Chicken Drumsticks and Ribs
Bún Thịt Bò Xào (Vermicelli with Stir-Fried Beef)
Sườn (Vietnamese Style Pork Chops)
Thịt Nướng (Grilled Pork and Beef)

Some recipes do call using whole lemongrass (like curries which I have not written about yet). You should use fresh lemongrass in these instances. To get the maximum flavour, the ends should be smashed and included in your recipe. Lemongrass can be well kept frozen (I think; I still have some in the freezer). Also, you could process lemongrass for your own minced lemongrass as is required in Wandering Chopsticks' Lemongrass Chili Sauce.

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For some lemongrass recipes:
* Bún Gà Xả (Lemongrass Chicken Soup)
* Lemongrass Chili Sauce

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Bánh Phu Thê (Husband and Wife Cake)

I obviously have an enjoyment of food to write a food blog. I think I inherited this from my mom. Except, sometimes, my mom brings it to another level. Sometimes, she gets obsessed, a bit crazed when it comes to food. I clearly remember when I was young, my mom baking a cake, and after it collapsing, turning around and making a second one immediately. She wouldn't stop until she got it right. Recently, she has been obsessed with bánh phu thê, experimenting until she got it right.

Bánh phu thê is a Vietnamese cake traditionally served at both engagement and wedding functions. The words phu thê mean husband and wife respectively in old Vietnamese. The name stems from the box and lid in which the sweet is served (because a box and lid come together and becomes one? I think it can be interpreted differently...). It is also known more commonly as bánh xu xê. The Gastronomer tried some in Vietnam and did not seem too impressed; maybe she has to try my mom's!

In Vietnam, the boxes are made out of coconut leaves. Since coconut leaves are hard to find, my mom made the box and lid out of aluminium foil (although I asked why she didn't use banana leaves instead - she just didn't think about it!). When my mom served these cakes to our Vietnamese family friends, they reminisced about being in awe at those pretty little boxes!


Bánh Phu Thê (Husband and Wife Treat) - Makes 15 cakes
Bánh phu thê has two components: the interior filling made out of mung bean and the exterior, a translucent mixture with shredded coconut.

Making the box mould
The moulds should be made first because once you make the batter, it should be spooned into the moulds quickly before it hardens. My mom used the box that held the aluminium foil as a guide, and wrapped a long piece of foil around it. The container should be about 1.5" tall. She then folded the piece of foil like a present. If this is too complicated, you can just wrap it with plastic wrap, like this blogger did.

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Containers ready to be filled.

Making the mung bean mixture
The filling is similar to the mung bean mixture as the one used in bánh da lợn.

* 100 g mung beans
* ½ cup water
* ½ cup sugar

Soak mung beans for 2-3 hours (if you don't soak them, just cook them longer).
Rinse the beans and drain them.
Cook the mung beans in water.
Bring to a boil and turn down to medium.
Cook for another 5 minutes.
Check that the beans are cooked. If the beans are not cooked and the mixture is drying up, add a bit more water and continue cooking.
Keep on mixing and make sure the beans have cooked and are soft.
Pound down the mixture to a paste with a wooden spoon.
Add sugar and mix through.
If you want it well mixed, you can also blend it in a food processor.
You may find the mixture becoming runny. If so, place the mixture back on the stove and cook for another 10-15 minutes until it becomes a dry paste (refer to picture below for consistency).
Shape the mung bean mixture into a log and slice into 1 cm disks that are smaller than the box moulds made above.

Making the coconut exterior
I'll admit this is not my favourite treat (I don't actually like many Vietnamese sweets), because of its chewy texture and the shredded coconut and that's exactly how it should be! Like bánh da lợn, the green colour comes from the use of pandan leaves.

* about 4-5 pandan leaves
* 1 cup water
* 1 cup tapioca flour
* ½ cup sugar
* ¾ cup shredded coconut

In a food processor, blend the pandan leaves and water.
Strain the liquid and set aside.
In a medium sized pot, add ¼ cup of the pandan liquid and sugar at a low heat.
Meanwhile, mix the remaining ¾ cup of the liquid with the tapioca flour.
Once the liquid is heated through and the sugar is dissolved, add the shredded coconut.
Slowly add the flour mixture into the pot while constantly mixing to prevent clumping.
When the batter starts thickening, turn off the heat and continue mixing off the heat.
Spoon 1-2 tbsp of the batter into the bottom of a box mould.
Place a disk on top of the coconut mixture.
Top with another spoonful or two of the batter to cover the disk.
Steam for 10 minutes.

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My mom buys the shredded coconut from the freezer at an Asian grocery store.

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On the left is the tapioca flour mixture, being added to the pandan syrup.

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The final product should be on the thick side; the mung bean mixture.

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Filling the containers with the batter and mung bean, ready to be steamed!

The final result is a little sweet sandwich-like treat, with a gelatinous texture on the outside with some crunch from the shredded coconut.