Wednesday, 27 February 2008

A Nutty Tart

Posted by Bonita


Sure, being called "nutty" is probably not the greatest thing in the world, but I must confess that I am quite a goofball myself, and to the average person out there, I probably do seem a bit "nutty" in their eyes. Calling me a tart however will seriously earn you my well-known "death" glare. However, this nutty tart is neither a crazy nut, nor a scandalous tart, but a delicious Cherry Frangipane Tart. What other kind of tart did you think I could have possibly been referring to?

It's hard for me to stay out of the kitchen for long, especially when I'm at home and thus, at the disposal of many of my beloved kitchen gadgets that I'm sorely lacking back in London. While I should seriously be working on the numerous assignments I have due in March to relieve myself of the workload (and stressload!) that'll be coming up in the next few weeks, I just couldn't help sneaking into the kitchen this morning to make a tart. I've been itching to make a tart lately, a pastry that has seriously been overlooked by me in the past. Mostly it has always been my fear and hatred of dealing with pie and tart crusts, as I've mentioned in the past, but I've slowly been conquering that fear with practice, and gaining confidence.


I came across this wonderful tart recipe over at Happy Home Baking (I've referred to this blog a few times before. It seriously is a great blog to check out if you haven't already!). The pictures of her tart looked gorgeous and beckoned me to try it out for myself. I didn't want to use canned peaches though (can you imagine how good this tart would be though when I'll have fresh peaches to work with later this summer?), so I pulled out a tub of frozen sour cherries from the deep freezer. The sweetness of the frangipane with the tartness of the could you go wrong?

I ended up doubling the recipe though, since the original recipe yield one 18-cm tart, and I could only find my 23-cm tart mould. By doubling the recipe, I ended up with one 23-cm tart and 2 mini tarts. The crust was a dream to work with; it was soft and supple and rolled out easily without cracking. I did add two extra tablespoons of egg to help bind the dough better, since I found it slightly too dry (ah, there's my fear of dry, cracked crust dough again!). What's so great about this recipe is that I didn't have to fish out my pie weights; it bakes blind without any weights whatsoever! Hurrahs all around for less cleanup!

Another thing I loved about this recipe is that it completely used all-natural ingredients. No almond extract was used at all, so you didn't get that superly artificial almond flavour in the tart; all you got was the pure almond flavour from the ground almonds used both in the crust and the frangipane filling. The filling wasn't too sweet and definitely complimented the tartness of the cherries rather well, while the crust was deliciously buttery and fragrant from the ground almonds. It will definitely be a crust I will be using in the future for other tarts. Oh, and the mini tarts...they look adorable!


Continuing my obsession with ground almonds today, I also decided to make Almond Cookies. These are quite a popular Chinese treat, but it's hard to find really good ones in North America now, unless you're in the large cities with a dominant Chinese community (ie: Toronto, get the picture). I found a recipe in a cookie book I bought in Hong Kong last year and thought I would give it a try. The end result wasn't bad, although it still a long way from the true Chinese almond cookies, which are have an amazing almond fragrance and flavour but also melts in your mouth. These cookies were more on the crispier side, and could use a bit more of an almond impact flavour-wise. Alas, it wasn't until after these came out of the oven that my dad pointed out we had whole almonds; oh well, the walnuts add some contrast to the cookie, both aesthetically and flavour-wise. However, I'd love to try these cookies again the next time around with ground walnuts and see how those will turn out!

Almond Cookies
Adapted from Japanese Cookies
Makes about 20
  • 70 g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 40 g caster sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 140 g soft (cake) flour
  • 40 g ground almonds (see Note)
  • Pinch of salt
  • 20 whole almonds, cashews or walnut halves
  1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. In a bowl, cream butter and sugar until fluffy and creamy, then gradually add the egg yolk and mix well.
  3. Sift together the soft flour and the ground almonds. Fold into the butter mixture with a spatula.
  4. Divide the dough into smaller portions, each weighing about 15 g (about 1-inch balls). Roll the dough into balls, place on a baking sheet and flatten slightly. Top each cookie with a nut.
  5. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden brown. Let cool completely on a rack.

Note: I like to toaste my ground almonds prior to using them, to enhance its flavour. Put the ground almonds on a baking sheet and pop them in a 250°F oven for about 10 minutes, or until fragrant, shaking the pan every few minutes. I also ended up adding a bit more ground almonds than it was called for in the recipe, to give the cookie a bit more of an almond impact. If you do so, just make sure to not add the flour all at once, so that you can control the moisture of your dough.

Monday, 18 February 2008

"There are always options!"

I was back in Winnipeg once again this weekend, and originally I wanted to try Fusion Grill. Unfortunately I didn't make a reservation, and that place is actually quite small, so I lucked out this time around. So, with a few restaurants to choose from back at Osborne Village I turned my way there to try a Japanese restaurant, Miyabi.

Once I entered the restaurant I noticed two signs that made me realize this was not going to be a "Wasabi" equivalent. First, classic rock was playing in the background. Nothing wrong with that music, but it seemed to sound out of place in a Japanese restaurant with contemporary decor consisting of warm dark browns and red ochre. St. Germain-like lounge music may have gotten away at least. Second, and perhaps more importantly, it was not an all-Japanese cast behind the sushi counter, which so far has made quite a difference between good sushi and extraordinary sushi. Not meaning to put down other non-Japanese sushi chefs out there, and nothing against the chefs at Miyabi (the presentation and freshness is quite passable and can't be overlooked), but it appears that the Japanese chefs have been able to go a cut above the rest in their own culinary art.

I at first had a bit of difficulty to decide what to try here, but after some thought and some assistance from the friendly wait staff I made my picks. First up, I ordered myself some Tuna Tataki. Lightly grilled on the outside, the tuna's served in thin, diagonally sliced pieces. Though there was plenty of fresh raw tuna to savour the natural sweetness and soft texture of the fish, I now understand better why Wasabi's version of pan-seared sashimi was only done on one side. To Miyabi's credit, though, the ponzu-spiked soy dipping sauce was a nice touch to this dish, providing that citrus kick that, to be honest with you, I usually opt out of when having fish dishes. (My sister will vouch for the fact that I don't squeeze lemon on my fish and chips at all!)

Next I had a total of four types of sushi dishes. On the upper photo, from left to right, are the Butterfly Roll, the Spider Roll, and the Ma-Yo Take Roll. The lower photo shows the Rainbow Roll. The Butterfly Roll consists of cooked sweet shrimp resting with a sweet and savoury soy-based sauce, while the soft shell crab was a delight in the Spider Roll. The Ma-Yo Take Roll was a nice contrast as it had a subtle citrus kick to the salmon roll thanks to some more ponzu, and of course, who can resist a dash of panko crumbs? The Rainbow Roll was not what I was expecting, as supposedly each sushi piece would have a different piece of fish on it. For one thing the cuts didn't correspond with the actual fish pieces, meaning a couple of pieces had two different types of fish on them. Another thing... in the end it may have been better to have served the Rainbow Roll nigiri style rather than maki (i.e. piece of fish resting on a ball of rice rather than the fish partially wrapped around a roll). Because it was served maki style the fish on top did not get the tasting focus they deserved.

Miyabi is small, cosy, and has a warm atmosphere, and the food is passable. It definitely highlights the fact that Japanese restaurants abound all over Winnipeg, leaving little doubt behind the argument that Winnipeg has gone gaga for sushi. However, no matter which city you go and whatever cuisine you'll choose, there'll be majority of restaurants that provide a more average level of cuisine or less, while a small few will stand out. While Miyabi didn't get the stand-out impression, it is perhaps safe in the upper half of the average.

Name: Miyabi Japanese Restaurant
Address: 159 Osborne Street, Winnipeg, MB
Cuisine: Neo-Japanese
Price Range: Lunch [unknown]; Dinner $30-60
Accessible: Most seats (but not washrooms)

Saturday, 16 February 2008

The way to my heart...

Posted by Bonita


Thursday was that time of year again, when we were surrounded by all things red and white, stuffed toys, hearts, sappy music, even sappier greeting cards, cheap chocolates, expensive chocolates, overpriced roses, PDAs that made you go awwww, PDAs that made you wish you didn't witness, and the flying toddler wearing what appears to be a fancier version of a diaper, more commonly known as Cupid. Valentine's Day is probably the most commercially-driven, consumerist "holidays" following Christmas. I mean, can't you just picture the tagline: "Valentine's Day...brought to you by Hallmark." And wouldn't it make things twice as meaningful if you got flowers on any other day but Valentine's Day, the day when it is expected, thanks to our capitalist society, to give his woman flowers? Some may call me cynical and merely bitter about love (I'm not). I'd prefer it as having far too much of a university education that it's jaded my whole perception on light (or rather, has it enlightened me to my previously jaded life? Hmmm.....).

Despite my views on Valentine's Day, I am a hypocrite by jumping on the bandwagon. I can resist the flowers, the chocolates and the cuddly toys, but how can I resist adorable heart-shaped cookie cutters? They say actions speak louder than words, but it was a few words I overheard the other day that really spoke true to my gift to my lovely friends, "The way to my heart is through my stomach." Amen to that!


If you haven't already figured it out by now (and if you really haven't, please refer back to the first paragraph), I'm not a hugely materialistic girl. Yeah, I like things like most people, but if I want something, I usually get it for myself. I don't like basing my relationships with other people on material objects, which is why when I give gifts, I often give something that has some meaning attached to it, or something that I'm truly giving from my heart to theirs. Food is my passion, and I cook with my heart, so what would make a more fitting gift than something that I made myself in the kitchen?


Chocolate is a staple around Valentine's Day, and so I stuck to that general theme. I decided to finally try making truffles. I've always wanted to make them but just never got around to making them; however, this year's Valentine's Day gave me the perfect excuse to venture into unknown territory. I made two kinds of truffles: Pistachio Nut & Vanilla Bean and Orange & Grand Marnier. Unfortunately, all I had was extra-dark Lindt chocolate around the house (85%), which had me a bit worried at first, but my parents seemed to enjoy it since they're not big fans of overly-sweet chocolate. The vanilla flavour wasn't very pronounce, and I think that had to do with the overpowering dark chocolate. Next time, I would also dip the truffles in some melted chocolate before rolling them in the chopped pistachios; I meant to do that this time around too, but my laziness (and lack of time) got the better of me. The Orange & Grand Marnier truffles were a treat though; the orange flavour from the zest really stood out and worked really well with the dark bitterness of the chocolate. It was certainly a huge hit with a lot of my friends as well.


The other treat I made were Chocolate Ganache Heart Cookies (inspired by the recipe found here), which were extremely easy to make. The dough came together fabulously; sometimes rolled dough can be tricky if it's too dry or too wet, but this dough was absolutely perfect and was a breeze to roll and stamp out the heart shapes. I sandwiched some dark chocolate ganache between the cookies, and drizzled some white chocolate on top. These had a lovely, buttery, melt-in-your mouth texture with an intense chocolate flavour that wasn't too sweet. If this didn't win its way into people's hearts, I don't know what will...

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Gung Hey Fat Choy!

Posted by Bonita

A belated Gung Hey Fat Choy to everyone! May this year bring you all good fortune, good health and good wealth!

With the Chinese New Year (aka. Lunar New Year) celebrations well underway since last Thursday, I was lucky enough to head back home for the weekend to celebrate with my parents. It's been a good few years since I've actually been home during Chinese New Years, being away at school and all, but with a more flexible schedule to work with this year, I was able to take some time to train it back home, despite the onslaught of snow. And being home meant only one thing: enjoying mom's cooking!

I definitely ate far too much food this weekend (can I say salad for the next month!), but it was certainly worth it. My return home coincided with the first day of Chinese New Year celebrations, and on the first day, it's typical that we have a vegetarian dish, also known sometimes as Buddha's Delight. Our variation features napa cabbage, Chinese mushrooms (shiitake), and carrots, as well as fungus, "fat choy", hair-like algae, tofu and vermicelli noodles.


Another typical dish we usually have is chicken. Typically, we have what would literally be translated as White-Cut Chicken, chicken that's been either steamed or poached, sliced and served with a delicious condiment made of minced ginger, green onions, sesame oil and lots of salt. However, my mom decided to try something different this year, but slicing the chicken and layering it with pickled ginger and century egg.


Another very traditional dish that you would often see at the table during the New Year is pig trotters, which is braised until the meat falls off the bones. My mom typically braises the pig trotters with shiitake mushrooms, fat choy and dried oysters.


Lastly, the meal was rounded off with a dish made from one of my favourite ingredients, tofu. Silken tofu was pulsed in the food processor with some shrimp, green onions and seasoning and then steamed until cooked through. Delicious!


Besides all that food, we also had Chicken Feet Soup. Don't let the fact that it's chicken feet freak you out; it's really good, and chicken feet is a common ingredient seen in Chinese cuisine.


On a separate day, my mom made another New Year's favourite of mine, "San Choy Bow", which literally translates into Lettuce Wraps. The filling is made from dried oysters, a type of preserved vegetable, barbeque pork and other diced vegetables, and is absolutely savoury and delicous wrapped in a crisp leaf of lettuce. A messy affair, granted, but the mess is so worth it! Seriously finger-lickin' good.


And what New Year's morning is complete without the traditional fare of cakes? Rather, these cakes are more like a type of pudding, and there are both savoury and sweet cakes. My mom typically makes Turnip Cake and Taro Cake from scratch, and then panfries them again in the mornings. However, this year, my mom decided to make a steamed-version of the Turnip Cake, which uses less flour and thus is less dense then its traditional counterpart, which would usually be panfried after the initial steaming-process. As for the sweet cakes, my mom made Water Chestnut Cake, Nian Gao (年糕), and Ma Lai Gao, which is the most cake-like of all these cakes, despite being cooked using the steaming-process as well.




So, as you can see, I've certainly ate a lot of food these past couple of days. Then again, Chinese New Year only rolls around once a year (just like Christmas), so if I don't eat now, when will I get the chance, right? Happy New Year everyone!

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Anyone Wanna Travel for Food?

Looks like culinary tourism is becoming more noticeable now as more and more people start exploring their inner gourmands. Most of the time these tours involve travelling to restaurants, markets, vinyards, food districts... whatever you can imagine to whet your appetite, chances are one tour or another may take you there. For example, one can actually bike around California's Napa Valley to visit the various vinyards to sample their wines and indulge on some of the finest cuisine in the region.

Then there's this one that a Globe and Mail reporter took around Tokyo. Now that's more than enough reason for me to go back and visit that city!

Monday, 11 February 2008

The Taste of Winterlude (and Happy Birthday F&C!)

Posted by Bonita

It's hard to believe that Forks & Chopsticks has been up and running for a year now. It was exactly a year from yesterday that Andrew and I started up this blog, in hopes of sharing with everyone our own gastronomical experiences, both inside and outside of the kitchen. It's been an amazing year of great recipes and more importantly, great food, and hopefully there will be many more years to come! Happy 1st Birthday F&C!!!

Our one-year anniversary will go by with little fanfare unfortunately, with school keeping me busy and the looming reality that I will graduate and be thrust into the "real world" in less than four months time. Scary! However, I did find some time...correction...make some time to come back home this weekend to celebrate the Lunar New Year with my parents. Yes, with any huge celebration, this means that there was lots and lots of food this weekend...perhaps far too much for only three people. But more on that on Wednesday...

My coming home this weekend also coincided with another big festival in the city: the annual winter carnival known as Winterlude, known for it's beautiful ice and snow sculptures, the world's longest outdoor rink, and deliciously pipin'-hot beavertails. Many Canadian cities now also have annual tasting events, where a number of restaurants feature prix fixe table hote menus. I was excited to find out that Ottawa had a similar event, called the Taste of Winterlude. It claims to be in its third year running, but I myself have never heard of the event until this year (after many years of grumbling about why we didn't have one). It is considerably more low-key than other cities, like Toronto's Winterlicious and Summerlicious.

There were a number of restaurants on this year's list that I wanted to try out, but the two restaurants that really popped out at me was Ambiente and Juniper, both of which feature Canadian regional cuisine. In the long run, Ambiente won out, and lucky for us, it did not disappoint.

The ambiance of Ambiente itself is really nice, a little corner restaurant on Beechwood Avenue. The interior features warm brown tones and a semi-open kitchen. The restaurant itself isn't very large, seating 36, and 4 to 5 at the bar, keeping the atmosphere nice and intimate. The evening started off with an amuse-bouche of Butternut purée with an apple and beet reduction and mascarpone. The soup, served in a little Chinese tea cup, was a really nice starter, with the reduction adding an extra hint of sweetness to the squash. Next was the starter itself, between a choice of soup or salad. I opted for the Smoked Yukon gold potato and leek soup with black pepper mascarpone. The soup was really nice, and the fact that they smoked the potatoes gave the soup an amazing woody scent and aroma that screams bacon, without having all the fat of bacon in it.


Next was the main course, a choice between beef tenderloin or trout. My dad had the beef tenderloin, which was served with a some sautéed greens, scalloped potatoes and oyster mushrooms. My mom and I, on the other hand, went with the Steelhead trout, lightly roasted with an almond crust, with fromage frais pomme purée, spinach sautéed with almonds, and caramelized pearl onions. I didn't particularly care for the presentation of my dish (what's up with those blobs topped off with pearl onions?!?), but it was delicious nonetheless. However, I must say that I do prefer the beef tenderloin out of the two dishes after trying a bite of the beef. It was amazingly delicious and tender, and the scalloped potatoes were to die for.



Last but certainly not least was dessert. My dad had the Pineapple tarte tatin with homemade coconut ice cream, while my mom and I both had the Warm Valrhona chocolate cake with homemade banana ice cream, crushed walnuts, banana fritter and caramel sauce. The cake was sinfully decadent, with the warm chocolate centre oozing out when I cut into it. The banana ice cream was surprisingly delicious as well, and made for a lovely compliment to the bittersweet chocolate cake. And while I'm a huge fan of fried bananas, I did find their banana fritter slightly on the greasy side. But overall, it was definitely a satisfying (and decadent!) dessert.



The evening ended off with a petit four and it was another butternut squash creation: Butternut squash ice cream with diced pears and crushed amaretti. The warm spiciness of the cinnamon was really nice with the diced pears, and the amaretti added a nice layer of texture. Slightly on the sweet side in my opinion, but the extreme smoothness of the ice cream made up for that slight fault.

Overall, I was really impressed with Ambiente, and even my parents can't wait to come back to try their full menu. The Taste of Winterlude menu was a bit more pricey than what you might find in Toronto, coming to $45 a head, but I think it was worth it in the end. It was certainly a lovely evening at a beautiful restaurant with some delicious food, and I definitely cannot wait to come back here again!

Name: Ambiente
Address: 101-18 Beechwood Avenue, Ottawa, ON.
Cuisine: Seasonal Canadian
Price Range: Dinner $60-80
Accessible: No (Unfortunately, I didn't spot a wheelchair ramp as an alternative to the stairs...unless all that snow was covering it.)