Sunday, 28 September 2008

Whaddya Mean Poaching's Illegal?!

There is plenty of uninhabited areas all over Manitoba where one can hunt, and regrettably where there's hunting, there's poaching. Fortunately, wherever there are kitchens there's poaching as well, though thankfully this kind of poaching is legal even over here. ;o) Until this past weekend I'd never poached anything before, not even an egg. However, two events occurred that had me finally inspired to try this method of cooking, and with a particularly special ingredient to boot.

The first event was a trip I took back in June of this year to southern Ontario, which included a couple of days in the Niagara fruit belt and wine country, and that also meant two dinners in some fine dining establishments. Not surprisingly, several restaurants featured dessert menus that included icewine poached pears, as the Niagara region produces arguably the world's best icewines. The second event was an attempted wine-&-dine potluck party I organized back in August, but alas, only three of us made it. That meant that I still had plenty of my Inniskillin 2005 Vidal Icewine left over at the end of the party, and as delicious as it was to sip the ambrosia of wines, I figured that I couldn't down the rest of the bottle, even spread over a time period, without some degree of self-peril (long story short, I've a low tolerance of alcohol). So, remembering the icewine poached pears of Niagara, I figured I'd give it a shot in making some myself with this prized drink.

Upon sifting through the Internet for recipes, I realized I hit a bit of an obstacle: to date I hadn't been able to find any wine poached pear recipes specifically using icewine. Of course, my resolve didn't let this stop me, and after sifting through a few poached pear recipes, I rolled up my sleeves and made my attempt from scratch. First, I had about half a bottle left of the icewine, so that went into a pot, along with 2 cups of water, 1 cup of sugar and the contents of one bourbon vanilla bean. As existing wine poached pear recipes varied on the addition of other flavouring ingredients such as cinnamon sticks, fresh orange peel and even anise, I thought I'd keep my attempt as simple as possible.

Next, I'd bought 4 Bosc pears a few days earlier in anticipation of this weekend, so I peeled them, but did not core them this time, to be poached. As it was the first time I bought Bosc pears, I quickly realized I bought 2 ripe and under-ripe pears each, which in the end was a blessing in disguise as it allowed me to experiment two conditions of the pears under the same preparation conditions for comparison later on when I tasted them. Once the liquid in the pot was boiling I placed the pears in it and let it simmer covered over medium-high heat (which halfway through I then turned to medium-low heat after realizing how quickly the liquid was evaporating) for a total of about 20 minutes, rotating them every 5 minutes or so. Once I removed the pears and sealed them in a container to cool in the fridge overnight, I strained the liquid and boiled that down to about a cup's worth, which turned the liquid to a nice thick syrup. I also sealed that up and let it cool in the fridge overnight.

Last night I took one of the ripe pears and drizzled it with the vanilla scented poaching syrup for dessert, while tonight I ate one of the under-ripe ones. Though the sweetness wasn't overpowering, I realized it was still perhaps on the strong side since icewine is naturally sweeter than most other wines used for poaching, so cutting back slightly on the sugar is something I must keep in mind the next time I make this. The aroma of the pears mingled nicely with the flavours of the icewine, all of which ended with a gentle vanilla finish. Two things quickly became apparent to me about using ripe versus under-ripe pears. Ripe pears ended up being considerably softer, almost melting in my mouth, and they also absorbed all the flavours from the poaching liquid much better than the under-ripe ones. Also, adding other flavorings, especially cinnamon and orange peel, should add more depth to the sweetness of the syrup, and one of those flavouring ingredients could perhaps even counter the sweetness to a certain degree.

Considering this is my first attempt, I'd have to consider this attempt as being relatively successful. Certainly this will be work in progress and will require some improvement by the time I poach pears again, but at least now I have a good idea on what to expect as well as how the end product should be. This is definitely worth trying again, though, since icewine is particularly pricey, I'll likely have to wait making specifically icewine poached pears until there's a special event that warrants such a decadent dessert.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

A Taste of Korea in Winnipeg

I'd discovered a Korean restaurant while scrounging through a Winnipeg restaurant guide some time ago, and more recently this year I'd wanted to try the restaurant called Be One. However, for the life of me I couldn't seem to find the restaurant, nor the Korean grocery store near it, down the commercial stretches of Portage Ave. both east and west of Century St. (i.e. Route 90). Finally, last month during the afternoon of another daytrip I'd discovered both businesses located in a row of shops just a few blocks west of Century, which allowed me the opportunity to try dinner last night.

The restaurant's outdoor facade was quite unassuming that one wouldn't have expected a nice looking restaurant inside, but indeed there was one. However, I quickly noticed that this restaurant space might not have been originally designed for a Korean restaurant in mind; the picture in the entrance hall of what could be the Rhine, the wall-mounted gas-lamp-like candleabras, and the varnished wood panelling had me wondering if I'd made a mistake trying this place. Fortunately, I was quite reassured as soon as I saw and heard the staff at this place; this Korean restaurant was being run by Koreans, which meant that the chances of them offering authentic (i.e. not Canadianized) cuisine, though not guaranteed, was higher. My taste buds were not disappointed at all from what I was served.

Though I managed to eat all that you see in the picture, in hindsight I could've dropped the Japchae if only not to be slightly overstuffed with food. I was originally waffling between either the Bibimbap or the Bulgogi, but at the advice of the staff I went for the Bulgogi, which came with a miso soup (not shown), a bowl of rice and a four-dish all-veggie Banchan (side dishes). As you can see, it looked like I was dining like a mid-level Imperial government official! (Of course, I do work in a government, but I digress...)

I was first served some miso soup, which I know is a Japanese dish. That said, Be One's version is not like the miso soups you'd normally find in Japanese restaurants; this one was darker in colour and richer in flavour. The japchae I had was served warm, stir-fried to a nice finish. The cellophane noodles were cooked to the right texture, the pieces of beef weren't overdone, and the red and green peppers still retained their crunch and rare sweetness while the onions were cooked just enough to be rid of the raw zing. The flavouring of it was just right, accentuated on the savoury side by both the beef and the slices of shiitake mushrooms.

The bulgogi was also nicely prepared, though this restaurant's version was likely pan-cooked rather than grilled. Just enough soy sauce was used to marinate the meat to ensure that it wasn't too salty.

The banchan were simple yet refreshing interludes between bites of the bulgogi. In the picture, from left to right along the top were:

  • Kimchi, arguably one of the best known Korean dishes around the world. This version was, at least to me, not too spicy, and in spite of the cabbage having been pickled in brine during the preparation of kimchi, it surprisingly didn't have a distinct salty taste that one might experience with some other pickled dishes from around the world;
  • Sliced potatoes in a sweet soy marinade;
  • Bean sprouts with sesame oil (kongnamul), by far my favourite of the banchan dishes tasted so far in my life (I have a particular weakness for the aroma of sesame oil); and
  • Garlic-flavoured slices of zucchini. Obviously zucchini's not an ingredient one normally finds in Korea, but here in Canada, where multiculturalism thrives, fusion cuisine abounds and situation substitution is sometimes necessary due to what can be found locally, even an Italian vegetable can find itself a home in Korean cuisine.
Overall I enjoyed the dining this place had to offer. The food was nicely done, and, compared to some other restaurants I've tried and reviewed to date, the price range is definitely more accessible; considering the quality of the food, I found it to be a deal as well. Unfortunately, fate had me trying this place when they were short on waiting staff, which meant the remaining staff at the restaurant were scrambling about. Give them credit, though, for keeping their cool and the smiles on their faces. Also, I noticed that some notable Korean dishes appeared to be missing on the menu, especially galbi (grilled beef short ribs)... how can a Korean restaurant not serve beef short ribs? (OK, I'll admit I've an affinity for beef short ribs, as my family can attest.)

Hopefully, the next time I'm there they'll have everybody accounted for... and perhaps they will have renovated the interior to better reflect the style of cuisine they offer.

Name: Be One
Address: 1811 Portage Ave., Winnipeg, MB
Cuisine: Korean
Price Range: Dinner $15-$40
Accessible: Yes