Saturday, January 30, 2010


I've never made stew on my own before, though I have watched and helped my mom make it at home. I remember it was very easy to make, but vaguely remembered what she added. If you're a fan of our site, you know that we don't really have family recipes. Everything is mostly done by touch, feel and smell. And as I've done in the past, I'll be writing down my "recipe" of this... stew.


I was looking through some online grocery store flyers yesterday and noticed I could make beef stew with some of the items that were on sale. It has been cold lately in Toronto.. err.. Etobicoke (sorry Torontonians), and I figured a nice warm stew would be perfect comfort food. So I went shopping this morning and now I'm stocked up and ready to go.

I prepared my stew while watching the entertaining Sens vs Habs game...

First off, my mise en place:
I peeled and diced some potatoes, onions and then chopped up some baby carrots - all while watching the Sens vs Habs game.

I put a pot on the stove, cranked it to high heat and then sautéed the onions with a bit of oil. I accidently threw it all in and didn't feel like taking half of the amount out, so I didn't stir the onions for about 5 minutes at a time. This helps develop brown bits at the bottom of the pot. Once half of the onions had some colour to them, I took them out of the pot and placed them onto a plate.

My beef was already cut, so I didn't need to do anything to them. I threw in the beef and a bit of oil, to the same pot, to brown. After the beef finished browning, I took out the beef and threw the half-sautéed onions back in to finish up. I also tossed in a few bay leaves. I'm not sure if that brings out the flavour out, but I did it anyway. Just before the onions were done, I added half a can of tomato paste (that I had some leftover in the fridge) and cooked it out a bit.

While the sautéed onion-bay leaf-tomato paste mixture was cooking on medium-high heat, I brought my veggies over to the stove. It looked like I prepared a bit too much onion, potato and carrots for the pot I was using, so I brought out a larger pot and my browned beef. After about 5 minutes, I took the mixture in the smaller pot and mixed it with the beef. There was some brown bits left behind, so I added a bit of water, scraped the pot and then added the liquid to the larger pot.

I threw in all the chopped up veggies (though I shouldn't have) into the pot with everything else, with enough water to fill the pot. I brought the pot to a boil for a minute and then turned it down to a gentle simmer. I then tossed in some pearl barley and tiny alphabet pasta, cause that's how my mom made hers when we were younger.

I made sure to stir the pot once every 5 minutes (again with that number.. hahaa!). I was paranoid of letting the bottom burn, as the last time I had stew was last Christmas break when the stew went unattended for over 10 minutes... and... well, burnt. The whole thing was ruined, which is too bad, because it tasted so good!

The pot gently simmered on the stove and was attended to for about 2 hours. The soup/broth didn't have a lot of flavour so salt, pepper, chicken and beef stock mix was added. During that time, I realized that the ratio of the soup was waaay off. I had way too much alphabet pasta and not enough soup/broth. Bah!

This is what the pot looks like when I lifted the ladle.

Yeah... so I took out probably a quarter of the pasta, veggies, and barley and replaced it with more water. The ratio was a lot better. Now I wanted to freeze some of the soup, so I took some out then. After putting some portions in some containers, brought the pot to a boil. I then added a mixture of flour and water to thicken the soup to a broth. I tasted the stew again and felt it needed more flavour. Beef and chicken stock powder (not the radioactive yellow stuff) was sprinkled into the pot, but I was a bit heavy handed - unfortunately. My stew didn't taste like any stew that I liked, but something rather fake. I mean, it looked and smelt like stew, but it just wasn't... good. The chunks of beef wasn't fall-apart-tender, the pasta was over done, and the whole stew just didn't taste complete. I couldn't taste the bay leaves, even though I added 7 leaves (which I felt was too much, at the time), but the whole process to making the soup, from start to finish, was about 3 hours. I guess that's the reason my stew fell short in natural flavour.

The lesson of this entry: shortcuts (I'm referring to the beef and chicken stock powder) may seem like a good idea, but you'll regret it later. Take your time when making soups!

Next time... I'll be sure to add half of the amount of alphabet pasta (and add it closer to the end of the process), add more beef, don't use beef and chicken stock next time, but rather simmer the bay leaves with the beef for at least 2 hours. Actually, I just have to be patient with the soup and not rush it. I don't even know what the rush was. I didn't mean to eat stew for dinner, but while making it, I just couldn't help but have it for dinner.

I'm so disappointed that my stew didn't turn out right. It's just embarrassing.

I've learned my lesson.


Thursday, January 28, 2010

Seoul House - Korean BBQ...

... Steeeee-rike one!

Nicole and I were have been talking about going for some Korean BBQ since December. We finally got together, with Adam and Alyssa, and headed to Seoul House for dinner. I was really excited for some yummy galbi and/or bulgogi, but it was not meant to be (tonight, anyway).

As I was looking through the menu to decide which protein would be my victim, everyone else ordered something other than the BBQ. By the time I made up my mind, the waitress had turned around and left. Damn! While waiting for her, I kept skimming the menu and that's when I read that the minimum order of BBQ was two orders. Daaaaaaamn!

I didn't have a 'Plan B'. In my mind, I was having Korean BBQ. After some thinking, I settled for a bento box. I found a lot of the other dishes were pretty expensive. $20 for a plate of chap jae. No freaking way! I'm guessing it was a large serving and not just a small plate. Ugh.

After all of our orders were in, the waitress came back with our banchan that included kimchi, pickled beansprouts, seaweed, and daikon, and a small serving of Korean fish pancakes.
Seoul House1
We were given a pancake each and as you can tell by the image. If I had waited any longer, I'm sure someone would've eaten it. The kimchi was alright. I've had worse, but I've also had better. I didn't touch anything else.

Miso soup was next. There weren't any seaweed pieces in my bowl (which I don't mind), but there were two slices of mushrooms - which I ate, although I'm not a fan. Once everyone was finished with the soup, our plates of shashimi... er.. sashimi (dammit Alyssa!) and sushi arrived.

Oh, I forgot to mention what we all ordered. Adam ordered the beef teriyaki, tempura and sushi bento, Alyssa had the chicken teriyaki, tempura and sashimi bento, while Nicole chose tempura and udon combo. I ordered the beef teriyaki, tempura and sashimi bento. You've all realized that none of us ordered anything Korean. I didn't realize it until half-way into the meal. We did have the banchan, though.

Alyssa loves salmon sashimi, so she asked for a bit more salmon sashimi instead of the typical variety of salmon, tuna and white fish. What she got was a plate full of salmon sashimi. (The computers can't handle the colour of the salmon, unfortunately, so I had to desaturate it a bit.)

Seoul House3

Adam's pretty nigiri sushi plate. Tuna on the left, I'm not sure which fish the middle one is... sea bass maybe, and then salmon.

Seoul House2

This is my plate. I was given the same three fishes. Here's a close up of the white fish.
Seoul House4
Seoul House5
It was very good. Soft and buttery. Actually, they were all soft, buttery and fresh. I definitely ate too quick to enjoy the quality of the sashimi. Ah well, there's always a next time.

The time between the sashimi and sushi arriving to our main dishes was probably about 5 minutes.. and before the waitress came back, Alyssa had inhaled her all of her salmon sashimi!

Here's my beef teriyaki. It wasn't memorable.

Seoul House6

The tempura we were all given included: two shrimp, two sweet potato and a squash tempura. These tempura were pretty light. The batter was airy, which made the batter nice and crunchy after being deep fried. They weren't really greasy either? You know when you're served tempura, but you can only eat one because it's so greasy? Well, I'm sure we could've all gone for seconds - if we weren't as full.
Seoul House7

Instead of white rice, we were given some type of red bean rice, called sekihan (thanks AZ), but I enjoyed it. The rice was slightly sticky with a nutty taste. It could've been hotter, but oh well. Delicious!
Seoul House8
There were also two deep fried Korean dumplings (which I'm not a big fan of) and the typical salad with citrus dressing.

I totally forgot to take pictures of Nicole's udon, but I did take a few photos of her trying to use the chopsticks to eat the udon.

For dessert, sliced watermelon - sweet and juicy watermelon! I thought it was a nice change, since it's usually slices of oranges or mints.

Overall, dinner was great. It was nice to have a fun and relaxing dinner with friends for a change. The next time I come to Seoul House, though, I'm definitely swinging toward the Korean BBQ. I'm hoping it's not another swing and a miss, but if I do get another strike, I will not hesitate to order sashimi again.

Random notes:
- There's a Katz's Delicatessen a few steps away from the Korean BBQ
- I used a 50mm 1.8 lens; I shot all of these pictures at f2 and I'm really liking how the photos turned out


Suite 1A
3220 Dufferine Street
North York, Toronto

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Random Turkey Dinner

As one of my badminton captains, Charlie, said, “Cambodian people eat everything!”

Now you would think that after Thanksgiving dinner and Christmas dinner, time-consuming turkey dinners would be the last thing on people’s minds. We usually have turkey dinners twice in our family, once on Thanksgiving and then again on Christmas. That's all I need for my turkey fix for the rest of the year.

Sometime earlier in January, my aunt won a frozen stuffed turkey from school or something. And since there wasn't a holiday, we just held a turkey dinner on a random weekend.

My grandma, uncle, cousin and dad came over to Toronto to visit some relatives (who will be heading back to Cambodia later) this weekend. Being the only ones who knew how to cook a turkey dinner, my dad and I were in charge of making the turkey dinner.

The turkey was in the oven before I arrived, since it took over 4 hours to bake. My dad took out the stuffing an hour and a half and threw it back in before everything was ready to eat. My uncle bought two hams, in case people weren’t a fan of turkey, so I made a honey mustard glaze.
Random Turkey Dinner1

Our family usually makes mashed potatoes with some radioactive-yellow chicken bake with butter, milk and cheese. My uncle didn’t have any of that kind of chicken bake but did have the Chinese one, so a bit of that was added to the pot with butter, milk, minced garlic and green onions.
Random Turkey Dinner2

There was plenty of salad – so much so, that we split the salad into two large salad bowls. One salad bowl was turned into caesar salad, whilst the other one was left plain for people to dress their own (there was Italian and ranch dressing). We had garlic bread and two different gravies as well (homemade turkey gravy and brown canned gravy).

And to round out the meal, curry crab was made. Yeah… I have no clue. The dungeness crab was stir fried with onions, garlic, the guts, curry powder and a slurry of potato starch and some cooking liquid from the potatoes to thicken the sauce.
Random Turkey Dinner3

If you thought that was weird, imagine our lunch we just had. Stewed beef soup, which I found too sweet, and a plate of lok lak was made.

My dad’s bowl consisted of rice, curry crab, turkey, ham and stuffing at one point. There was mashed potato, ham, lok lak and some of the beef chunks from the stewed beef soup. It’s very random, but that’s my dad – a true Cambodian.


Friday, January 15, 2010

Ottawa's Libretto: The Grand Pizzeria

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope everyone had an amazing holiday with your loved ones. Did anyone get anything exciting during the break? I bought myself a 1.5 terabyte external hard drive, which I should’ve purchased last year. Can you believe that I have over 200 gigs of backed up files and images since September? Most of it was work-related.

Anyway, I was looking through my portable external hard drive for something to blog about, when I stumbled upon pictures from The Grand. I swear we blogged about it last summer, but I couldn’t find the article.

Flash back to May 2009:

The restaurant wasn’t even a month old when we first dined there. (You can read about our first attempt here.) Not many people knew about the newly opened pizzeria and bar. I was very excited to try the authentic Neapolitan Margherita pizza here, as I had been craving some since having a slice of heaven at Pizzeria Libretto (read about my experience here… there are sadly no pics), and after being devastated at La Favorita (read about my experience/rant here… just scroll to the bottom).

When Lucy and I first dined at The Grand, I kept gushing about the pizza at Libretto. Lucy had to remind me a few times to stop thinking about Libretto. The hype would just build it up too much, and no matter how good the pizza would be at The Grand, it just wouldn’t compare. I couldn’t help it.

I ordered the Margherita pizza to “see how good the dough, sauce and cheese were”, but who am I kidding? I just wanted to compare the two pizzerias. With so many delicious options, she opted for the Mercato, so we could share both pizzas.

Before the pizzas arrived, we were pleasantly surprised with a visit from one of the chefs – our uncle! He just popped out to say hello, just before the dinner rush. (I want to mention that we were not asked to blog about the restaurant and the experience, nor were we paid. I don't even think he even knows we have a food blog.)

I remember the Margherita pizza was disappointing, only because I compared it to the one I enjoyed at Libretto. The sauce just wasn’t as sweet, tangy and fresh. There also wasn't any charring on the crust. Since it’s such a simple pizza, it made a big difference.
Margherita @ The Grand Pizzeria

The saltiness of the parmesan cheese and prosciutto was balanced with the peppery arugula and the naturally sweet dough, to make it a delicious creation. The favourite pizza of the night was definitely the Mercato. Yum!
Mercato @ The Grand Pizzeria

Lucy's comments: The pizza crust was a revelation for me. It tasted like a rich, flavourful, sweet, yeasty bread crust, as it should. The flavour wasn't overpowering at all; it had a surprisingly light aftertaste. It was my first time eating a pizza with a fabulous crust. Crispy on the outside, but chewy and tender once we got to the middle. Man, my teeth are aching to bite into it again! The texture really did it for me. Git in mah belleh!

We could not leave the restaurant without having some tiramisu. The waiter we had told us that the tiramisu had won an award. What award? Not sure. We didn't ask nor did he specify, but it was delicious nonetheless. We appreciated that our tiramisu was made with a little bit of extra espresso. The strong espresso perfectly matched the slightly sweet marscarpone cheese mixture. This is definitely a tiramisu made for adults, unlike the other tongue-numbing sweetness of some other so-called tiramisus.

Dolce @ The Grand Pizzeria
We also received a complimentary (from our uncle) duo of gelato; pistachio and something with shaved chocolate. The pistachio gelato was amazing! So good it would make a pistachio gelato lover go crazy... *cough* Robyn @ The Girl Who Ate Everything. *cough*

Dinner at The Grand that night was delicious. The simple décor and the buzz from the other diners made the experience that much better. And hey, it’s located in the heart of the Byward Market, so you can shop afterwards!

By the end of the June, the restaurant was packed full of tourists and locals alike.

I’m glad there’s a place in Ottawa that serves Neapolitan-style pizzas. With so many other places in Ottawa claiming to have Neapolitan pizzas, we're definitely welcoming this Libretto-esque pizzeria to the city with open arms and an empty stomach. Until Ottawa is graced with small pizzerias that pump out high quality pizza pies that taste more like Libretto, I'll keep coming back to enjoy The Grand's pizzas and tiramisu.



The Grand Pizzeria & Bar on Urbanspoon


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