Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Homemade Spinach Dip


Earlier this month, we were rummaging through the fridge when we discovered blocks of cream cheese. It was like treasure hidden in a cave. Who needs blocks of gold? We also found some spinach in one of the drawers too. Add cream cheese and spinach together (along with some other ingredients) and you get a snack that you can't stop eating.

Can you believe that Richard has never had spinach dip before? I told him that places like Milestones and Bâton Rouge serve them as appetizers.

In any case, Richard quickly did a search for recipes and glanced through a couple to get an idea of the basic ingredients. Then he just whipped it up. It was so good the first time that the family requested a second batch the next day. The spinach dip tasted surprisingly similar as the first batch. The only difference was that there was more spinach and less cream cheese. Here's what he used:

Richard's Spinach Dip

1 small onion, diced

One bunch of spinach, blanched
1 block of cream cheese
Season to taste with Cool Runnings All Purpose Seasoning
Season to taste with garlic powder, cayenne pepper, paprika, salt, and black pepper


He was going to dice up two small onions, but Lucy told him otherwise. The onions were sautéed with some butter and oil.


Richard took one bundle of spinach, washed it, blanched it, roughly chopped it, then mixed it with the sautéed onions. The cream cheese was stirred into the warm onions and spinach, then we seasoned it with some "Cool Runnings All Purpose Seasoning." You can use garlic powder, cayenne pepper, salt, and black pepper if you like. But really, you can season the spinach dip with whatever you feel like.

Since our family loves cheese, we scooped the spinach dip into a ramekin and topped it with slices of cheddar cheese. The spinach dip was popped into our toaster oven and baked for about ten minutes. But if you're impatient like us, you can also nuke the spinach dip until it's warm (without the cheddar cheese topping) and then adding the cheddar cheese before broiling the spinach dip until the cheese becomes golden.


Lucy and I personally love eating spinach dip with warm fluffy flatbread, but you can serve the spinach dip with corn chips, veggies, or crackers. Hell, you could probably spoon it out of the bowl and it it like peanut butter. #fatlikethat  She also tried spreading some spinach dip in a sandwich. It apparently turned out really well.

On another note, Richard made some sort of pasta sauce with celery, onions, tomato sauce, and a bunch of herbs we had in the kitchen. It was overly salty and the herbs were too heavy. He admitted to not tasting the sauce before serving. Fail... Come to think of it, he didn't taste the spinach dip either.

You can probably make the spinach dip form scratch in less than ten minutes and eat it even quicker. It's an addictive snack. We're thinking about making a giant batch and Aunt IS' crab dip for our Christmas dinner. We'll have more appetizers, less turkey and fixings, but more desserts. Sounds awesome!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Cheap Eats Ottawa: Photo of the Week

It was a pleasant surprise when I had received an email from Cheap Eats Ottawa, requesting my permission to feature one of my photos for their Photo of the Week.

They were interested in using this photo showcasing the innards of the coriander dumpling. You can read about the whole meal at Hung Sum Restaurant here.

Thanks for the shout out!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Indian Night: Dal Nirvana, Butter Chicken, Rice Pudding

Last Wednesday was Indian night at CA's. We made dal nirvana, butter chicken, and rice pudding in her tiny kitchen. All three dishes began at the same time, which was fine because the rice pudding was still warm when we were finished eating everything else. Considering the size of her kitchen, we were also efficient and didn't even bump into one another.

We didn't make the naan from scratch this time. I ended up buying some fluffy pita bread on my way home from work. When I was in the bakery area of the grocery store, I couldn't find Greek pitas anywhere. It's a great substitute for the pricey naan (President's Choice brand - 2 for $2.99). I stumbled upon some pita bread (8 for $2.69) and figured it would be fine to get them instead of the naan. The pita breads that I bought were closer to Greek pita breads than it was to the thin pita breads I'm used to. It was more cost efficient too. Second carb option: check.


Simplified Butter Chicken

4 boneless chicken breasts
1 can of diced tomatoes
2 tbsp minced ginger
1 clove garlic, minced
2 small onions, finely diced
1 tsp sugar
Tandoori masala and sour cream to taste
2 tbsp butter
1 tsp olive oil (vegetable oil is fine too)

The chicken breasts were trimmed of the connection tissues and then diced. Tandoori masala was mixed with the chicken breasts to briefly marinate. I'd recommend you do this the night before and then leave it in the fridge overnight, if you have the time.

In a medium-sized pot, the ginger, garlic, and onions were cooked with the olive oil and a bit of butter over medium-high heat until fragrant. (The oil is there to prevent the butter from burning.) The diced tomatoes and sugar were mixed in. Then I seasoned everything in the pot with tandoori masala to taste. The contents were simmered on medium heat for about 5 mins.

The briefly-marinated chicken was added to the pot and cooked for about 10 minutes. Once all of the chicken was fully cooked, the sour cream was added to taste. After getting a second opinion and one final taste, we adjusted the flavour with more tandoori masala. The heat was turned off and then served with steamed rice, warmed flatbread, and dal. I'll get to the dal in a bit.

We had a few issues with the butter chicken. The first problem was that I forgot to drain the diced tomatoes. The addition of water made the sauce really watery, so to thicken it, we made a slurry of water and cornstarch*.
*When we made the slurry, we tempered the slurry instead of mixing it into the butter chicken right away. We added a few spoonfuls of cooking liquid to the slurry to bring up the temperature. After the slurry and cooking liquid was mixed thoroughly together, a few more spoonfuls of cooking liquid was mixed in and then everything was added into the pot. If we tried to mix in the slurry directly into the pot without tempering the slurry, the slurry would've cooked soon after being poured in.

The second issue was that we used yoghurt instead of sour cream. At first, we tried adding a few spoonfuls of 0% fat yoghurt but that separated soon after we mixed it into the butter chicken. (0% fat yoghurt? Does not compute...) The pot was taken off the heat too. We added 2% fat yoghurt afterwards and it didn't separate as easily.


Dal Nirvana
Recipe adapted from Budget Bytes' version

1 can brown lentils
1 can diced tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, minced
1-inch ginger, minced
1½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp cayenne pepper
2 tbsp butter
½ tsp olive oil
½ cup cream

Since the canned lentils were already cooked, we first cooked off the garlic and ginger with the olive oil and a little bit of butter over medium-high heat until fragrant. The canned of diced tomatoes (seasoned with black pepper) was mixed into the pot and was allowed to cook down for about 5 minutes.

The drained and rinsed lentils were poured in with the cumin and cayenne pepper. The heat was turned down until the lentils gently simmered. Everything was cooked for about 10 minutes.

The cream was stirred in when most of the liquid reduced to a creamier consistency. We tasted the lentils and then adjusted the flavour one final time before serving with steamed rice, butter chicken, and warmed flatbread.


Rice Pudding
Recipe adapted from All Recipes' version of Indian rice pudding (kheer)

2 cups coconut milk
2 cups milk
3 tbsp sugar
¼ cup basmati rice
½ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
¼ cup dried cranberries

In a small pot (which was able to hold 5 cups of liquids), the coconut milk, milk and sugar was brought to a simmer over high heat. The basmati rice was stirred in once the milk just before the contents began to boil. Cinnamon and nutmeg was stirred in and the heat was turned down to a gentle simmer.

With the pot uncovered, the contents were allowed to cook for about 15 minutes until the rice was cooked. Once the contents had reduced to a creamy consistency, the pot was taken off the heat. The dried cranberries were mixed into the rice pudding and then covered the pot with the lid. The pot of rice pudding waited patiently off the heat as we ate our entrée.

Butter chicken: Done.

Dal: Check.

Steamed basmati rice: Yup.

Pita bread: Lightly toasted and buttered.

CA, JL, and I plated up as we continued our conversation. We didn't even stop at all. We passed the plates back and forth in a coordinated dance.

Service please! *Ding* Oh wait... we're the servers too.

We sat down and took a few photos before we began eating. Since we thickened up the watery butter chicken with cornstarch and also used yoghurt instead of sour cream, I felt like the flavour wasn't as rich as the last time I made butter chicken. I tried my best to adjust it with more tandoori masala and salt, but it wasn't the same. CA, AA, and JL were fond of the butter chicken though.

The dal was pretty good. I ended up adding a bit more cumin at the end, which I regretted. The cumin was on the stronger side. I think the dish needed diced onions and bursts of fresh cilantro.

There were enough leftovers for two generous lunch portions.

The table was cleared and then we brought out the warm rice pudding. I wouldn't call it an Indian rice pudding though, since we omitted the spices. Hahaa! The rice pudding still looked great in the glasses. The pudding wasn't overly sweet and the addition of coconut milk added a nice touch of richness. The flavour of the coconut milk was in the background and complimented the cinnamon and nutmeg pretty well. I was skeptical of the flavour combinations when I heard the recipe at first but it worked.

We washed down the rice pudding with green tea -- not very Indian, we know. It was still a fun night of cooking and catching up. From start to finish, it only took us about an hour and a half to make the three dishes. Not bad at all.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Dim Sum at Hung Sum Restaurant; Bubble Tea at My Sweet Tea

When I first heard about Hung Sum Restaurant, I was told that their dim sum was "amazeballs." Then I kind of forgot about it until I read Peter Hum's write up on the restaurant. I'm always up for trying a new place for dim sum.

Hung Sum is a small place on Somerset (between Rochester St and Preston St). It's on the opposite side of the pho joints. When my friend, S, and I walked in, it felt like we were walking into someone's house.

Once we sat down by the window, we were given a piece of paper which listed of all their dim sum items (the link should take you to Hung Sum's facebook album, where it is posted). S put me in charge of ordering, so I choose the following:

We had some deep fried shrimp dumpling ($3.35). I thought the vinegar in the sweet sauce was a nice touch.

A plate of zhaliang (aka rice noodle roll with crispy donut - $3, youtiao cheung fan, or Chinese donut stick noodle rolls) was garnished with lightly toasted sesame seeds. There was a little bit of hoisin sauce on the other side of the plate. Look how thick the noodle was. I wish there was more sweet soy sauce to be soaked up and some sesame sauce on the side. Other than that, the small portion of zhaliang tasted fine to me. I think many dim sum-serving establishments actually make this dish, but I rarely see it on the menu/dim sum carts. You should try this carb-on-carb action if you haven't already.

The beef cheung fan (noodle roll with beef - $3) and shrimp cheung fan (noodle roll with shrimp - $3.35) was alright. The skin was pretty thick again. Okay, is it just me, or have all the restaurants in Ottawa been skimping on the beef filling? The other two noodle rolls didn't have much beef, sadly.


One of our favourite dishes of our meal was the steamer of [edited on Sept. 18th, 2013] coriander dumplings ($3) steamed green onion ginger beef dumpling ($3.10). The flavour was similar to the filling in noodle rolls with beef. I found it quite bouncy, plump, and juicy. The ginger sauce was alright.


A steamer of shrimp siu mai ($3.35). I was taken back at how small it all looked, but I think it just looks that way because Hung Sum used smaller steamers (as opposed to the medium-sized steamers) for the siu mai. I felt like the dumplings could've tasted a lot better with green onions.

After all of that food, S was still hungry and wanted to order more food. I warned her that we ate three plates of cheung fan and that we'd feel really full in about half an hour. She insisted in ordering a small plate of rice noodles with bean sprouts (bean sprout fried rice noodles - $3.35). We planned on going for some bubble tea, too. Okaaaay...


It looked good! I saw great signs: lightly charred noodles and no pool of grease at the bottom of the plate. But there wasn't much smokiness despite the char. Sad.

We walked over to My Sweet Tea afterwards and on our way, I noticed the sidewalks had the animals from the Chinese zodiac.



The rabbit was in front of a pizza place (Seasons Pizza?). That must be a sign (I luuurv pizza!). There was a dragon in front of My Sweet Tea.


S ordered the mango slush and hot milk tea for myself. When we began to enjoy our drinks, S complained that our lunch had finally hit her. She struggled to finish her drink. The hot milk tea hit the spot. It actually helped settle my stomach a bit.

[Updated on Sept. 18th, 2013]
Hung Sum Restaurant's dim sum is better than the average dim sum in Ottawa, but their dishes are on the smaller side. It's actually a good thing that the portions are smaller. You'll be able to order more variety of dishes to share. Right? Since the construction on Somerset has been completed, go give Hung Sum a try. They have a limited dinner menu as well, so you can have a bowl of rice noodle soup with something and a few dim sum items. That's right, you can get their dim sum items for dinner too!

My Sweet Tea is probably the best place to get bubble tea in Ottawa. Their drinks have been consistently tasty over the past few years!

Hung Sum Restaurant
870 Somerset St
Ottawa, ON
Hung Sum Restaurant on Urbanspoon

My Sweet Tea
824 Somerset St
Ottawa, ON

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Fresco Bistro Italiano, Pure Gelato

VN and I visited Fresco Bistro Italiano for a late birthday dinner. We originally wanted to try out Union 613, but no dice, they were booked until 9:30pm. Lame. We walked down to Fresco Bistro Italiano, which was practically beside Pure Gelato.

We walked into the dimly lit restaurant and were promptly seated in front of the bar. The main reason I wanted to try out this place was because Lucy raved about their amazlingly fluffy gnocchi (not pronounced ga-knock-e). I’ve never had legit gnocchi, so I thought I’d give it a try.

VN got the chicken diavolo, while I ordered the gnocchi with a pesto olive oil instead of the cream sauce. I was very tempted to order the braised lamb shank, but I wanted to try their gnocchi. I’ll have to go back and try the braised lamb.

There was a slight smoky aroma coming off of the mountain of gnocchi. It was probably from the pancetta and seared chicken. I was not expecting such a large portion of gnocchi. Let me explain my thoughts, as I tucked in:

First bite – 3rd bite:
Umm… okay… that’s hot! Hmm… Why does this feel like soggy bread wrapped around a soft potato nugget? Is this what gnocchi is supposed to taste like?

4th – 9th bite (approximate):
The gnocchi are quite light and fluffy – oh, what’s this smoky taste? Mushrooms? The mushroom tastes great! Holy crap – I’m actually enjoying mushrooms in a dish! Smoky pancetta? Yum. Pieces of seared chicken? Womp womp womp womp wowowowowomp…

10th – 14th bite (approximate):
Why is the outside of the gnocchi so mushy? Er… must keep going… Another piece of mushroom… bleh. Suck it up Christine! Stop being a baby. They’re just mushrooms. 
Why is everything so soft in this dish? Why is there so much oil?

15th – 17th bite (approximate):
Must keep eating... Why is there still so much left?

18th bite (approximate):
I’m done. Can’t eat any more.

I tried to enjoy the gnocchi. It’s just not my thing. Maybe I’ll try to make it from scratch and see if it tastes any better. At first, I enjoyed the mushrooms, but then half-way through, it lost it’s appeal. There wasn’t much textural contrast in the dish other than the few pancetta bits. That was the main reason I got tired of the dish so quickly. I doubt I’ll order this again.

VN’s plate of chicken diavolo looked great! Let’s start at the bottom of the plate: I think the sauce was just pan drippings (delicious pan drippings, I might add), roasted fingerling potatoes, vegetables, roasted chicken, sun-dried tomatoes, and a little grated Romano cheese. I was very impressed with the moist chicken. I mean, I rarely go out to restaurants like these, but the chicken was spot on. VN quite liked the sauce. It was a well thought out dish. There were textural contrasts (crisp veggies vs soft chicken), flavour contrasts (tasty sauce vs lightly-seasoned chicken, sun-dried tomatoes vs chicken). One great thing about the chicken diavolo dish was that were wasn’t a lot of carbs, so VN didn’t feel weighed down like somebody else.

We talked about their desserts for quite a bit, but decided to go next door for some gelato instead.

It was my first time at Pure Gelato. Everyone was talking about Pure Gelato during the summer, and why not? We had a summer that felt similar to Taipei’s hot and humid weather.

We both settled on a small cup of gelato. The small cup gets you three scoops of whatever gelato you choose. While mulling over all the choices in the brightly-lit place, we joked that we should just buy a litre of gelato instead. Next time… maybe next time.


I went with pistachio, lemoncello, and strawberry shortcake, which the lady recommended. The refreshing lemoncello hit the spot. It helped cut through the heavy dinner I had. The creamy pistachio was alright. The strawberry shortcake was quite sour, which I liked, but it didn’t really taste like strawberry shortcake to me.

VN went with a scoop each of lemoncello, coconut, and watermelon gelato. The coconut gelato was surprisingly rich. It had shreds of coconut too. I didn’t get to taste the watermelon gelato, because I was too busy trying to eat all of the strawberry shortcake first. Save the best for last...

In the middle of our conversation, VN suggested that we could probably catch Argo at the Empire Theatre in World Exchange Plaza. We weren’t far. We booked it for the theatre. But once we got there, there was a long line up at the ticket booth and box office. I remembered that there was another ticket booth. We got the tickets, walked through the doors (where they usually check your tickets), flashed the movie tickets at the imaginary usher, and walked into the packed theatre.

The movie was… how should I say this?


~ * ~
Fresco Bistro Italiano
354 Elgin St.
Ottawa, ON
Fresco Bistro Italiano on Urbanspoon

Pure Gelato
350 Elgin St.
Ottawa, ON
Pure Gelato on Urbanspoon

Empire Theatre 7
111 Albert St.
Ottawa, ON

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Chicken Cordon Bleu


Over the weekend, Zee (a friend from Toronto) and her friend TS came over to make some chicken cordon bleu. We didn't make the classic version though. I'll explain that later. Also on the menu: rotini pasta with tomato sauce, glazed carrots with balsamic vinegar, and a side salad.

Before Zee and TS arrived, carrots were peeled and chopped up, marbled cheese was sliced, and the tomato sauce was on the stove.

I didn't want a plain tomato sauce, so I played with the flavours a bit. A bit of BBQ sauce for a little smokiness, a bit of Sriracha hot sauce, some fresh herbs, and a little bit of soy sauce for some depth. I made sure all of those components were complimenting the tomato sauce. Since I didn't know if Zee and TS liked to eat spicy food, I added just enough Sriracha that the warmth of the hot sauce would come late.

We formed an assembly line; I took the chicken breasts, trimmed them of the gristle and connective tissue, and then butterflied them. TS then wrapped prosciutto around slices of marbled cheese, and then stuffed them in some butterflied chicken boobs (to ensure even cooking). Zee used some toothpicks and prevented the components from moving. Then she took the stuffed chicken breasts and rolled them around some flour (which I added salt and pepper to), then dipped them in lightly beaten egg whites (also seasoned with S&P), before she rolled them all in italian (seasoned) breadcrumbs. Chicken cordon bleu is usually made with plain breadcrumbs, I believe.

The chicken was popped into the oven at 350 degrees for about twenty minutes. About half-way through the cooking time, the rotini was cooked and the sauce was reheated.

After the pasta was strained, butter and a bit of olive oil was added to a hot pan. The carrot sticks were tossed in the pan with some sugar and a bit of salt. I didn't move the carrots a lot, because I like it when they caramelize. Just before they totally over cooked, I turned off the heat and TS added a few drips of balsamic vinegar.

I'm always afraid of overcooking chicken, but the breaded chicken came out moist. I wouldn't say it was juicy (at least my piece wasn't). It was close to being over cooked. The chicken needed more seasoning though. We forgot to season the chicken boobs directly. But that's jut being nit picky. TS and Zee both enjoyed the chicken we made though. Zee said that "it was simply delectable!"

The pasta tasted pretty awesome with the chicken. The more I ate the pasta, the spicier it got.

The leftovers tasted good the following morning too. You all should make this more often (including you, TS's fiancée). Simply derishush!

Monday, October 08, 2012

Thanksgiving Feast

I'll have to apologize right now. There aren't any recipes in this post. But if you like food porn, do carry on.

~    *    ~

Our main menu for our Thanksgiving feast:
Turkey, ham, turkey gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes, buttered corn and carrots, garlic bread, and bo kho (Vietnamese beef stew).

Apple pie, pumpkin pie, krop knao, glutinous mochi balls, and two kinds of banh xoi nuoc.

~    *    ~

Learning from past holiday feasts, we began preparing more things ahead of time. Mom actually made krop knao (sweet coconut mung bean nuggets) the night before Thanksgiving dinner and then left the plateful in the fridge. I actually wrote about it years ago.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

Hello to everyone! Lucy and I wish that your families have a lovely long weekend.

It's Canadian Thanksgiving tomorrow (Oct. 8th) and Columbus Day in the States. We'll be hosting our family Thanksgiving dinner tonight. I'll have a new post about our feast tomorrow. To our neighbours down south, America's Thanksgiving is on Nov. 22nd later this year. But I know that many Canadians and Americans alike, travel across the border on these holidays to celebrate with their families and loved ones. Have a safe trip and be safe!

~ Christine and Lucy

Thanksgiving 2011: We went to Blueberry Lake Resort and had a steak dinner.
Thanksgiving 2010: I (Christine) had two big dinners; pot roast and my first experience in making a turkey dinner
Thanksgiving 2009: A Truly Excessive Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving 2007: Thanksgiving Dinner

Friday, October 05, 2012

Bun Bo Hue, Sour Soup, and Durian Cake

A few weekends ago, Aunt IS invited us over to her house for lunch. She had made a large pot of bun bo hue and wanted to see how we liked it. Richard and I didn’t go for lunch, but rather, we went in the afternoon.

After we greeted everyone, I noticed that there were two sheets of pound-like cakes cooling on the table. Aunt L brought some durian custard, which she had mashed and put in a bag. Grandpa complained that there wasn’t enough durian in some past versions, where the durian was “watered down” by coconut milk. You’d rarely find cakes made with pure durian like this.

Even though it wasn't finished yet, the cake looked more appetizing once Aunt L began to spread the durian around. It looked less like a pile of... yeah...

The second layer of cake was pressed onto the durian custard.



Whipped cream was then used to top the durian cake.

Richard and I then had a bowl of bun bo hue. Slurping down the contents was so enjoyable! As we were eating our bun bo hue, Richard said that it felt like we were eating at a street stand in Asia somewhere with Anthony Bourdain. We were both sweating before we were even done eating half of our bowls. It was a combination of the spice blend and the heat. It was a good sweat. I'm struggling to not drool over my laptop as I write this.

Dinner prep began after we finished eating. On the menu, a Cambodian sour soup with fish (known as somlaw maju in Cambodian and canh chua ca in Vietnamese), chicken and pork bulgogi, salt and pepper shrimp, and stir-fried Chinese water spinach with preserved soybeans.


I don't know how to spell it. I've seen it also spelled as samlor machu, samlar machu, and somlah machou. In any case, the soup consisted of skate wings, pork broth, tomato, Chinese water spinach, and tamarind powder. The soup was garnished with fried garlic chips, fried garlic oil, green onions, and thin ribbons of thai basil. The bowl of soup above didn't have the fried garlic chips or oil.


Uncle L fired up the BBQ in the backyard and grilled the two kinds briefly marinated bulgogi. Two platefuls of shrimps, lightly dusted with cornstarch and salt, were deep fried outside on the BBQ element too. The deep fried shrimps were served with a side of salt and pepper.

Both the beef and chicken bulgogi needed a lot more time in the marinade. I wish there was leftover bulgogi sauce to pour over the meat, or at least dip it in, but Aunt IS used up everything in the marinade. *Sad face*


Finally, the Chinese water spinach was stir-fried with minced garlic, preserved soy beans, and some oyster sauce. It was meant to be on the bland side to balance out all the dishes. (I loooove the preserved soy beans in congee and in homemade wonton soup! Ah... how nostalgic...)

Along with a seemingly bottomless teapot of jasmine tea, we ended dinner with durian cake and che dau. Oh yeah, I didn't mention that Mom brought over the batch she had made the previous evening.


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