Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 Xmas Holiday Baking

Let's start this by saying that I'm not much of a baker. I'd rather cook something instead. Don't you find that you're also baking a lot during the Christmas holidays?

For our Christmas dinner, which we held at Aunt IS's house, I knew I wanted to make at least two kinds of cookies. I was thinking of trying to make the DoubleTree chocolate walnut cookies again, and maybe some Biscoff cookies, or some chocolate chip cookies.


I used more chopped walnuts, less chocolate chunks, and less oatmeal flour for this batch of DoubleTree cookies. After I got started with the DoubleTree cookies, Richard into the kitchen and was also in a baking mood. He wanted to make Mom's chocolate chip cakey cookies. I suggested the Serious Eats' Food Lab recipe for "The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies." We made the cookies on Christmas Eve and then put them in the fridge to bake on Christmas afternoon.


Both bags of cookie dough were taken out to warm up a bit. After popping them into the oven, the remaining cookie dough was put in the freezer. Once the cookies were done and had cooled enough, we dug in. The results of the DoubleTree cookies were great! The ratio of walnuts to chocolate was perfect for me and they were slightly crisp on the edges while being chewy in the middle.

As for the cookies Richard made, they were disappointing. When he browned the butter the night before, the house smelled like caramel. It was so promising. The baked products were not only short on that depth of flavour, but they needed more flour (human error) too.

For the Xmas party with some friends, VN and I were thinking about attempting to make macarons again. Our last experience didn't turn out the greatest -- visually, that is. We thought we had everything, but we realized that I had forgot the icing sugar. Oops. We postponed it until Boxing Day.

After having lunch at the Authentic Vietnamese Pho House, we picked up some things to make macarons. We went to Bulk Barn and then went back to the kitchen. I had forgotten the icing sugar again. So fail. There was luckily a small bag of icing sugar left in the cupboards. Phew! The almond meal wasn't fine at all. We tried using a blender. Fail. We tried a coffee grinder. More fail. And then finally we resorted to a mortar and pestle to try and crush them finer. That didn't work too well either. We went on though.

Everything was gently mixed together and we were almost ready to pipe the macarons before VN brought something up. We had forgotten the icing sugar! Wow. I tried folding in the icing sugar in 20, 000 times as delicately as I could. But it didn't work. We had enough ingredients to make only one final batch.

It looked great. All the ingredients were added.

After a quick exchange, we agreed that it wouldn't be a big deal if we piped the macarons directly onto the pan. It was non-stick after all. It would be okay? Right? Riiiight?

We nervously popped the two trays of piped macarons and put it into the 280F to bake. That's what the recipe we used said. The macarons didn't like the high oven temperature. The macarons not only cracked but they weren't fully cooked through. When I took out the tray, this was what I saw. It was like tunnel vision.

Upon further inspection, there was one that looked perfect! Enhance!

Enhance! What a beauty. It was smooth on top and had feet! Unfortunately, all of the macarons -- including the pretty-looking one -- was under baked.

After the 4+ hours that it took VN and I to make macarons, I still tried to make it work. We were going to eat these macarons with some chocolate mint icing! So I grabbed the tub of chocolate icing and as I slid my fingers around the lid to open it, a piece of tinfoil that poked out sliced my fingers.

Yup. I sliced my fingers by trying to open a container of icing. You'd think that after all of those bad omens, VN and I would've stopped. But no. Clearly, me and macarons don't go well together. Just like me and Scrabble.

Despite two failed attempts at making macarons, I'm determined to make at least one good batch. This is not the end.

Yesterday (December 30th), I went over to SM's place to hang out. We also did some baking. I brought along some cookie dough from the Christmas Eve batches. I baked the cookies before the World Junior game began, that way we could enjoy them warm when the game began. We were watching Canada play against Slovakia. By the time I brought the cookies downstairs, they were already announcing the starting goalies. Once I got back to my seat and took a bite out of a warm chocolate chunk cookie, Drouin took a major penalty for hitting the head of a Slovenian player. Lame. But the game got better and Canada managed to earn a win with the help of a great hardworking shift by the Lazar-Patan-Reinhart line in the second period.

Once the game had finished, we went upstairs and began to make sugar cookies with a recipe given from SM's co-worker. We had a lot of fun using the cookie cutters to make feet, stars, snowmen, and hearts. There weren't any angels. No angels! SM also had some leftover icing so she topped off some of the cooled sugar cookies. When we were mixing the dough, it looked like the cookie dough needed more liquids. I wasn't sure what to do about it, so we didn't do anything about it. We put it in the fridge to let it set for an hour and hoped that it would turn out. And it did!

The end of December involved lots of baking. There were some successful batches and some that didn't work out. It's all good though. It's not always about the journey, it's about the results. Wait. Uh... whatever. Never mind. Scratch that. Rewind.


The end of December involved lots of baking. It was fun to bake and cook for my friends and family, and even cook and bake with my friends and family. I hope the new year will continue to be full of new adventures, even if they don't turn out the way I want them to. To good health and lots of fun times ahead! Happy new years everyone! Cheers! *raises a glass of watered down juice* *clink*

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Lunch at Cafe Orient

On Tuesday, I had to go have an ultrasound done in the morning that required me to fast. After the ultrasound, I decided to go to Chinatown for some food.


That morning, the windchill made it feel like -38 degrees Celcius (-36.4F). To thaw myself out, I needed the help of a strong cup of HK milk tea.

For my lunch, I had the beef brisket, shrimp wonton rice noodle soup and a side of deep fried shrimp balls. The soup itself was quite bland. I wish they had added much more of the braising liquid into the soup. I'm glad I went with the rice noodles instead of the regular thin egg noodles.

The beef brisket pieces were super tender. Some of the strands did get in stuck in my teeth - I hate that!

These shrimp balls were a little different. Instead of having a coating of some cornstarch or whatever, these were battered and then fried. They did have green onions mixed in and were very juicy. I think the sweet sauce that accompanied the shrimp balls had some five spice powder. It added a nice depth.

For a post-fasting-ultrasound meal, I say this hit the spot.

Café Orient HK Style Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Monday, December 16, 2013

Revisiting Buster's

Last week, I brought Mom to watch the hockey game. Since the food at the Canadian Tire Center is crappy and overpriced, we went over to Buster's Bar & Grill. With the purchase of a meal or drink the ride on their shuttle bus to the game was free.

Mom settled for the special of the night: Buster's Burger with fried mushrooms added.

I already knew I was going to get wings after my second visit to Buster's. Were they going to be crisp and juicy again? Or was that a fluke?

The 1lb medium wings were remarkably spot on!

We quickly ate what we could, put away the leftovers, and then hopped on the school bus to watch the game. The Sens ended up winning 5-4 in a shootout.


On another visit, Andrew and I headed over to Buster's after a long day of work. The bus ruined our original plans to go for some chicken at Zaki. The main reason I suggested Buster's was because it was near the Lincoln Fields bus station. It would be much easier to bus home after we ate.

I was craving something comforting. Their special of the day was lasagna and a salad for $6.99. Tempting. But I find lasagna only tastes good when we make it at home with our simple meat sauce.

Hot turkey sandwich is a special dish that's close to my heart. I knew that the gravy would probably be from a can or made from powder. I was hoping that I was wrong. But if I was right, I was crossing my fingers that the gravy wouldn't be offensive.

The dish didn't live up to the name of hot turkey sandwich. It was warm at best. After a two bites, I sent the plate with the waitress to get it heated up a little more. Once it returned, it was easier to eat even though it was only a tad warmer than when I originally started to eat. The gravy was probably from a can. It was on the sweeter side which was a bit odd. I still found it comforting though.

Andrew didn't know what to get. He was either going to go for the fish and chips, cacciatore chicken parmesan, or breaded chicken parmesan. The random number generator decided that the cacciatore was the one tonight.

There were peppers, mushrooms, and onions underneath that blanket of cheese. He inhaled his ginger ale and dinner, although he argues that the pace was his normal speed. He's probably right. I'm a terribly slow eater.

I tried some of Andrew's dish. Then with the small piece of cheese left I made a little poutine.

The unassuming bar and grill inside the Lincoln Fields Mall has now been added to my rotation of restaurants. Perhaps it has become a pre-Sens-game meal.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Quick Cuon Meal

We often make large batches of stuff and freeze a portion for later. The best part of that are the relatively quick meals as a result.

Exhibit A: Cuon, a Vietnamese rice paper roll filled with vermicelli and a variety of ingredients

We had spring rolls, nem, and grilled pork -- all homemade. Being winter and all, we didn't lots of herbs in our pots. There were plenty of the fish herbs for Mom to enjoy though.

These are my sad summer rolls. From left to right: whole spring roll with grilled pork, grilled pork with homemade slaw, grilled pork with half a spring roll.


At first, I scoffed at the idea of adding slaw in the cuon. I gave it a try and it was actually pleasant. This reminded me of a banh mi.

I prefer to have bun cha gio instead of cuon though -- in the summer when the herbs are fresh and plentiful. When it's a cold winter day like today, I'd rather go for a hot bowl of bo kho or something.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Leftover Prime Rib: Tacos


With the leftover prime rib meat that we had for dinner a few weeks ago, I shredded some for an open-faced hot beef sandwich. It's just too easy. That was my quick lunch. We still had quite a bit of meat left. I thought of turning it into tacos. Actually, I was first tempted to chop it up and turn it into some kind of dip but thought otherwise.

Tacos. We didn't have any tortillas. Using Taste of Home's homemade tortillas recipe as a guide, I made some homemade tortillas. I didn't use as much olive oil and it still turned out soft. We rolled them out instead of pressing them.

While cooking up the tortillas on the griddle, we decided to make some cheesy quesadillas by stuffing them with mozzarella prior to cooking. They were tasty dipped with salsa.

The tortillas themselves were tender and looked good. Richard and I didn't like the taste of cheap olive oil that I used in the tortillas though. I'll try using vegetable oil instead olive oil.

For the star of the dish, the prime rib was chopped up, mixed with caramelized onions, a sauce that I made, and then reheated in the toaster oven before eating.

In the words of Richard: "Who eats prime rib tacos? We do."

What would've you done with the leftover prime rib meat?

Friday, December 06, 2013

Cold Remedy: Homemade Pho


When I'm trying to get over a cold or a flu, I crave bowls of pho. What about you? Okay, so it won't cure my raw throat or the all the phlegm afterwards, but it does help alleviate the runny nose for a little bit.

Yesterday was the second day of my cold symptoms; cough, raw throat, and a little phlegm. I was craving pho but since great pho takes quite some time, we made a pot of pho last night. It simmered for a couple of hours before it was turned off last night. Then it simmered for a few more hours this morning to be ready for lunch time.


I just found out that this is AAA prime rib, broken down from a giant slab. We're thrifty like that. We usually use thinly slices of lean beef tenderloin. The slices of prime rib were so remarkably tender!

These slices, in my case, were placed raw on top of my cooked rice noodles. Then scoops of the aromatic pho soup was ladled on top, where the beef slowly cooked. Some people like to quickly dip the beef in the soup before adding to their bowls, but since the soup is hot enough, I just let it cook in my bowl of pho. This also prevents over-cooking the tender meat into something tough and chewy.

That was lunch. We'll have a second round of pho for dinner too.

Oven Baked Chicken Stuffed with Ham and Swiss

Andrew and I were going to make some breaded chicken stuffed with ham and swiss cheese. We couldn't find the breadcrumbs, so we just made the chicken without it.

We baked the chicken in a pan and then once the chicken juices ran clear, we took the chicken out to rest a bit. I was thinking about making a gravy or something but the pan drippings wasn't that flavourful. Then I remembered that you could reduce pan drippings to concentrate the flavour.

The pan drippings were poured into a small pot and simmered down. I should've stopped reducing at this point.

But I thought it needed a couple of more minutes. When I checked the drippings again, it turned into a chicken pan dripping paste with the fat floating on top. At that point, we could've made a gravy but we just used a little with our chicken.

We rarely reduce pan drippings, instead, we usually just use the drippings in the sauce. By reducing the drippings, not only does the flavour get concentrated, but the oils will separate which will make it easier to scoop out.

The chicken with the pasta didn't taste great together. It felt like the chicken fell into the plate/bowl of pasta. They were good separately though.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Braised Lamb Shoulder Chops

Around 2am in the morning, I was in the middle of watching an Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations marathon when the scene in Naples (season 7, episode 11) transitioned from a marching band to the sound of "... slow simmering of meat in red sauce." It was like music to my ears. I wanted to eat some of the pasta tossed with the ragù and braised meats.

The next day, I found a package of lamb shoulder chops in the fridge. Mom told me that I was making dinner that night. After researching on Google for ideas, I began to get frustrated because nothing appealed to me. My mind kept wandering back to the clip of the ragù though. Done. That's what I'll try to make. I knew I wanted to slow cook the lamb and serve it separately from the pasta.

I began with dicing up onions, carrots, and garlic for the sauce. Then the lamb chops were seared with a little flour and vegetable oil. They were set aside while the sauce/braising liquid was made. Onions, and carrots were sautéed first, then the garlic was added in with some broth. A can of plain tomato sauce was poured into the pan. The sauce simmered on the stove top for a few minutes. Then the sauce and seared lamb chops were layered in a baking pan. It was put into the toaster oven at about 360F for about 3½ hours.

Richard had actually made a loaf of bread in the new bread maker. Not sure what happened with the giant air bubble at the top.


The bread was airy and moist. A little too moist though. But that didn't stop all of us from eating half of the loaf of bread before starting dinner. I guess it was the complimentary bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar you get at some restaurants.

I asked Richard to make a bean salad. Unfortunately the yellow beans, despite being rinsed a few times,  still tasted strongly of the can. It ruined the, otherwise good, bean salad.


Just like they did in the Naples episode, the pieces of braised meat was plated up and set aside. Most of the oil floating on top of the sauce was scooped out. The penne pasta finished cooking in the remaining sauce. At this point, I was getting excited at how dinner turned out.

Here was Mom's dinner plate with cognac to drink.

The lamb meat was really tender. Some of the cartilage was still a bit crunchy though. I really should've baked the lamb longer. The pasta tasted great in the sauce. It tasted even better the next day when I took it to work for lunch.

One plate of food was good for dinner. I needed a bonus round though. Just a couple extra bites.

The braised lamb shoulder chops turned out quite well. If there are tough cuts of meat on sale at the grocery stores, whether it's more lamb shoulder or even beef, I'll try to make this again cause it was a big hit with the family.

Future Tweaks:
  • Cook the lamb shoulder chops for longer (over 5 hours)
  • Add more tomato sauce
  • Carefully go through the sauce to get rid of shards of bones
  • Season the pasta more aggressively once the sauce is mixed in
  • Make more bread
  • Make a double batch for more leftovers


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