Thursday, June 28, 2012

Pickled Lotus Root or Why I heart...

Sieu Thi Dong Thanh Supermarket!

I was let on to a little food gem this morning and I sense my relationship with Vietnam will never be the same. 

For those wondering, I've never actually been to Vietnam.  The closest I've come is my lovely Vietnamese nail ladies who fill me up with stories about cheap massages, delicious foods and breathtaking scenery.  To say that I ache to go is an understatement. 

However, having just returned from Sieu Thi Dong Thanh Supermarket, I feel that I've now taken a mini-trip.  And without further ado, my top five list of Why I Love Sieu Thi Dong Thanh Supermarket!

1. The Smell

The smell is really indescribable.  It is a mix of fermented things, strange fish, unfamiliar herbs and dried earth.  Almost sweet but not; kinda garlicky, but not; teetering on the edge of off-putting, but strangely reassuring.  It lets you know that you are in a store that sells authentic Asian food.

2. I know NOTHING

As a person who is obsessed with food, I tend to think that I know a fair amount.  The latest seasoning?  I've been using it for years.  A "new" spin on an old classic?  Old hat to me.  Well not in this store.  I was like a kid in a candy shop who couldn't recognize half of the candy!  After the first aisle I was already lost.  It was an awesome feeling.

3. "Fresh Meat"

Everything was labeled "Fresh Meat" alongside the price.  Everything.  Basil?  Oh no, that's fresh meat.  Lemongrass stalks, again, fresh meat.  Frozen seafood?  You guessed it, fresh meat.  All of this fresh meat did not help me wind my way through the maze of unfamiliar ingredients, but added to fantasticness of the experience.

4. I can't read Vietnamese

The items not labeled as "Fresh Meat" were labeled in Vietnamese.  I can't read Vietnamese, so basically anything I choose is a gamble.  I like gambling.

5.  The prices

The pricing is the best part about shopping in Asian food stores.  They don't gouge you.  
There is no greenwashing or upscale branding or pretty bows around pretty jars.  While sometimes I enjoy the narratives behind fancy products, I often just want to buy my food without all the bullshit.  Asian stores are queen for this.

Suffice to say, this tucked away store is bursting with strange products, pickled and dried and salted and... mmmmmm, fermented.  I am leaving fermentation for a future post.  Today, my focus is pickle.  Pickled lotus rootlets to be precise.

Before I dig in to the recipe I must warn you, pickled lotus rootlets by Cock Brand is killer hot.  When I opened the jar and pulled out a beautiful little rootlet I was not expecting it to take my head off.  Take my head off it did and I can handle my spice.  Consider this fair warning.

Pickled Rootlet Salad
  • Four lotus rootlets, chopped on the diagonal (you can use more but they are really, really spicy)
  • One carrot, grated
  • Half a yellow pepper, sliced thin
  • Half of a lime (and zest)
  • One tbsp of fish sauce
  • One tbsp of honey
  • Handful of cilantro, roughly chopped
  • Sesame seeds
  • A drizzle of toasted sesame oil


1. Pour the fish sauce into the bottom of the bowl with the honey and sesame oil; grate the lime zest and then squeeze the lime juice into the bowl.  Taste it and adjust the fish sauce, honey and sesame oil until you like how it tastes.

2. Toss the grated carrot, sliced lotus rootlet and yellow pepper into the bowl and stir it up so everything gets coated in the dressing. 

Now add the cilantro and sesame seeds and stir together gently.  Garnish with freshly plucked whole cilantro leaves.

Find them at:
Sieu Thi Dong Thanh Supermarket
1172 Kingsway

"You must be a lotus, unfolding its petals when the sun rises in the sky, unaffected by the slush where it is born or even the water which sustains it."

-Sai Baba


Shonagh writes An Offal Experiment exploring the guts of food.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Johnny's! EPIC Guanciale Inspired Birthday Breakfast

It was my brother's birthday on June 2nd or 3rd (I always forget), which coincided perfectly with the curing of my pig cheek.  To celebrate his 26th birthday I decided to make an EPIC pork-filled breakfast and it was EPIC indeed.

First, about my brother.  We are five years apart (I'm older) but are really close friends - I think he's a pretty cool guy.  A former academic, he has given his life over to spoken word poetry and is rather good.  Our hang-outs often involve the spontaneous spouting of poetry so I get to be an early ear for his stuff, what fun!  You can check out one of his newest creations here.  He is the water bowler.

The Menu
  • Guanciale Omelette
  • Sweet Potato sauteed in Guanciale fat
  • Guanciale fat topped Toast with a Grapefruit-Cranberry Marney
Whenever I plan a menu I always have a few focal ingredients that I like to use to tie the meal together.  For Johnny's! EPIC breakfast my focal ingredients are guanciale and thyme.  If you remember from Roman Bacon: Part 1, thyme was used to cure the pork cheek, so it was a natural choice.  Tying the meal together does not mean that thyme needs to be used in every dish though, I just used it with the sweet potato so it didn't overpower the real star.

  • Guanciale - a large chunk, about 1/4 cup
  • Sweet potato - 2 medium
  • Eggs - 4
  • Bread - I used
  • Cranberries - 1/2 cup
  • Grapefruit - 1
  • White sugar - 1 tablespoon
  • Honey - to taste
  • Thyme - a couple sprigs
  • Salt - a healthy amount

1) Start by scrubbing the sweet potatoes and then putting them straight on the oven rack and turn the oven on to 400 degrees F.  If you don't have anything protecting the bottom of your oven then you might want to put the potatoes on a tray because the sugar drips out as they bake and forms beautiful (but very hard to get off) black bubbles.  I eat a baked sweet potato every day so I just cover the bottom of my oven with tin foil and throw that out every few months.

Start to check your sweet potato at about 20 minutes by reaching into the oven and giving it a little squeeze.  Meltingly soft?  It's ready and should be taken out and allowed to cool.

2) As that is baking, put the cranberries in a heavy saucepan on medium and get to work peeling the grapefruit.  The marney is a combination of marmalade and chutney.  It's not sweet, it's not savoury, it's perfect.

Having said that, you can leave a bit of the pith (the white stuff) on your peel so just use a veggie peeler to get most of the peel off the grapefruit.  Slice into thin strips and add it to the cranberries.

 I cut the grapefruit open at this point and cut out most of the fruit (into chunks), throwing it in with the cranberries and peel.  Now add a good solid pinch of salt to the marney, because this cuts the bitterness of the grapefruit and cranberry.  Also add the white sugar.  Turn it up to medium-high and give it a good stir.  This will be cooking away as you finish the rest of the breakfast.  You can let it hard boil for a while making sure to check the consistency.  Once it reaches a nice thickness turn the heat down to low and just let it sit.  

3) It's time for the guanciale! Cut your chunk of guanciale into three pieces - one piece cubed and the other two into thin slices.  Heat a small (omelette-sized) saucepan for a few minutes, and toss in the cubed guanciale.  Let the fat render out and keep the heat to just below medium.  If it starts to smoke, take the pan off to let it cool down a little and then return it to the element.

Once the guanciale cubes have given up most of their fat and are looking crispy, take them off the heat and put them to the side and turn the heat down or off under your small saucepan.

4) As the cubed guanciale is rendering, one pile of guanciale slices should also be rendering with the sprigs of thyme in a large saucepan.  The heat and oil help to release the thyme essence.  Yummy.  Again, make sure the fat doesn't smoke!

Once the fat is rendered from the slices, take your sweet potatoes (now cool) and slice them in half.  Put the cut side down into the fat.  If you don't hear a sizzle then your pan isn't hot enough.  Sprinkle some salt and grind some pepper onto your potatoes and let them cook until they are golden brown.  Once they are done, take them out of the pan and pop them into the oven to keep them warm.

5) Using the sweet potato pan, render the last pile of guanciale slices.  As you are doing this, put the small saucepan back on the heat and start whisking the four eggs.  I find that if I whisk the eggs and then immediately pour them into the saucepan my omelette is ultra-fluffy!  I like ultra-fluffy.

Put your toast on when your omelette is close to done.

Don't overcook your omelette.  I tend to take mine off the heat when it is still slightly liquidy.  If it is left on too long then your eggs will get tough.  Tough eggs = a no no.

6) Now to put it all together!

Take your sweet potatoes out of the oven and onto the plate they go.

Cut the omelette in half and put it next to the potatoes.

Put the rendered fat slices on the toast and then pour, yes pour the rest of the fat onto the toast.  Smear a large dollop of the marney on top followed by a drizzle of honey.

  • If you have skin on your jowl, you should remove it but put the fatty side down into the one of the sauce pans and melt the fat out of it.  Maximize your pig fat!
  • Cut the potato into whatever size you want.  If you like crispiness then cut into smaller pieces and brown for longer. 

Shonagh writes An Offal Experiment - exploring the guts of food

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Volunteering at the Market and Spinach Salad

This is my last semester of classes before I finish my Masters degree.  While I still have a practicum to finish and thesis to write I am beginning to feel like I am close to the end.  In honor of this ending, I wanted to really celebrate the student life this summer, by this I mean not working full time.  One of the many activities I have scheduled is volunteering at the farmer's market for a small certified organic farm called Klippers Organic Acres!

I am planning to profile the lovely couple that runs the farm in a later post, however, until then I am continuing my farmer's market series by describing my volunteer experience.  The program is simple: Come to the market super early in the morning, help them set up all the produce, and then keep it stocked during the day, while chit-chatting with market-goers.  Then, at the end of the day, you fill up your bags with certified organic produce.  Sounds good to me!

I have volunteered twice now and I absolutely love it!  I am a chit-chatterer and I seem to run into about a dozen people I know at the market and it is lovely catching up.  The owners are really relaxed and give all of the volunteers time to wander off to check out the other vendors.  I am sold.  Check out the website and email Kevin and Anna-Marie if you are interested in helping them out at the markets.

So to celebrate my second week of volunteering I am using the delicious, crunchy spinach as inspiration for a delicious spring salad.

  • Certified organic spinach - two cups
  • Olive oil - two teaspoons
  • White wine vinegar - one teaspoon
  • Orange zest - one orange
  • Orange segments
  • Avocado - half and avocado, cubed
  • Sea Salt - to taste
  • Parsley - just a sprig or two
  • Walnuts - chopped roughly

1) Rinse the spinach (or not if you like the extra minerals that the dirt brings) and chop it finely.  I like my greens chopped finely.  If I don't do this I get oil all over my face.  In fact, I've always wondered how other people eat salad and don't get oil all over their faces???  Seriously it mystifies me.

2) To make as little mess as possible I pour the oil and vinegar in the bottom of the bowl I'm using to serve the salad.   The oil is Palestinian from a company called Zatoun.  I heard about Zatoun when I attended a lecture on the Israeli occupation of Palestine.  The olive oil is fair trade and some of the money goes to replanting the olive trees that are being destroyed by the occupation.

3) I like to grate the orange peel straight into the bowl using the small setting.  Looking at the picture below, you can see the spray of orange essence on the gray of the bowl.  If you grate the orange peel onto a cutting board or into a bowl then you lose all of this loveliness.  Don't lose the loveliness.

4) At this point throw the spinach leaves into the bowl and toss, toss, toss.  I like to dress the greens without the rest of the salad for two reasons.  First, it is nice to pile the "meat" of the salad on top - it looks really pretty.  Second, you don't want to mush the avocado or crush the orange pieces.  They will migrate into the rest of the salad as you serve it.

5) To segment the oranges, first cut the top and bottom off so that it sits on the cutting board without rolling around.

6) Then cut the peel off deeply enough so that the inner flesh of the orange is exposed.  Don't compost the outer orange peel until you have squeezed the juice into the tossed salad.

 7) Using a knife, cut the segments out leaving the membrane behind.  You will end up with gorgeous segments of orange with no peel or membrane.  For my salad, I like to cut each segment up into three pieces for ease of eating.  You don't have to.

Again, squeeze the orange membrane onto the spinach salad to get all that delicious juice.

Arrange the segments onto the top of the salad with the cubes of avocado.

8) Run out to your garden or reach up to your window sill and pick a few nice pieces of parsley.  Place them on top of the salad.

At this point you can add the chopped walnuts and a twist of black pepper.

I love the slight bitterness of the walnuts against the fattiness of the avocado and the bright juiciness of the orange with the crunchiness of the spinach.

If you have time to stop by the Trout Lake farmer’s market, make sure you take a swagger by the Klipper’s booth and chit-chat with me!

Now on to the most important question: What am I going to make the next time I volunteer?  Check back to find out!


Shonagh writes An Offal Experiment - exploring the guts of food

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Roman Bacon: Part 2

The roman bacon was ready.

Unfortunately I had quite the time getting it out of my storage closet.  I have lived in my apartment building for seven years.  I have had a key to my storage closet kicking around solo for seven years.  I have never lost it, or misplaced it, ever.  When do I lose it?  Yeah, that's right when I have a pig cheek hanging from the ceiling.

First, I searched.  Nothing.  Second, I fretted.  That also did nothing.  Third, I posted an ad on craigslist looking for a lock pick.  Again, nothing.  Fourth, I attempted to pick the lock myself from the oh so useful collection of youtube videos on lock picking.  Can you guess? Nothing.  But, as I am attempting to pick the lock, I notice a gap at the top of the closet!  Is it possible?  Will the cheek fit through?  Eureka!  My pig cheek is rescued!

And then my love affair began...

I danced around my kitchen after unwrapping my guanciale, oohing and ahhing.  "My God, you are beautiful!" I exclaimed.  "Oh my Lord, I think you are luscious!"  I ran my fingers over the pork fat and it melted at my touch.  I felt like the poet Petrarch who wrote 366 poems to a woman he had only just glimpsed.

How will I feel once I taste it?

I have big plans for this guanciale.  A small piece is being used in the morning to make breakfast for my brother - it's his birthday.  It will also become pasta carbonara.  Having recently bought locally grown and milled flour I am also making the pasta.  This will be a meal to remember and a post to look out for.  My father might even get a chunk for father's day or at least a meal because I am not sure that he will know what to do with a piece of pig fat.  Subscribe to my blog to learn the fate of my little pig cheek.

"Those who danced were thought to be quite insane by those who could not hear the music."
  -Angela Monet


Shonagh writes An Offal Experiment - exploring the guts of food

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Sheep Tongue with Chorizo

The real offal experiment continues... with a sheep tongue.

My attempt with the brain was fascinating but not incredibly tasty.  Will the tongue taste better?  If looks are any indication then the answer is a resounding no!  Good god a tongue is an ugly piece of meat.  None of the silkiness of a prime cut.  No.  It's all ugly.  It's also a process.

To start a tongue needs to be brined - this is a familiar first step with organ meat.  I used a combination of sugar, salt and spices.  At that point, I wasn't sure what I was going to do with my tongue or I would have put a mexican spin on my spice mixture.  Instead I threw in a couple bay leaves, some black peppercorns, and some coriander.  To keep the tongue submerged I put a pretty blue cup on it.  And there is sat stewing for a few days.
The next step is to poach the tongue until tender using lots and lots of aromatics.  At this point I still wasn't sure about where my tongue would end up so I used the spices that Jennifer recommends in Odd Bits - onion, five spice, bay leaves, and black peppercorns.  I mean how this tongue had any tongue flavour left is not something I can explain.  It was loaded with spices.

Once the tongue was nice and soft, I poked it with a skewer, I removed it from the poaching liquid and very quickly peeled the now very bumpy outer layer off.  The process of peeling the tongue isn't too hard but is easiest when the tongue is hot so get on your rubber gloves and start tugging.

The after shot doesn't look much more appetizing does it?

I wasn't looking forward to eating the tongue until I remembered the secret to expanding my palate.  For some reason, early in my life, I became obsessed with learning to like a wide variety of foods.  The process is quite simple:
  1. Start with small amounts cut into small pieces combined with food you absolutely love, love, love.  It is best if you cut the pieces of the food you don't like into a similar size as the pieces you love.  I call this step tricking yourself.
  2. Practice step one for a long period of time, until you firmly associate the new food item with deliciousness.  At this point start decreasing the yummy food item and increasing the food you are hopefully starting to like at this point.
  3. Continue to eat the new food item covered in yummy sauces.  By this point you should be starting to semi-enjoy the new food item and are well on your way to adding a new food to your diet.
In the case of sheep's tongue I decided to bring out the big gun - chorizo sausage.  Does anything taste bad when it's fried up with chorizo?  I would venture to say no.

  • Onion - sliced thinly
  • Jalapeno - sliced thinly
  • Chorizo sausage - cut into small pieces
  • Chili powder - 1 tablespoon
  • Oil - for frying
  • Poached and peeled sheep's tongue - cut into small pieces
  • Salt to taste
  1.  Put the pan on medium heat and give it time to warm up (about five minutes). Pour about a tablespoon of oil into the pan and add the onion.  Saute until golden brown.
  2. Add the chili powder and continue cooking for a few minutes.  Now add the jalapeno peppers and chorizo sausage.  Normally when I cook chorizo I like to render out some of the fat.  Not when I'm eating it with tongue.  I wanted this to be rich and fatty and delicious.
  3. Once the chorizo is almost cooked through, turn the heat down a bit and add the tongue.  Heat until the tongue is hot and the chorizo is done.  Mmmm... Chorizo sausage and tongue.

I served my chorizo and tongue fry-up on steamed rice.  For toppings I used a squirt of lime juice, some chopped cilantro and slices of avocado.  I love spice so I also added a drizzle of sriacha sauce. 

The Verdict

Well much like the brain experiment, the tongue didn't do it for me, even with the chorizo sausage.  Having said that I did eat it all, which is saying something I suppose.  The texture is quite smooth and the flavour wasn't overly strong.  I was amazed though that with all the aromatics and spices infused into the tongue, it still tasted like, well, tongue. 

  • It is really easy to cut chorizo up with kitchen scissors.  Try it and you'll never go back to a knife.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Early Spring at the Market - On the Cheap!

When people talk of visiting the Farmer's Market they don't often exclaim over its cheapness.  More usually you hear grumbling and groaning over the prices, so much more expensive than the supermarket, is it actually worth the money...

All opinions aside over whether it really is that much more expensive, I am here to offer the market through another lens - my Scottish thrifty lens.  My Scottish thrifty lens is an inheritance from a long line of thrifty Scots.  When it comes to sniffing out a deal or using the very last drop of dish soap, few do it better than the Scottish.  So if you are heading towards the market, make sure to keep your eyes out for these smokin' early spring deals.

1) Apples - In Vancouver, apples are a fall fruit.  They are at their peak as the air crisps up, signalling the oncoming winter.  So the spring is the best time to find deals on apples.  They have been in cold storage and aren't at the height of crunchiness but who says you have to only eat apples raw.  Stock up on big bags of apples and make apple sauce, apple pie, apple chutney, etc. etc.  I found big bags of certified organic apples for only $5 bucks! 

2) Beet Greens - So I've actually been volunteering at the market and I've discovered that most people don't want the beet greens.  They ask the farmer to strip them off.  I know!  Crazy!  All that delicious and nutritious greenery going straight into the compost bin.  So what is a thrifty person to do?  Well you have two options: 
  • Option 1: Stand by the beets and start makin' deals.  Ask people if they are going to eat the greens and if they say no, offer to take them off their hands.  You are doing them a favour by relieving their "throwing it away" guilt.  
  • Option 2: Speak to the farmer directly.  Explain that you are a beet green fanatic and are horrified that people don't eat them.  As you ask what they cost train your children to chime in with a "mommy I'm hungry" and I am sure you will get them for free.  Ethics you say?  You're talking to a thrifty Scot.
3) Frozen Tomatoes - Farmers don't throw stuff away, especially small-scale organic farmers.  They process it, freeze it or compost it.  Certified organic frozen tomatoes are the way to go.  Way cheaper than fresh and perfect, perfect, perfect for making tomato sauce and paste.  Early spring is the time to find frozen tomatoes because that year's crop isn't quite in yet.  Snap them up!

4) Market Membership - With all the hustle and the bustle of the market many things escaped my notice in the past.  Now that I am volunteering I have time to soak in the market culture.  Lesson from last weekend?  Get a membership to the farmer's market society.  Then, as you wander around the booths, you will get deals on specific items.  It's a win-win situation.  Get on it.

I would love to hear about other deals and steals that people find at the market either through commenting or email.

Check back soon to hear more about my experiences volunteering at the market this summer.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Middle Eastern Rhubarb Fool

The rhubarb theme continues in my mother's garden.  My niece was visiting from LA and the family decided to celebrate her "Almost 1" birthday since she wouldn't be in town when she actually turned one.  It was the perfect opportunity to use up some of my mom's rhubarb and introduce my wee niece to a new taste! 

But first I needed rhubarb inspiration.  Epicurious is so helpful for this.  They had a ton of rhubarb recipes - rhubarb upside down cake, rhubarb pie, rhubarb cheesecake, the list went on...  For once though I didn't want to spend hours prepping and/or making my dessert.  I wanted simple and delicious.  Rhubarb fool was the obvious choice.

I attempted to figure out where the name for this light and airy dessert came from and found nothing concrete.   However, the OED gave me a few hints.  The word, when it was originally used and when the dessert was originally served, had a much gentler meaning than the modern usage.  It was almost a term of endearment, which makes sense in the context of the court jester being the Crown's fool.  The term was also referenced in the Feast of Fool's, a dancing and feasting church celebration in the Middle Ages.  If I were to hazard a guess, and I am always willing, I would imagine that fool refers to the light and airy nature of the dessert.  It is not a dessert to take seriously like a heavy cheesecake or a rich chocolate pate.  It is more appropriate to joyfully spoon it on top of other desserts, as if it were a bit of a joke.

A fool is a simple dessert and perfect for the summertime.  It is basically stewed fruit layered with whipped cream.  Yummy!  I decided to add a Middle Eastern twist to mine.  Feel free to play around with the flavours.

  • Rhubarb - 4 cups
  • Honey - to taste
  • Orange juice - three oranges
  • Orange blossom water - several capfuls
  • Vanilla bean - scraped out
  • Whipping cream - 2 cups
  • Orange zest - three oranges
  • Icing sugar - to taste
1) The rhubarb needs to be chopped into 3/4 inch chunks.  Keep the pieces fairly large because you don't want them breaking down completely when you stew the rhubarb.  A fool needs some texture.

2) Add the rhubarb to a heavy, non-reactive saucepan with the freshly squeezed orange juice, orange blossom water, honey and vanilla pod (scrape out the seeds to use in the whipped cream, see note below for instructions).  Cook down on low to medium heat until the rhubarb is soft but not mush.  Start to check your rhubarb at ten minutes and keep an eye on it after that.  Once it is at a nice consistency, pull it off the heat and add two oranges worth of zest to the stewed fruit.  Let it cool completely.

As it cooks and then cools you will have some free time to spend with your family - in my case, my wee niece.  This is an excellent opportunity to introduce her to a new flavour: rhubarb!

As you can see it's a little sour, not that the sourness stopped her from munching on it for quite a while.  It's good to see an adventurous palate at such a young age.  Oh the food adventures I will take her on as she gets older!

3) Once you have finished socializing, head back into the kitchen to whip the cream.  I used a hand mixer and I recommend a deep bowl and an apron because whipping cream can be a bit messy.  As you whip it, add icing sugar to taste as well as the vanilla seeds that you scraped from the pod (see below for instructions).  Whip the cream until it is whipped!

4) If the rhubarb is cold and the cream is whipped, it is time to assemble your fool.  Start with a layer of stewed rhubarb and then add a layer of whipping cream.  Then GENTLY spoon another layer of rhubarb on top.  You want to create distinct layers and if you slosh the stewed fruit onto the delicate whipping cream it will muddy up your presentation.  Finish with a layer of whipping cream and then zest the final orange on top to make your fool look extra pretty.  I wanted to add toasted, sliced almonds on top for garnish but they burned because I was too busy kissing and cooing over my niece.  Such is life!

To Serve

Rhubarb fool is wonderful on its own.  It's also great spooned onto pie or cake.  If you are feeling like extra work then you can make beautiful single servings in wine glasses.  Dressing up like a jester is optional but would be a hilarious compliment to your fool.

  • To scrape out a vanilla bean, take a sharp knife and cut the bean open lengthwise.  Inside you will find an oily, black paste - those are the vanilla seeds.  Take your knife and scrape out all of the delicious paste.
  • Any kind of stewed fruit will do for a fool.  I read that gooseberry is the traditional choice.
  • Experiment with different flavour and texture combinations.  I almost added candied ginger but then decided to allow the orange blossom water to shine.  Rosewater is a traditional choice, cinnamon is delicious, star anise, lemon peel, clove, let your imagination go wild!

"fool, n.1 and adj.". OED Online. March 2012. Oxford University Press. 1 June 2012 <>.