If Yan Could Cook. . .

Archive for August 2009

Congee Wong

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JP and I come up with any excuse we can to go to Markham, Ontario. He needs his license renewed. I want to visit a friend in Toronto. It’s his birthday.

Markham has few virtues. Commercial parks are separated by huge stretches of empty sprawl and multi-lane roads and highways. There are few sidewalks and no pedestrians anywhere. The public transit is a confusing, expensive mess of overlapping regions and juristictions (are we in Toronto? York? Markham? Did we just pass from one into the other?). There is no shade in the brilliant smog heat of summer, no protection from the blinding white of winter. On our most recent trip we gave in and rented a car, joining the invisible population. Though we both hate driving, I got deathly car sick, and JP left his keys, cellphone, and watch in the car after we returned it, it was one of my better road trips.

Why do we go? JP has a few reasons, all of them edible, but mine is Congee Wong.

Markham is dominated by its Chinese community. One only sees other people in select places (“white malls” are the minority, and they tend to include a deserted or out-of-business restaurant). The first time we went, we were walking through a food court and I said, “Hey, look, another white guy!”
JP responded, “Oh…I know him!” And he did. I was still laughing about that months later.

If I could only go to one restaurant for the rest of my life (I would ponder suicide, but then) I’d choose Congee Wong. If I lived nearby, I would systematically conquer all 248 items on the menu (not including drinks). It is simply the best Chinese food I have ever had, and it is gutter cheap. Insane cheap. Feed two people who haven’t eaten all day for under $20 cheap. I would be a much happier woman if I could stop off there every morning for a large $3.95 bowl of congee.

They serve something they refer to as “garlic sauce” (I suggest on a big heap of young, dark, perfect Chinese broccoli/Gai-lan) that I have been trying furiously to recreate. I think it involves minced and dried garlic, red chilis, a touch of dried shrimp, cornstarch, soy sauce, and oil – and then the hand of god.

All the food feels like it’s done right, a feeling which is hard to further explain. You could not change it. You could not improve it. It could not be more harmonious. Nothing could be more right with the world.

On one occasion we were seated right by the kitchen and I wished we had ordered every dish that passed. I am big on shrimp dishes there, because the shrimp is always so meaty and tasty and fresh and never overcooked: the tiger shrimp congee, the shrimp rice noodle rolls, the shrimp and broccoli (I dream regularly about broccoli soaking in their garlic sauce). Restaurant congee is always better than congee made at home, as it is usually cooked for many hours for that creaminess that shines and lingers in the mouth. Congee Wong is a step further still. The flavour is the flavour I associate with congee – salty, subtle, and soothing – only more intense, more present. JP favours the fried rice noodles with beef in X.O. sauce, which has that magic level of heat such that it stings, yet you could eat the whole platter first thing in the morning – which we have done.

Scatter my ashes in the parking lot.

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Written by skimfu

August 12, 2009 at 12:13 am

Posted in Restaurant Reviews

The Great Puff Disaster

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For some reason, I thought the best way to spend my birthday was to make a gazillion cream puffs. If you recall, I was extremely pleased at how easy it is to make puffs of any sort. I was punished for speaking too soon. To the kids watching at home – greasing the pan is EXTREMELY important.

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Using the same recipe as the link above (bring one cup water and one stick butter to a boil, add one cup flour and pull away from the sides, blend with four eggs and pipe or spoon into balls, 400 degrees F for twenty minutes), I ruined around fifty puffs by not greasing the pans and sheets on which they were being baked. This left me with about three dozen puff-scraps, and a boyfriend prepared to run to the grocery store repeatedly to lessen my dismay.

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Solution number one: stuff them with a mixture of onions, cooked spinach, and feta!

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Solution number two: stuff them with a mixture of mashed potatoes, sour cream, bacon, and green onions!

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Solution number three: for the absolute worst ones, top with finely chopped pineapple, mango, and strawberries, and cream whipped with sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla.

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Solution number four: distract party guests with additional strawberries and cream!

Happily, I have since then managed to make functional puffs. Actually, there have been several parties since then, none of them noteworthy (an overwhelmingly fishy “Brazillian stew”, a soup with too many sweet vegetables, various remakes already blogged about), one of which included frozen profiteroles (puffs filled with ice cream) and chocolate sauce. I intend to make them again and have the appropriate pictures taken, although—

although, I am about to uproot my whole life and move elsewhere. In a week and a half. Abandoning all I hold dear and moving into a tiny, noisy, smelly room over a grocery store and facing a McDonalds, whose kitchen I cannot being to imagine. Which is not to say that takes precedence over chocolate and ice cream concoctions.

Written by skimfu

August 11, 2009 at 11:20 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Two Uses for Pesto: Roasted Vegetable Sandwiches & Pesto Linguine with Pancetta

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Pesto is an easy, simple, and clean way to remind your blender that you care. You know that it saves time on chopping and mincing. You know it truly integrates flavours for pastes and bases. And you know that it can take and grind a finger on a bad day. Oh yes, you know who’s boss, but how often do you truly express your subservience, or give sacrifice to its grudging benevolence?

I buy my blender flowers each week. Then we have tea.

First off, darken the desired amount of pine nuts and garlic gloves in a bit of oil.

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Two or three bunches of basil, leaves only, go in with just enough oil to blend. Too much raw olive oil can overpower with its soapy, horticultural taste. Add the pine nuts and garlic, along with lots of shredded or grated parmesan or parm-reg, and use the blender on one of its coarser (lower) settings. Be extremely liberal with the cheese. When was the last time someone told you there was too much cheese in the sauce? Never? I thought so.

These pictures were taken during my pancetta phase, when I felt that salty cured pork held the universe together. Toss the sauce with hot cooked linguine and crushed pancetta bits.

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The same pesto is the key to great roasted veggie sandwiches. Toss cubes of eggplant, red and yellow peppers, and zucchini in olive oil and salt (a touch of balsamic vinegar and oregano or rosemary works too, if that’s your thing), then lay them in one layer on a baking tray. If they overlap too much, they’ll steam and get soggy. Put them in the oven at 375 degrees F until they shrivel a bit. If you’re used to roasting root vegetables, keep in mind that these vegetables cook very quickly – it should take less than twenty minutes.

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Use a fun kind of bread. Here we have an overly thick, onion-studded ciabatta. Spread one side with pesto.

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Build your sandwich with roasted veggies and an ample heaping of feta or a creamy chevre. Goat cheese is, of course, tastier and more structurally sound. And sometimes all I need from a sandwich is that it doesn’t fall apart. Just like life.

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Written by skimfu

August 11, 2009 at 10:09 pm

Posted in Uncategorized