If Yan Could Cook. . .

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Can you panko-bread it? & Mini Garlic-Cheese Biscuits

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I wish there was a registry of nice people, or some sort of awards system where you could nominate people who had done right by you on any given day: the middle-aged woman who seems to genuinely like working at your neighbourhood KFC, the concierge who went to bat for you against the company that owns your building, the people who answer Craigslist ads with good grammar and politeness, the man and his daughter who helped you move after seeing you tumble boxes down the street, the guy who lent you his bike lock when the pins fell out of yours right before an exam. Why is there no way to honour these people? I wish their prospective employers would call me and I could attest that yes, these are good people.

An easier question: what else can I bread in panko besides pork fillets? The short answer: shrimp – yes, but it’s better to make a batter; pork tenderloin – no, but pork tenderloin is so good it almost doesn’t matter what you do to it.

I dipped the shrimp in one egg whisked with two tablespoons of soy sauce, then flour, then panko crumbs, and then into a layer of hot oil.


They were great with Sriracha sauce, though it was a lot of steps and dishes to bread them. I suspect shrimp dunked in a batter and then fried would have been just as good. We had them with an unremarkable rice noodle soup (broth, green onions, white onions, Chinese five spice, lettuce, cucumber, spinach, thin rice noodles, sesame oil).


This soup base, detailed here, is a weeknight staple around here. Conceptually better for you than packaged ramen (JP calls it “undergrad fuel”).


I think Asian food by candlelight is just weird.

The pork tenderloin I rubbed with just a little bit of cinnamon, ground cloves, salt, and cayenne pepper. Cinnamon and cloves – good with ham, good with cookies. Go figure. Then I dipped it in one egg and two tablespoons of water, and cooked each side in oil on the stovetop. They went in the oven for fifteen minutes.


Tenderloin releases lots of juices, which makes the batter mushy, rather than crisp. It releases a lot of juices because it is mouthwateringly, meltingly juicy and tender. Even with the blah coating, it was so tasty, and that little sprinkling of cinnamon, cloves, and cayenne had somehow penetrated every bite without masking the meat. Man!

We had it with sliced radishes and zucchini, sauteed with garlic.


The giant orange cookies pictured are garlic cheese biscuits, based increasingly loosely on the recipe from What’s a Cook to Do? by James Peterson. In my version, a cup of flour and a tablespoon of baking powder get mixed together, and then 6 tablespoons of butter are cut in (between 1/4 and a 1/2 cup). Three gloves of minced garlic and a 1/4 cup of shredded Parmesan-Romano cheese are added. About 1 cup (or slightly less) of milk is mixed in to form a wet batter. The first time I made them, with the pork tenderloin, I attempted to make large drop biscuits:


In the oven at 450 degrees F for fifteen minutes, these spread a lot and became flat discs. Today, with lunch, I put the same batter into mini-muffin tins:


These came out much better – bite-sized, buttery delights. With so few ingredients, one bowl, and a short baking time, an easy addition to the arsenal. I had them with fresh berries and some leftover vegetable soup.



Written by skimfu

April 23, 2009 at 4:21 pm

Posted in Asian, Pork, Shrimp

Bruchetta, Cheese Puffs, & Curried Lentil/Sausage Canapes

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On Saturday I had a party at my soon-to-be-ex-apartment. My furniture was rearranged to convince people to take it with them or mark it as their own with Post-It notes, and it worked out very well. Bidding wars diffused quickly because people were too nice. I sat with a hardbound notebook marking down what people were taking, looking like a mousy accountant.

The party was supposed to start at seven and I got to the apartment at four, still needing to buy groceries and empty out my shelves and drawers. I cooked like it was dinner service at McDonald’s (that is to say, fast and in a flurry of panic). I bought a bag of Munchies mix just in case it all went south. All the pictures are by Laura D’Alessandro.


I made the ever popular pancetta jalapeño cheddar shrimp, described more fully here. In short, very large peeled shrimp get slit down the back of the spine and opened up (butterflied) so that a strip of seeded jalapeño and strip of cheddar cheese can be inserted. Then the shrimp can be closed up and tightly wrapped with pancetta – the slice of pancetta laid down like a piece of paper, shrimp on top, and then rolled upward – and then stuck with a toothpick to keep it all together. They go into a 400 degree F oven for 15 minutes. I was braver this time – I think I’m getting better at butterflying, as I could jam in much more jalapeño and cheese than usual. El fatty fantastico. Phil called me the “bacon magician”.


This is the bruschetta, more or less, used at Cafeo on their grilled salmon salad the summer that I worked there. I doubt that dish still exists – the menu turned over rapidly, and the dish was a misnomer (a lie?) as we never had a grill. There are other ways to cook a fish, as they say. Half a large red onion, 7-10 kalamata olives, three gloves of raw garlic are minced and thrown in the bowl. Then a (unpressed) cup of chopped basil, and two large or four small tomatoes small diced. I add a finely chopped jalapeño for “kick”, though I feel pretentious and 1990s for saying that. All of this is tossed with a splash of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Salt to taste. Good on melba toast rounds for canapes – as we had at the party – but also on nachos, fish with dill, cheese toast, ham/pork products, and thin-crust pizza.


There was a half-bag of green lentils in my cupboard I wanted to get rid of. This dish was pure invention and hope. I cooked the lentils for forty minutes in boiling water and then drained them. At the same time, some hot Italian sausages picked up colour on all sides in a pan on the stove and then went in the oven to cook. I put the lentils in the blender with sparing olive oil, some of its cooking water, salt, ground coriander, paprika, cumin, cayenne pepper, and turmeric, and blended it into a paste. I spread some of this lentil paste on each melba toast round and used it as hummus-like “glue” for a slice of sausage. The whole platter was sprinkled with chopped parsley.


The star of the evening! I followed this recipe. A cup of water and a stick of butter get brought to a boil on the stove, and then a cup of flour is added all at once and pulled into dough. The dough gets put somewhere off the heat where four eggs are blended into it, one at a time. At this point the recipe said to just drop them onto a greased pan with a spoon. I tried three approaches: (a) spoon drop, (b) pastry bag (Ziplock bag with a corner cut off) with big hole to make one big dollop and (c) pastry bag with little hole to make ice-cream swirl shapes. After they’re baked (400 degrees F, 25 minutes, for me it was less), they’re hollow on the inside, so you can poke a hole or split them slightly to fill them with something and then close them up again. I was honestly amazed by that. Something about the process seemed magical or mystifying, that these solid lumps of dough (although raw they had a texture somewhere between soft-serve ice cream and mashed potatoes) would hollow themselves out and be so crisp and cogent. Immediately after baking they’re hard on the bottom and not sticky in any way, and you can throw them around like cookies. Anyway, strategy (B) works the best – the (C) style puffs looked the best but had many little hollows inside instead of one big cavity because of their odd shape. Spoon-dropping as the recipe suggests is fine, but it was too hard for me to get evenly sized balls that way.

The filling is onion-infused butter (a slice of onion cooked and then discarded) and flour roux, plus a 1/2 cup of milk, whisked/stirred until very thick. The recipe called for Gruyère but I used cheddar because I damn well wasn’t going to keep two kinds of cheese in a fridge I was trying to empty out (1 cup, grated). The puffs get cooled, filled, and then baked a second time in a cooler (350 degrees F) oven for ten minutes to heat them through.

While cheese filling was decent enough, it wasn’t terribly flavourful (I regret not using finely chopped onion and leaving it in). I am mostly impressed by the puffs themselves. While there are more steps than I imagined, it’s all ingredients one always has on hand and it’s hard to mess up. I’m very excited to try filling them with whipped cream or different flavours of ice cream with chocolate sauce.


Everything came out quite well and people were lulled enough with food to pay for my furniture. Leftover bruschetta and lentil spread is yummy with chips.

Written by skimfu

April 1, 2009 at 11:54 am

Posted in Pork, Shrimp, Vegetarian

Crepes: Nutella & Banana Flambé; Ham, Asparagus, & Bechamel Sauce

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My sisters came to visit a few weeks ago. We visited some friends of Germaine, my eldest sister, who made a brunch to die for: crepes with berries and whipped cream, Nutella and bananas flambé, and ham, asparagus, and Bechamel sauce, all with dark, strong coffee. I vowed to recreate it later.

This morning, JP and I ate the first batch of crepes right off the stove. As I found my rhythm, he filled one of the first, sacrificial crepes with Nutella and wrapped it up. He held it out and I took a bite from it, still in his hand, and felt a brief rush of memory, of doing the exact same thing: leaning across and biting into a hot, freshly-made Nutella crepe he held. Wrapped in a paper cone, on the narrow sidewalks of the rue Moufftard in Paris, just as the light fell and the streets filled. A strange thought on a rainy morning in Montreal. Paris like a dream, a cherished fantasy – lovely, exotic, impossible. Impossible that we were there less than a month ago. I’m used to spending my breaks as a houseguest to friends who is always one wrong move away from overstaying her welcome, to traveling alone or with strangers off the Internet, and to road trips with my parents – all scenarios which are fun until they’re not. Paris wasn’t like that: not a moment where I wanted to go home and see everyone else or be productive so I could stop worrying or rest my feet and return to the familiar, not a moment where I wanted to pitch my companion out the window.

Espresso and open sky, low buildings spread far enough apart for the sunlight to get through, to melt the icy, stoic carapace of a long, Canadian winter.

I used a modified version of this crepe recipe, as follows:

Into the blender: 1 1/2 cups whole milk and 3 large eggs. For the first batch, blending after each ingredient, I added: 5 tablespoons of melted butter, 1 tablespoon of vanilla, 3 tablespoons of sugar, 1 cup of flour. For the second batch, after the milk and eggs: 1 tablespoon of vanilla, 1 tablespoon of sugar, 1 cup of flour. The two batches tasted the same to me, and less sugar and butter is good for the heart, if not the soul. This is a very egg-heavy recipe in general, giving the crepes a yellowish tinge and a certain heavy sponginess that I like, but I can see why one wouldn’t.

I used a very large (12″) non-stick pan so that there was lots of room to get around and under the crepes. On medium heat, spread a minimal amount of butter along the bottom of the pan. Add 1/3 of a cup of batter, tilting the pan to spread it around as much and as round as possible before it sets. Wait until it is bubbly and air is forcing the crepe off the surface of the pan, and then you can easily tilt it up to check if the underside is done and flip.


I took the crepe out of the pan, spread it with Nutella and stacked lengthwise-cut sections of banana in the center, and just closed it on the sides. You could do this right in the pan, but I’m a wimp. For the flambé (of which JP got an awesome picture), I put the finished crepe back in the hot pan, turned the heat off (but it’s an electric stove, so both the element and the pan retained a lot of heat), tossed some good rum on top, and lit it with a long-handled barbecue lighter.


For dinner, I used the bit of remaining batter from breakfast and the second batch to make another seven crepes, with still a half-batch left for further adventures. In preparation, I blanched a full bunch of asparagus in boiling water. To make the Bechamel sauce, I minced five gloves of garlic and incorporated them into a roux of white flour and butter (only cooked to a pale yellow), then stirred in more whole milk slowly on low heat to a thick, cottage-cheese consistency.


The majority of the crepes were built as follows: shredded strong white cheddar on the bottom, smoked ham cut into strips, asparagus, and Bechamel sauce. I heated them all in a warm (250 degrees F) oven to bring them up to eating temperature. I think it would be better without the cheese; I also think that a vegetarian version, with just asparagus and Bechamel (and maybe spinach), would still be delicious. My last crepe led me to these two conclusions because we ran out of ham and cheese first.


Making the crepes is easy, but takes a long time. If you can get two pans going, do it. If you can learn to let someone else fill the crepes without your hands itching in a control-freak way, all the better.

Edit: To my surprise, the ham and asparagus crepes are really good the next day for lunch. When cold and congealed (I know that doesn’t sound that appetizing) they hold their shape really well, so you can throw them in your bag and then eat them in hand.

Written by skimfu

March 11, 2009 at 10:54 pm

Posted in Dessert, Pork

Tonkatsu Addendum

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As a side note, the tonkatsu that I described how to make in an earlier entry is great in sandwiches. In this case, with white bread, Japanese wasabi-flavoured mayo, and lettuce.


Written by skimfu

March 10, 2009 at 9:57 pm

Posted in Asian, Pork

Fish Congee and Tonkatsu

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A few months ago, I went to Toronto and Markham to do nothing but eat Chinese food for a couple days straight. JP led me from congee house to noodles to bakery to Northern Chinese to Dim Sum; we were still eating Milk Jam buns at three in the morning. For a pasty white boy, he sure knew his stuff. Over Christmas, I went home to Vancouver and glutted myself on Chinese and Japanese food. Living here has worn down my standards terribly – I was starting to say that fibrous, bitter, overgrown gai-lan and steak as gummy as taffy was acceptable, even good “Chinese broccoli with beef”.

Yesterday, peering mournfully into my fridge, I thought: must we travel so far?

For the congee, I minced three gloves of garlic and tons of fresh ginger (three inches of stalk), and placed them in a bowl with three bunches of chopped green onions. I cubed seven cod fillets and threw them in the bowl too, along with a splash of rice wine vinegar and soy sauce, and a larger dose of sesame oil.

For the congee itself I used one cup extra-glutenous white rice and about two or three cups regular jasmine white rice. Here’s a suggestion: don’t do that. Try 1/2 a cup of each. I’m going to be eating congee for the rest of the month. This is really the food to glue shut the mouths of your fifteen hungry children. I had to scoop out half, plain, and store it in the fridge. Water determines texture, and you can keep adding as long as you want. The short of it is use lots and lots of water, and add more as it disappears. Boil it for about two hours, until the rice disintegrates into paste, kind of like oatmeal.

Near the end of cooking, add the fish mixture and as much salt and white pepper as you deem necessary, and stir in; the fish will cook quickly in the hot congee.


People often eat this for breakfast. My parents use it to accompany leftovers, when someone is sick, or when neither of them has any idea what to cook. While I made it, I kept imagining my mother shrugging, and saying, “Bo jook,” which, translating tone and context, would mean: “I don’t know, why don’t we just make congee?”

Tonkatsu is a Japanese deep-fried breaded pork cutlet, usually served in a sandwich, in a big bowl of rice and egg, or alongside noodles in soup. Okay, I don’t actually know what it’s “usually” served with, those are just the only ways I’ve encountered it. I figured it would go well with congee. It was surprisingly easy to make; it worked just the way I thought it would, which almost never happens.

First, make an assembly line for flour, one beaten egg combined with a few tablespoons of soy sauce (or water), panko (Japanese breadcrumbs), and the pan you’re going to fry them in, as below:


Take a trimmed pork cutlet, dip it in the flour, and brush it off, so the entire thing is covered in as thin a layer as possible. Next, dip it in the egg mixture, again letting excess drip off. Finally, coat both sides in panko; here you can go nuts.


The last step is easier on a gas stove than electric, because it helps to have good control on the heat of the oil – or at least it’s less messy, and there’s fewer black bits in the pan when you’re finished. The oil (olive is fine, but a waste; canola is more appropriate) should be very hot and the cutlet should sizzle, but not be popping all over the place. You only need enough oil to cover one side, and then flip, rather than actually deep-frying. This was actually my cleanest, least panicky experience with breaded stuff – all told, it took less than fifteen minutes.


In addition to the congee, I served it with some steamed bok choy and oyster sauce to dip the choy in, because I often use cooking for people as an excuse to lecture them on their vegetable intake. When I brought the food out, JP remarked, “I know you’re going to make some comment about me having yellow fever – but you’re the one who made it.”

“I am yellow, friend,” I responded, “that’s the difference.”

Written by skimfu

January 10, 2009 at 3:06 pm

Posted in Asian, Fish, Pork

This Pedestrian Life: Hip Steak Wraps, Beef-Lentil Soup, Roasted Vegetables, Pulled Pork

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While processing an insane amount of vegetables, alone at home, I listened to Led Zeppelin’s “Physical Graffiti” for the first (and second and third) time. On the one hand, it irked me to be so cliché. How many teenagers and college students, decades worth, dead and alive, had sat around and had their minds blown by this album? And then it irked me to be having that thought, that pathetic, moronically young, pseudo-nonconformist desire to not be like everyone else, not like what they like, so that what you like can define you. But then it just washed over me: first a smile, a movement, a creeping joy, then a stillness inside. Yes. The music: mind-blowing.

Somebody asked me what I eat on any given weekday, and I’m going to pretend all of you care. I don’t change my Facebook status or use Twitter, so allow me this “hey world, look at the mundane workings of my life!” narcissism.

This month orange juice and peach yogurt have been a permanent fixture in my fridge, along with frozen mangoes, strawberries, grapes, and raspberries. Any combination of the above, with ice, in the blender, sends a cool, flickering sensation through the limbs.

Last week I made a bunch of hip steak wraps to take with me each day. In second year I thought this was a stroke of genius; now I regard anything that has only three major ingredients to be a quick-and-dirty affair. Foodie snobbery infects without warning, and the prognosis is swift and grim. Strips of onion (1/2 inch half-rings) are left to caramelize until inarguably sweet, then stir-fried with strips of hip steak, strips of green pepper, minced garlic, paprika, cayenne pepper, cumin, oregano, and black pepper. Because of all the sitting-in-ambient-heat time, it’s better to leave the beef considerably rarer than you actually want it. Then roll appropriate portions up in tortillas, let cool, wrap in foil, and then eat them with aggressive messiness in class, dripping onion juices in your lap.

This week’s second-year classic: beef-lentil soup. Half a large yellow onion, chopped small, sweated with minced garlic, one beef bullion cube, one chicken bullion cube, rosemary, thyme, oregano, and pepper; cubes of stewing beef are seared with the mixture. Five medium-small carrots and three large stalks celery, sliced, white-flesh potatoes in large cubes, a can of tomatoes, loads of green lentils (3/4 pound), and enough water that it isn’t stew get tossed in. Even loaded with red chili flakes at the end (which is essential!), it’s a comforting, straightforward soup. Portioned out and frozen for the grab-and-go.

Man, that is an unpalatable brown.

At the same time I was making this soup, last night, I chopped extra celery, onion, carrots, and potatoes, as well as some zucchini in large cubes, tossed it all with oil and coarse Montreal steak spice, and then popped it in the oven in two roasting pans covered in foil. After an hour and a half of being ignored, at 350 degrees F, a weeks’ worth of easy veggie snacks!

This morning, I rubbed a pork shoulder with a dry rub of brown sugar, celery seed, dried cilantro, paprika, cayenne, and oregano. It went into the oven at 200-225 degrees F (my oven is kind of imprecise at such low temperatures) for four hours: one hour uncovered, three hours under foil.

Finely chopped celery, green pepper, and onion were cooked in a few spoonfuls of broth and fat from the roast. To this I added dijon, balsamic vinegar, orange juice, honey, tomato paste, and pepper. Dismayed at how much it tasted like pasta sauce, I also added some pureed chipotle (which I cannot seem to get rid of) at the end. Then it tasted…well, kind of like a meatball sub, but still closer to pulled pork.

roast1 roast22

roast3 roast4

When the pork came out, I tore it apart with tongs and my hands, and drenched in the sauce. So far I’ve eaten it on hallah bread; I imagine it would be good on rice, too.

Written by skimfu

November 9, 2008 at 6:40 pm

Posted in Beef, Pork, Soup

Pork Tenderloin and Spinach Pastry; La Paryse

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A memory of making spanakopita: my then-boyfriend was playing a video game in our then-one-room apartment. I was rambling, talking to myself loudly, uncertain of everything I was doing. Maybe I should do it like this, or this? That seems like too much…well, maybe just too much of that…do you think there’s too much? How do I…this shape…sealing it here…oh, this one won’t work…crap, I don’t have one of those, what do you think I should use instead?

Occasionally he’d answer, but mostly he sat in silence. This is what I remember: standing still, for a moment, with a neon pink plastic bowl filled with spinach and feta in my arms, looking at his broad, unresponsive back. Did he find my frenetic yammering annoying, I wondered, or was he able to tune it out?

On Saturday afternoon, quietly rolling pork tenderloin in puff pastry, stainless steel bowl of dry rub on hand, I was suddenly glad to be alone in my large, ramshackle kitchen. A new place of only good memories.

Photo by John-Paul Lobos.

I went to a pot luck on Saturday. I intended to slow roast a pork shoulder, bake some white bread, and smother it all in something sweet and sticky, but I ran out of time (letting yeast sit, letting pork fall to pieces in a cooler oven). Instead, I bought two pork tenderloin, which was not nearly as expensive as I had been led to believe. I trimmed the fat minimally; in retrospect, I don’t think it was necessary.

Dried oregano, cayenne, paprika, cumin, and salt was mixed in a bowl, and then rubbed dry onto each piece of meat. The meat was seared on all sides, in hardly any oil, on medium-high heat. I chopped up some fresh spinach and shallots and wilted them together, and pureed some chipotle peppers with brown sugar and tomato paste (if it isn’t obvious, I was trying to use up some leftover ingredients). Puff pastry was rolled out in two large rectangles to a 1/2 inch layer (next time, and ho boy will there ever be a next time, I would use less and roll thinner) and spread with the chipotle mixture, as a pizza with tomato sauce. One tenderloin and half the spinach mixture were laid together on each piece, and then rolled up together, closing the pastry along one edge. Brushed with egg wash (raw egg beaten) and then diagonal slits with a steak knife to let steam out.

After fifteen minutes at 425 degrees F, and then another twenty at 375, the pork was so tender you could split it easily with a plastic spoon. As the potluck was hosted by a lazy dishwasher, that is actually what I was using. The finished product felt somewhat experimental to me; there are a lot of things I intend to change next time, not least of which are aesthetic.

On Friday night, I was taken to La Paryse, a self-proclaimed “snack bar” at 302 Ontario E. We arrived at five and were seated right away, and then a line promptly formed behind us that went out the door and around the corner.

Best. Hamburger. Ever.

And I don’t say that in my usual, contemplative way. I did not chew slowly with my head tilted to one side, saying, “Hmm, this is good, what’s in it?” I have no idea what was in it, and I don’t remember the individual flavours and textures. I was not comparing it to all other hamburgers I’ve eaten – all other hamburgers were obliterated, as though they had never happened. I had no thoughts beyond “best hamburger ever”. Completely blindsided by pleasure.

The milkshakes, too, were a dreamily perfect thickness, and they give you just slightly more than you would want (which is how much milkshake you should always get). The poutine was less impressive, using a mixture of curled and shredded mozzarella instead of curds, and quickly limp fries not ideal for gravy sopping, but by then I didn’t care. My companion laughed at my eyes-to-the-heavens visceral reaction and at how he had to lug my happily comatose body along the street afterward, but hell, that is living.

Written by skimfu

October 27, 2008 at 3:55 pm