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

Only Vaguely Greek: Chicken Souvlaki with Lemon-Pepper Yogurt Sauce, Spicy Shrimp Pitas with Tzatziki

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My favourite fast food dish – what you can usually get in mall food courts, at restobars and pubs, at odd diners open in the middle of the night – is a souvlaki platter. You usually get a stick of meat, some rice, some salad (sometimes Greek), and fries. There is some sense that you’re getting more or better food than your friends with their burger, pizza, or poutine, or at least that you’re going to be less sick at the end of it. My only qualm would be that you never seem to get enough meat and salad. The logical solution:


This meal is based on this recipe from Epicurious for the chicken. Cubes of chicken breast were marinated for about two hours in garlic, about two tablespoons of lemon juice, dried thyme, dried rosemary, salt and pepper. The recipe calls for freshly squeezed lemons and fresh herbs and overnight marinating, but who am I, the pope?


These were strung onto skewers and oven-broiled for fifteen minutes.


For the yogurt sauce, I used half of a 750 g container of plain yogurt, a splash of red wine vinegar, a splash of lemon juice, heaps of garlic and black pepper, and some dried mint, omitting the sour cream altogether. My only real innovation on the given recipe is using the sauce as a base for a salad dressing. I removed about a 1/4 cup and whisked it slowly with added olive oil. This was tossed with iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, green pepper, and small cubed red onion.


Once plated, the salad was topped with Kalamata olives, a sprinkle of dry oregano, and crumbled feta.


Because I buy them frozen and love them both, I always seem to have corn and shrimp lying around. On winter nights, during exam seasons, and throughout my own year-round laziness, I used to end up cooking them together often, the same way I used to eat a lot of diced vegetables in soy sauce over rice. While perhaps not obvious bedfellows, I’ve found corn and shrimp are great with basil, oregano, garlic, and dried red chili flakes. Better yet, in a pita!


This is not exactly tzatziki, but the right idea is there. I minced a whole garlic head. With the other half of the 750 g plain yogurt container, I mixed in half of the minced garlic, half of a finely chopped English cucumber, and lemon juice to taste.


To cook the shrimp, put the remainder of the garlic, plus dried basil, oregano, and red chili flakes in a couple tablespoons of oil and let it cook for a minute to aromatize the oil. Add the shucked shrimp first, then the frozen corn (it may seem weird, but you can cook them in a dry frying pan), and salt.


The pita is assembled with shredded (cut into strips…) iceberg, leftover from the salad that accompanied the souvlaki, the shrimp, and the tzatziki-like entity.


The mutual ingredients make these two meals ideal to have in the same week. Also, if you wander into the kitchen late at night and there’s pita and tzatziki lying around, it might be gone in the morning.

Written by skimfu

April 23, 2009 at 1:46 am

Posted in Chicken, 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

Killer Shrimp

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Blogs that link to other blogs are so very bloggy. It’s interesting that acting as a sieve for the lush, seething waters of the internet is now considered a creative endeavor. It’s like being a critic who only delivers positive reviews and doesn’t actually write any criticism, merely points (that over there, that’s good), under the assumption that anything bad will simply be ignored.

Sometimes I want to do this, just roll out lists of good things with minimal justification: Glenn Greenwald on Salon.com (he’s still angry in the midst of a culture of complacency and resignation)! Lore Sjoberg on Wired.com (he’s still funny for the sake of being funny without the heady, serious subtext and social responsibility that seems to be a requirement of comedy these days)! Hey Ocean (a band truly like no other, in no way imitative or derivative, incomparable, happy as an afternoon in the sun)!

Last night was the first time in several months that I followed a recipe more or less verbatim, so posting about it is very much an act of blog-pointing. Killer Shrimp from Jaden’s Steamy Kitchen seemed like a great party food, so I called up my usual party and went to work. I omitted the clam juice and only used about one and half pounds of shrimp. Her instructions about crushing the spices but keeping them whole made a mortar and pestle seem inappropriate; I worked them with a fork in a bowl. After tasting it early on, it seemed like the lemon rind was giving too much bitterness, so I pulled out all but about 1/6th of a lemon. Photos by Laura D’Alessandro.

It was just as much fun to eat as the recipe promised. Two baguettes for five people was actually not enough – there was so much sauce-mopping and shrimp-shucking to be done. A big fruit salad of cherries, honeydew, strawberries, and grapes provided a nice balance to the spicy heat. The heft of the meal and the cold Mexican beer going around left everyone in a pleasant daze. My friend Phil pointed out that my apartment is well-equipped for dinner, but not after dinner – there is nowhere for everyone to pass out comfortably, rubbing their stomaches.

It’s tempting, in something like this, to be modest or self-depreciating, to paint myself as a bumbling amateur. And I wonder if I’m supposed to respond to compliments about my food that way (aw, shucks, it’s nothing, the shrimp is a little overcooked, anyone could have done it). Most of the time I give a slight, tilted nod, a gesture I’m pretty sure I picked up from my father. Is this respectful, or arrogant? The food was fantastic. You couldn’t have done it as easily. I agree completely.

And in a professional kitchen, we snipe at each other, make backhanded comments. A cook I know convinced the boss to buy small egg pans because he couldn’t use the flat-top. The next day, this conversation:

Him: “Don’t you love the new pans?”
Me: “I don’t know. The eggs do look kind of cute. They’re all right, the flat-top was alright.”
Him: “Yeah, but that’s because your eggs are always perfect. You’re good.”
Me: “…So what are you?”

This kind of conversation is so common that no love was lost between us. Although that is nothing compared to the evils we inflict upon the waitstaff. One day I came in and two cooks were laughing hysterically. “What happened?” I asked.

“We made one of the waiters cry,” was the response.

Written by skimfu

August 20, 2008 at 8:16 pm

Posted in Shrimp

Dirty Little Things: Battered Zucchini and Carrot with Dipping Sauce, Pancetta-Wrapped Cheddar Jalapeno Shrimp

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Whenever I am struck by a vague sense of malaise, I try to refine it. I ask my body what it wants, if it is large or small. The feeling is strongest when I am leaving work, and the high, bright, manic note I sing all day, aided by a steady stream of free espresso, finally fades out. Once I am surrounded by strangers and not coworkers and superiors and customers, strangers driving cars in the same lane as my bike or sitting across from me on the metro, everyone lost in their own small private worlds, staring into nothing. There is no longer so clearly something I should be doing, something I have to be doing while I am on someone else’s clock. Nobody’s looking at me.

The option I always consider first is food: what food would fix this feeling? A candy bar? A slab of meat? A full grapefruit, crammed into my mouth one half at a time? Boiled vegetables over rice as bland, warm balm?

If the answers I get are only more emotions, I keep asking the same question: but what do you want? Yes, you feel like you didn’t get anything done today. Does that mean you want to do the laundry? Yes, you feel like your life is going nowhere. Do you want to block out some time to write, or hide under the blanket?

Often it is enough to identify the desire, without actually meeting it; it is enough to know that I want something so simple, something you could probably buy off the internet. Meandering, unfocused loneliness and grief is crippling, terrible. But if it is reduced to an articulated, tangible want – I want somebody to put their hand on my back – it seems so achievable, not a big deal at all.

I cook like this, too. For better and worse. When I eat something good in a restaurant, or that someone else has made, I refine the pleasure in my head: what, precisely, do you like about it? Which part? At its simplest incarnation, what is this thing you’re enjoying? How could you prune out everything else? How could you bring yourself closer to the core of the experience?

I dislike wading through all the sweet potatoes you get with vegetable tempura, when all I really want is the carrot and zucchini. And it’s not really the tempura I like, it’s biting through batter that has sopped up oil, all crispy and naughty, to get to the wholesome, tender-yet-firm heart of a vegetable. The way a sweet potato melts and mushes doesn’t do that.

So tonight I made up my usual batter of flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and pepper, sliced up a zucchini and two carrots and dipped them in this dry half of my batter, and then laid them out on some parchment. I read somewhere that this makes the batter adhere better, but it didn’t seem to make much difference. The batter is finished with a splash of lemon juice and a big pour of beer, mixing until it is the thickness of pancake batter. The slices were battered and fried in oil. For the dipping sauce I used about two parts soy sauce to one part rice wine vinegar to two parts simple syrup (sugar dissolved in boiling water). A small bowl of steamed white rice rounds out the setting.

I’ve made cheddar jalapeño shrimp quite a few times before, and it’s always a hit. If I make it for six people, everyone’s disappointed there isn’t more; if I make it for two people, both wind up feeling sick all evening. I used to use bacon and long skewers, but I found this was difficult and the shrimp overcooked before the bacon even started to crackle. This time I used pancetta and individual toothpicks, instead. First I butterfly the shrimp, slitting along the back (the bigger the shrimp, the easier this is), and then tuck a sliced strip of jalapeño pepper and an equally tiny amount of strong white cheddar inside. I put each shrimp onto one piece of pancetta, laid out like a piece of paper, and then just roll upward and stick a pick in it. Then into a hot (400-500 degrees C) oven for a while (15-20 minutes).

The thrill of these is very similar: it’s a two-stage taste that surprises you, every time. First is the delicious, classic, primally fatty mixture of shrimp and pancetta, then there is a small burst of heat and cheesy goodness, all contained in a tiny, perfect package.

I had a friend come help me eat these dirty little things and drink – after all, it doesn’t take a six pack of beer to make batter, but that’s no reason not to buy one!

(Nearing the end of the roll now.)

Written by skimfu

August 13, 2008 at 11:54 pm

Posted in Pork, Shrimp, Vegetarian

Bring Your Own Bowl Night

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Cooking for other people beats cooking for myself by at least a fifty-to-one ratio. Of course, cooking for eleven people in a studio apartment, with a kitchen that’s six feet long and two-and-a-half feet wide, is always an interesting challenge. Next time I’ll make more food, so it won’t disappear two minutes after the word “go”.

Sweet Chili Chicken
Sweet Chili Chicken

I was told that this was the hit of the evening. It’s adapted from a combination of my favourite Cactus Club appetizer, and my Dad’s porkchops.

boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Thai sweet chili sauce

Note: Be sure that the word “sweet” is on the label. “Thai chili sauce” is essentially Tabasco.

Cube chicken. Separate eggs, scramble yolks with a fork (put whites away). Dip each cube of chicken in egg, then lightly coat in flour. Use as little flour as possible, while still coating completely; too much batter will just fall off in the pan. Pan fry in batches. Toss in a bowl with sweet chili sauce. Plate with chopped fresh scallions.

Yang Chow Fried Rice
Yang Chow Fried Rice

A classic Chinese dish.

minced garlic
soy sauce
scallions, chopped medium-fine
Chinese barbeque pork or cooked ham
frozen peas
cooked rice (cold or lukewarm)

Shell/devein shrimp, chop into chunks, scramble eggs with fork. Heat a small amount of oil in wok, add garlic, scallions, and shrimp until shrimp are almost cooked. Add everything else, peas and eggs last, mixing until eggs are scrambled randomly throughout and rice has slightly crisped.

Moroccan Shrimp
Moroccan Shrimp

Recipe from Andrew Zimmern’s site. These are fantastic. The first time I made them, as soon as we were finished eating, I got up and made more.

Failure of the evening: poor man’s Caprese salad. I put out a plate of boccaccini cheese, sliced tomatoes, torn fresh basil, and half-rings of raw red onion. The boccaccini should have been salt-and-peppered on both sides, and the whole thing needed a stronger flavor to bring it together – balsamic vinegar, maybe. Or individual platings that include baby spinach. Also, eating hunks of raw red onion is not as popular as I imagined.

N.B. All the dishes I made at the first dinner party (beef skewers, jalapeno cheddar bacon shrimp, spinach and artichoke dip), as well as the French toast from the breakfast party, will be up as soon as I remake them for myself and the boy and take some pictures. Thanks for coming, and bringing chairs and bowls and doughnuts!

Written by skimfu

October 9, 2007 at 11:22 pm

Posted in Asian, Chicken, Pork, Shrimp