I don’t know about you, but sometimes I reflect on where I have been and I wonder how I managed to pull through. How did I manage to survive 4 years of medical school? Nearly 5 years of residency? Cycle between Ottawa and Kingston and back again? In the thick of it: I don’t think, I just perform.
During medical school, for the first two years, I routinely had lectures from 8am to 5pm every day, interspersed with small group sessions, anatomy labs and clinical skills workshops. Even when I go to conferences, I don’t subject myself to 9 hours of lectures in a day. It is just nuts. However, this weekend I sat through 3 days of intense review-type lectures. Rapid fast compressed learning, except it was more of a reminder of things I already knew. However, after 10 hours of lectures on Saturday, and a lengthy 3 hour drive home (thank you Toronto traffic), I was positively pooped. The next day, too. The last thing I wanted to do was to cook… it was that bad. I ended up sleeping at 8pm.
Meals stashed in the freezer are a definite boon these days. However, I find cooking therapeutic. A way to destress as I chop and julienne vegetables, stirring patiently as I saute onions or peacefully munch through the leftovers.
When I finally made it back into the kitchen, instead of reinventing the wheel, I revamped an old favourite. This is a variation of my Chinese Five Spice Vegetable and Noodle Stir Fry. Same flavours, mostly different vegetables. Turns out the original recipe called for winter vegetables like Brussels sprouts. My first incarnation included parsnips, carrots, green beans, oyster mushrooms and Swiss chard; basically the odds and ends in my fridge. This time, I included thinly sliced Brussels sprouts, enoki mushrooms, carrots and parsnips: the current odds and ends in my fridge. The hardest part is chopping all the vegetables, but a quick saute in the wok yields a flavourful meal from the Chinese five spice. I use kelp noodles, which I like in Asian stir fries, but feel free to use your favourite noodle. Gena recently wrote a great post all about kelp noodles if you have yet to try them. I am already imagining my next incarnation, likely including edamame.
My choice of bedtime reading usually includes a cookbook. Rob actually reads novels. Books with chapters, a beginning, a middle and an end.
When we packed for Colombia, we debated how many books to bring. I typically read 1 book while on vacation: my travel guide. Rob was adamant that he would likely read a bunch of books. In the end, we brought 5 books, including the travel guide.
After 2 weeks, I had read the travel guide and 1 book. Rob had plowed through all the books.
While I don’t read many novels, I really enjoyed my book: The Fortune Cookie Chronicles. It is a collection of short, thought-provoking essays about American culture through the eyes of Chinese food. Lee starts off by exploring people’s thoughts on fortune cookies after a national lottery gets pummeled with too many winners- they had all picked the same numbers from a fortune cookie. In a dizzying around-the-world tour-de-force, Lee visits the home of the real General Tso, puzzles together the origins of chop suey and the first fortune cookie and crowns the world’s greatest Chinese restaurant. This isn’t a flippant ready-for-the-masses book, though. It is smartly written in an accessible manner. Have you ever thought about the dangers of being a delivery person? Or the lives affected through human trafficking? Or why the Chinese food in the US cannot be found in China?
To be honest, I did not really like Chinese food take-out but as a child, we had the occasional visit to the local Chinese restaurant. I can see how Chinese food helped to embrace the worldly culinary culture we now have. With its emphasis on saccharine-sweet and cornstarch-goopy sauces, I haven’t been to a Chinese restaurant in ages, though. I have made a handful of Chinese meals at home, usually healthier vegetable stir-fries, where I can reduce the sauce myself without cornstarch and keep any sweeteners to a minimum.
For this month’s Random Recipes, we had to randomly pick a cookbook and cook the middle recipe. My chosen cookbook was Moosewood Restaurant Cooking for Health and at 348 pages, the middle page was 174. No recipe on that page. I rounded down to find the first recipe: Cabbage with Fermented Black Beans (page 171). No stranger to stir-fries with fermented black beans, I thought this looked like a great recipe to try. However, a meal it wasn’t, so I tweaked the recipe to include julienned five-spiced seitan, as a nod to my favourite Braised Cabbage with Chorizo Seitan Sausage.
I am really digging veggie-centric stir-fries lately, and this was no disappointment. Quick to put together, dinner was served in under 20 minutes. The fermented black beans add the depth of flavour ones expects from authentic Chinese food which is highlighted with rice vinegar and sake. The ginger and garlic add a nice hit of flavour and feel free to add Chinese chili paste if you want it hotter. The Chinese five-spiced seitan was a perfect complement to the wilted cabbage, conferring sustenance to the dish with a major protein component.
So, tell me. Did you grow up eating Chinese food? Do you still eat it? What is your favourite Chinese recipe?
My mom has been reading my blog from the beginning. My dad, not so much. Last summer, he saw the picture of Silken Tofu Topped with Enoki Mushrooms and told me it looked awful. Maybe he said it looked gross. I can’t remember. To me, the picture reminded me how great the dish was. I saw the taste that I remembered, that I enjoyed, so I didn’t think it looked “gross”. Granted, enoki mushrooms are odd-looking things to the uninitiated. My mom still raves about one of my first photos of enoki mushrooms, and how alien-like they look. Attack of the mushrooms!!
Personally, I love enoki mushrooms and they are definitely one of my favourite mushrooms. They have a delicate flavour so the rest of the dish is what matters most. It is a shame they haven’t hit mainstream grocers just yet. I usually pick them up at T&T when they go on sale, but yes, my new favourite grocery store, Sunny Supermarket, also sells them. On sale to boot- 2 packages for $2!
I wanted to try something that highlighted the mushroom, instead of adding them to a stew. I spotted a great recipe in Kansha, the new vegetarian cookbook by Andoh, who also provided the original recipe for Silken Tofu Topped with Enoki Mushrooms in Washoku. The original recipe was a vegetable side but I decided to beef it up by doubling the vegetable portion and serving it overtop chunks of silken tofu as a main dish.
The prep was quite labour intensive if you follow Andoh’s suggestion of making thin matchsticks of carrots and ginger. I did it all by hand since I don’t have a spiralizer (yet). It made for a nice texture that complemented the enoki mushrooms really well, but since everything was stir-fried, I feel that simply shredding the carrots would be equally as good and way easier to do. But the taste, the taste was great. Andoh’s recipes are more subtle, not in your face, which is what I love. It was simple, tasty and completely Japanese. The zip from the ginger was great with the silky background of the delicate enoki mushrooms and silken tofu.
This is my submission to E.A.T. World for Japan.
I know tofu gets a bad rap, but I rather enjoy it. It sops up flavours while cooking and can be molded into many different directions. One of my favourite kinds of tofu is silken tofu. I still remember the first time I tried it; my friend added it to an orzo soup simply because it was close to its best before date. The tofu was cut into small pieces and every time I ate a piece of tofu, I felt like I was eating from a cool cloud, a pillow of silkiness – in a good way! It was my first introduction to tofu and I was hooked. I started adding it to my soups, too, and cold noodle salads.
This is one of my favourite dishes, especially when enoki mushrooms are on sale, as the silky, melt-in-your-mouth tofu is paired with pale, tender, enoki mushrooms smothered in a delicate, subtle dashi broth flavoured with soy sauce, mirin and sake. It is a snap to put together but it is important to warm the tofu so that it is heated all the way through. This is simplicity at its finest, very much the quintessential trait of Japanese cuisine. Depending on the mushroom you choose, this dish vary from delicate as I described with the enoki mushrooms, to more robust with maitake mushrooms.
Enoki mushrooms are hands-down my favourite mushroom and here is another lovely summer dish for enoki mushrooms: Enoki somen.
It is my pleasure to join the Washoku Warriors this month, featuring our favourite dish from Washoku by Elizabeth Andoh (the original recipe is posted here). I am also submitting it for this month’s My Legume Love Affair, hosted by Simona at Briciole.
I normally don’t go to the trouble of a meal with lots of side dishes, as I prefer one-pot wonders. I like to have a complete meal in one dish. Rather, I like to cook this way as I find it easier. Perhaps I am lazy and don’t want to make many dishes that need to be timed to finish at the same time, or maybe because I really don’t like to clean dishes.
I am glad that I wasn’t intimated by the long list of ingredients, steps and components of this dish. Because it was phenomenal. I have been investigating unique ways of cooking rhubarb and this did not disappoint. Each component was outstanding on its own and together they were simply divine.
First, the rhubarb sauce is zesty: sweet, sour and pleasantly spicy all in one. Ginger, chili flakes, garlic, soy sauce and honey work really well together. Second, we have crisp firm tofu that has been marinated in a sweet and savoury sauce including allspice, ginger, and chili flakes. I have fallen for allspice recently and absolutely love it. This is served over a bed of rice that is combined with wilted kale, and as you use the same pan from the tofu, any brown bits (=flavour!) get included into the rice mixture as well. Topped with chopped cashews and green onions, this is a very tasty dish with many complex textures and flavours.
This is another super simple show-stopper of a dish (even simpler than the sinfully delicious mushroom bourguignon) but you need a bit of advance prep. Or in my case, the 5 day miso marinade was perfect when I spotted black cod on sale but already had my meals planned for the beginning of the week. Once you buy fish, you need to cook it soon. But you can wait a bit while it marinades in miso.
This is the popular Black Cod with Miso, made famous by Nobu. I was excited to try it at home after I had it at an overpriced Toronto restaurant, since it was darn tasty. Incredibly tasty! Flaky, buttery, melt-in-your-mouth fish with a sweet and salty miso sauce. Absolutely heavenly. I knew I could recreate heaven in my kitchen, so off I went.
I ended up skipping the the step to grill the fish, and ended up baking the fish for around 20 minutes. The fish was really good but not as mouth-watering as what I had at the Spice Route. I suppose that is why you pay $23 for the teeniest piece of fish. Next time, I will try to follow the recipe a bit more closely to see if that helps lock in the juices. Don’t get me wrong, it was still delicious (and pleased even fish haters), I just know it can be better. I am salivating just thinking about the next time.
When I go to a restaurant, I usually like to order stuff at restaurants that I can’t make at home.. because I know I can make it better. Salmon teriyaki is one of those dishes, especially when you go to the cheaper Japanese restos. It can be anywhere from charred, blackened, dry and ooky sweet. But it is really easy to make at home, so now I don’t even bother with it when I go out.
First of all, I combined recipes from numerous sources, including many of Kimiko Barber’s cookbooks (The Japanese Kitchen, Yo Sushi, Japanese Pure and Simple), where each had different ratios for her teriyaki sauce. I like this ratio of soy sauce, sake, mirin and sugar (3:3:3:1), although each portion can be changed depending on tastes. I found this recipe to create a light, flaky, tender salmon with a sweet glaze. There is enough teriyaki sauce for more than the salmon (the recipe can be halved, as long as you keep the same ratios). We drizzled it over spinach as a side salad and it was incredible. The sauce can keep for up to 2 months in the fridge.
While there are only 5 ingredients, and simple to make, it can be daunting as the ingredients are not pantry staples (unless you cook Japanese regularly). I highly encourage you to try this simple dish, so for those in Toronto, this is where I shop:
Soy sauce – I like Japanese soy sauce, which tends to run a bit sweeter, but also best for Japanese dishes. Furthermore, there are different kinds of Japanese soy sauce – regular dark, light, reduced-sodium and tamari. Light is only light in colour if you don’t want to discolor a dish. I typically buy regular dark or reduced-sodium and prefer Yamasa and Kikkoman, which aren’t that expensive. They can be found at any Asian market, including T&T, BestWin and J-Town. Shops in Chinatown should have it too.
Mirin – Mirin is a sweet rice wine, used as a sweetener and to add a glossy shine to foods. There are a few types of mirin, including aji-mirin (“mirin taste”) and mirin-fu chomiryo (“a kind of mirin”) as well as hon-mirin (“true mirin”). Hon-mirin has simpler ingredients; true hon-mirin has alcohol and no salt, and shio-mirin has alcohol with 1.5% salt. The difference is the alcoholic content. Shin-mirin (“new mirin”) has less than 1% alcohol, but still has the same flavour. Whereas the aji-mirin or mirin style sweet cooking seasoning has an ingredient list that starts with corn syrup and 8 other ingredients. I was only able to find aji-mirin at T&T and even J-Town, but found shin-mirin (basically look at the ingredient list- water, rice, koji (aspergillus oryzae) and sea salt) at Whole Foods and Noah’s. I think P.A.T. might also carry shin-mirin, and it looks like hon-mirin is impossible to find in Toronto. I’d love to know if anyone has found it elsewhere, and cheaper. I store my mirin in the refrigerator once opened.
Sake – Sake is a Japanese rice wine. I mistakenly bought a cooking sake from T&T, but I think it was just a mislabeled chinese cooking wine. Now I go to the LCBO to get sake. There is a bigger bottle, cheaper on the per mL basis which is what I get (Gekkeikan, 750mL). I store it in the refrigerator and it lasts pretty long.
Salmon – There are different kinds of salmon, but from a sustainability point-of-view wild Pacific salmon is the best way to go as per SeaChoice. I don’t know what T&T carries, likely Atlantic farmed, as the price is always reasonable ($6-7/lb).