Foodstuff: Ma-Po Tofu Sauce Mix

Ma-Po Tofu Sauce Mix 1

I picked this little item up on a whim while shopping for other stuff. I don’t use pre-packaged sauce mixes all that frequently, nor do I use tofu often, but I have been curious about the classic Sichuan dish,  Mapo Doufu (spelled ‘Mabo Tofu’ here), and I thought this might be an interesting way to experience it for the first time. The package states that you need to add nothing except ground meat and tofu, and so I used nothing else myself except for just a little scallion… Continue reading “Foodstuff: Ma-Po Tofu Sauce Mix”

Spicy Shrimp Sauce

Spicy Shrimp Sauce 1

For years, I have been making a shrimp curry dish that incorporates Indian spices, along with fermented shrimp paste, in a tomato based sauce. The sauce is something I have always made on an ‘ad hoc’ basis, but I have long wanted to try a ‘make-ahead’ sauce that could be used to quickly put together a nice Shrimp curry, or even be used as a sauce with other meats or vegetables. I finally got around to doing it just a few days ago… Continue reading “Spicy Shrimp Sauce”

Dim Sum: Steamed Squid 蒸魷魚

Yangtze Steamed Squid

Steamed squid is a regular offering in dim sum restaurants and is a dish I rarely pass up. Sometimes, you find squid steamed with a curry sauce but, in my experience, the curry sauce usually served is a bit insipid and I generally don’t care for it.

The offering you see pictured above is one I was recently served at the Yangtze Dining Lounge in Ottawa. Most of the dishes I had that day were not actually that great but this particular one was first class. Commonly, squid pieces are often dusted in a flour of some sort before steaming but these were steamed ‘clean’ and the effect was very well done.

The pieces of ‘tube’ were very plump and thick and I would have guessed that they came from a fairly large specimen but the tentacles that were also steamed alongside were obviously from very tiny squid. I am not sure if the body flesh came from a different animal than the tentacles, or whether the flesh ‘plumped’ up during the steaming process. In any event, the cooking was expertly executed and the result especially tender. As usual, ginger, and a little scallion were added, and both of these were added deftly so as to just give a hint of their presence in the background. I have had this dish many times, both at home and in restaurants, and this was one of the best.

Notable Nosh: Freshwater Smelt

BB Fried Smelt 1

In New Brunswick, where I grew up, Smelt, also known as ‘Éperlan’, are a small sea fish, typically deep-fried whole, with head still attached, and eaten as a snack, often with beer. There are actually quite a number of different species of fish called ‘Smelt’ in various places but, to date, I had always considered them to be a saltwater delicacy only. I was surprised then, when I saw ‘Fried Smelt’ on offer at Brothers Bistro in Ottawa, which the menu described as being harvested from Lake Erie.

It turns out, after doing a little research, that there are actually a number of different lake-fish that go by the name ‘Smelt’, and the restaurant wasn’t, as I first suspected, mislabelling their food. Normally, I wouldn’t have bothered with this particular appetizer, even though I like Smelt well enough, but I was curious to see what the freshwater sort might be like.

Anyway…  I was surprised when I was served my platter as the fish were headless, deboned, and butterflied, rather than being served whole, and they were also breaded. The sort I am used to are quite a bit smaller and so you can eat the heads and bones quite easily. They are also usually just rolled in a bit of flour before frying rather than being battered or breaded.

The flavor of the fish wasn’t actually all that different from the ones I have had in the past. Normally, I prefer the slightly briny, marine flavor of sea-fish, and find the freshwater varieties a bit ‘muddy’ tasting. These, however, were very delicate in flavor and quite sweet. There was a white sauce on the side described as ‘Tartar Sauce’ but which was anything but… Tartar sauce is mayonnaise based and this was some sort of sour cream or yoghurt concoction that was absolutely awful. The fish itself, though was pretty decent, in my book…

Vacuum-packed Cooked Duck Wing

Vacuum-packed Cooked Duck Wing 1

I actually picked this product up on a whim while shopping for some other items at Kowloon Market, my favorite Asian grocery store in Ottawa. These vacuum-packed duck wings area product of China and intended to be used pretty much ‘as is’ rather than requiring any preparation. The picture on the front of the pack, which shows the plain wings sprinkled with a little green onion and sesame seeds, describes this as being a ‘serving suggestion’. Anyway, I was intrigued by this product, which appears to require no refrigeration, and I brought some home with me.

Anyway … when you open the main package, there are 5 of the individually vacuum-sealed wings inside. I am not sure how the wings are cooked (the package is silent on the issue), but I think they may be slow baked after being marinated. When you open one of the wings, the dominant aroma is of star anise, and I was expecting to not like the wings as I am not keen on the flavor. I tasted one, before reading the ingredients and I found, to my pleasant surprise, that the dominant taste seemed to be fennel. This proved to be correctly identified as the ingredient list reads (for flavorings):

Chili, soy, salt, sugar, aniseed, pepper, Sichuan pepper, fennel, liquorice, kaempferiae (Galanga), cinnamon, cardamom, clove, bay leaf, and ginger.

In truth, I think some of the additions may be… well, theoretical, as I couldn’t identify much beyond the fennel (which, luckily, I like a lot). The chili, which is listed first, and should thus be a major ingredient, is nowhere apparent, and the product is not remotely hot at all… Continue reading “Vacuum-packed Cooked Duck Wing”

The Sake Bomb

Sake Bomb

I was at the Wasabi restaurant down in Ottawa and I saw this thing called a ‘Sake Bomb’ on the menu. It turns out that this is actually a ‘thing’ these days (and not just unique to this restaurant) but, in any event, I had to try it…

My waitress brought me a small glass of beer (Sapporo, I think), and then she balanced a small cup of hot sake on swizzle sticks above it as you see in the left-hand picture above. Now, since I insisted on taking a photograph, she then did what the drinker is supposed to do. She yelled…

Ichi, ni, san, sake bomb!!!

And then she bashed her fist on the table causing the cup to drop into the beer…

Well… I am sorry I couldn’t snap a picture quick enough, but the result was like a little mini-volcano. You can see the resultant mess in the right-hand picture, and all I can say is that I am glad she got me to move my menus, Ipad, and camera case out of the way first.

Kind of a one-time novelty experience, of course, but the result actually tasted pretty good 😊

Marrowbone Soup

Marrowbone Soup 1

A while ago, I introduced you to Beef Marrow Bones and included a short recipe illustrating an appetizer in which the marrow form certain can be enjoyed as a delicacy by itself. I also mentioned, in that post, that the primary use for beef marrow bones is generally for stocks. As such, as most of my readers will immediately recognize, they are equally useful in the preparation of soups.

One could certainly braise large number  beef marrow bones in a suitable liquid, along with other ingredients, and make a great soup that way alone, but, while the result would be very hearty indeed, it would also be necessarily, well… ‘rustic’ in appearance (not that there is anything wrong with that, of course)

Anyway, it is possible to make a soup that has a slightly more ‘elegant’ presentation, and which also allows one to enjoy the pleasure of extracting the marrow separately (rather than have it dissolve in the stock). I did this for the soup you see pictured above by using some pre-roasted marrow bones as follows:

First, I roasted 8 marrow bones and then used five them to make a stock by simmering them at very low temperature (to prevent cloudiness). I also added some vegetable trimmings and a little white wine. I then blanched some bok choy, and grilled slices of mushroom and set these aside. For the final cooking … I sautéed onion in a pot, added my remaining three marrow bones and simmered them in the strained stock for a half-hour or so. Finally, I added the bok choy and mushrooms, seasoned with salt and pepper, then simmered for a just a little while longer and served…

 

Notable Nosh: Tongue on Toast

BB Tongue on Toast 1

When I saw tongue on the menu at Brothers Bistro in Ottawa a while back, I racked my brain trying to remember if I had ever eaten beef tongue before. I have seen whole tongue in stores before, but I have never cooked it yet, and though I have had duck tongues before, I think the only mammal tongue I have ever had was likely in a canned meat spread or the like. Anyway, I like trying new things and when I saw this on offer I grabbed the opportunity. The menu described it as being ‘Braised ox-tongue on garlic cheese bread with beef jus and garlic-anchovy mayo’, and, with the exception of the fact that the ‘garlic-anchovy mayo’ might easily pass for plain mayonnaise, that is pretty much what I got…

I have to apologize for the poor photography here (I was having camera issues) but the ‘beef jus’ in the menu description was the brownish sauce over which the bun and lines of mayo were laid. It was tasty enough, but not markedly different from the sort plain beef gravy you might get with, say,  poutine.

The tongue itself was quite nice. In texture it was a bit like nicely cooked flank steak (fibrous, but chewy tender) , and the taste was somewhat like beef-heart… that is to say, more of an ‘innards’ taste than steak, but less than the strong pungency of, say, kidney. The pairing of textures with the crusty bread worked really nicely but the addition of cheese, I have to say, made the result overly unctuous without adding anything beneficial in terms of taste.

All in all, I enjoyed this. Had the mayo actually added an appreciable touch of garlic and anchovy, it might have elevated the finished result from pretty good to definitely good, but, still, I thought it decent enough…

Foodstuff: Tamarind Soup Mix

Tamarind Soup Mix 1

Of late, our supermarket has stocked quite a wide variety of spice and seasoning blends for all sorts of International dishes. This product is made in the Philippines and is meant to result in a Tamarind soup to which you add your own seafood ingredients. For those unfamiliar, Tamarind is used in many dishes to produce a natural sour flavor… However, in looking at the ingredient list, I saw that, while the product does contain Tamarind powder, it comes fairly low on the list compared to Citric Acid which appears as item number two and is, quite clearly, the chief souring agent in this preparation. Generally, I prefer making things from scratch rather than using processed preparations, but once in a while, I end up buying things just ‘to see what this is like’… Continue reading “Foodstuff: Tamarind Soup Mix”

Notable Nosh: The Fish Taco

Highlander Fish Tacos

A while back, I dropped into the Highlander Pub in Ottawa for a beer and decided to partake of their $5 taco special. I am not a huge fan of Tex-Mex food, and usually give tacos a miss, but there was a choice between chicken, pulled pork, tofu, and fish, and I was rather hungry. I have only ever had fish tacos once before (and those were actually a Japanese-fusion sort of thing), and so I decided to give that selection a try…

The tacos themselves were pretty simple and straightforward, consisting of just a plain flour tortilla, along with some tomato, shredded lettuce, and a Chipotle Mayo for enhancement. The last time I had fish tacos, the fish was Yellowjack that was sliced and then just lightly floured and seasoned before being grilled. Here, the fish was, as far as I could tell, cod that was battered and deep-fried just as it would be in a regular old fish-and-chip special. It might sound a little mundane and boring but, in fact, the crunchy batter and thick succulent flesh worked really nicely both in terms of texture and flavor.

The only criticism I really had was that the large, rather oddly shaped chunk of fish made it a bit difficult to folds the tortilla around it and the eating of it was a bit messy. Probably two or three thin strips would work a little better. The spicy mayo was okay, if not particularly spectacular, but on the whole, I like this nice little lunch. I have been meaning to try making fish tacos ever since the first ones I tried, and, when I finally do, I may give the battered strips a shot first…