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Notable Nosh: Root Beer Pulled Pork

Root Beer Pulled Pork 1

When I went to eat at the Tempo Restaurant in the Delta Barrington Hotel in Halifax this summer, I was really just planning to have a burger or something. However, the following item on the menu caught my eye…

Sweet and Savory Pork Duo – Grilled Pork Tenderloin, Root Beer Braised Pulled Pork Shoulder and Herb Roasted Baby Potatoes.

Root Beer??

Well, I have seen quite a number of dishes that use Coca Cola as a braising medium (although I have yet to try doing so myself) but the idea of using root beer the same way seemed decidedly odd. In that instant, all thoughts of a burger were banished and I knew I had to try it even though, quite frankly, it sounded as though it might be vile…

Happily, as it turns out, I wasn’t revolted and the meal was largely pretty good. The grilled pork tenderloin was a little dry (in fairness, it often tends to be so) and I found myself wishing for a little applesauce, but the potatoes and vegetables (in this case, broccoli and asparagus) were very well cooked and quite delicious. As for the pulled pork, though, I was surprised that there wasn’t any hint of root beer taste about it all… It was very moist and tender (as pulled pork should be) but there was a background taste that I couldn’t identify and wasn’t sure I liked. It wasn’t, as I say, a root beer taste, but rather a slightly woody, slightly gamey flavor that lingered a bit. Whatever it was (the root beer or something else) it rather convinced me to not bother trying to reproduce the dish any time soon. Still, I’m glad I gave it a try…

Imperial Concubine Chicken

Imperial Concubine 1

It seems, according to Chinese culinary tradition, that some emperor or other once had a favorite mistress who enjoyed a particular chicken dish so much that it was eventually named after her. Now, it may well be that there were several such ladies, or perhaps just one with highly diverse gastronomic tastes, but there are actually several, quite different, chicken preparations which all are known as ‘Imperial Concubine Chicken’. One version, being chicken braised with rice wine, bamboo shoots and mushrooms, is the one I am preparing here today… Read more

Dim Sum: Beef Tendon

Beef Tendon 1

This dish, which I had at the curiously named ‘Beaver Sailor Diner’ in Halifax a while ago, was both interesting and cause for a little confusion on my part. The English wording on the menu described it as ‘Beef Tendons stewed in special sauce’ while the Chinese characters (红烧牛筋/羊筋羊肉), specified that the tendons are ‘red-cooked’, or stewed in a seasoned soy based sauce. The last fours characters, however, add a little more detail, and therein lay the source of confusion for me.

I mis-read the (羊) character (which appears twice) as being the word for sheep, and so, when I asked the waiter ‘Oh does this come with lamb as well?’ he was suitably confused. I pointed to the last two characters, saying ‘Yang Rou?’ and then he started to laugh before pointing out that the character in question is (bàn), meaning ‘half’. He did have the grace, however, to say that the two characters do indeed look very much alike and I was then able to make sense of the last four characters, which actually read ‘half-tendon, half-meat).

I have had beef tendon number of times in dim sum restaurants and, in each case, it has consisted simply of translucent, yellowish squares of stewed or steamed cow tendon/ I actually quite like them but a whole plate of just tendon can sometimes be a ‘much of a muchness’, and so, accordingly, this dish, with bits of tendon still attached to chunks of meat was quite welcome. There were actually a number of chunks of pure tendon as well, one of which may be visible in the above picture.

Anyway, if you haven’t had it, beef tendon is prized chiefly for its texture which is quite a bit like the skin on pork belly that has been stewed, or otherwise cooked so that it softens rather than becomes crispy. It is both unctuous and chewy at the same time, with a firmly gelatinous mouth-feel. The sauce here was not bad… it had a slightly harsh aftertaste and used Star Anise (which I always omit as I don’t care for it), but it was otherwise very pleasant and I have to say that this probably the nicest beef tendon dish I have had as yet…

A Scallop Nest

Scallop Nest 1

This rather whimsical little appetizer came about after some fooling about with leftover baby scallops I had on hand for another recipe. Basically, the idea I was aiming for was to suggest baby scallop ‘eggs’, in a Seaweed salad ‘nest’. The seaweed I used is Wakame, but for added color and texture, I also include some shredded Chinese Black Fungus (also known as ‘Tree-Ear’ or ‘Cloud-Ear Fungus). This is my first attempt thus far, and I may wish to tweak the basic idea, but read on to see what I did… Read more

Notable Nosh: Tatoyaki II

Takoyaki II

I am calling this post ‘Tatoyaki II’ as it is a follow up to my awful experience with Tatoyaki at Wasabi in Ottawa back last January. On that occasion, I was disappointed by a dish that I had looked forward to trying for quite a long time and so, when I spotted them on the menu at the Tomo Restaurant during a more recent visit to the capital, I hoped to experience something a little better…

The menu at Tomo describes this particular snack item as ‘Battered octopus balls topped with house dressing, scallion and shaved bonito flakes’ and that, pretty much, is what I was served. The dressing in this case turned out to be twin drizzles of Japanese Mayo and Eel Sauce, both of which complimented each other and the balls very nicely, while the Bonito flakes were clearly very fresh and added a nice touch of smokiness to the whole.

The balls themselves, however, were not especially good. In the first place, the octopus was chopped way too finely rather than being one or more large chunks and it wasn’t really possible to taste whether one was eating octopus, shrimp, or even fish of some sort. Also, although the batter was nice and crisply golden on the outside, it was not well done near the middle and left a raw batter taste in my mouth. On the whole, these were still a definite cut above the awful crap I was served at Wasabi, but, still, the search for a decent Takoyaki (alas) goes on…

Veal Piccata

Veal Piccata 1

Veal Piccata is one of those classics of Italian cuisine that most people have heard about and which almost always appears on the menus of the more upmarket Italian restaurants. Essentially, it is Veal Scaloppini dish in which the thinly sliced veal cutlets are pan-fried and served in a lemon and caper pan-reduction sauce. Generally, the cutlets are simply seasoned and flour-coated (which some purists will maintain is required in order to be a true ‘Scaloppini’) but, occasionally, you will come across recipes where the meat is breaded before being fried. My take on this classic is fairly simple… Read more

The Lobster ‘Opener’

Lobster Tool 1

Here’s a handy little tool I picked up on Prince Edward Island during my summer holiday. It is sold a ‘Lobster Tool’ but, of course, it can easily be used for crab as well…

Usually, in restaurants, when you are served lobster, they usually provide you with a pair of ‘nut-crackers’, for opening the claws and tougher bits, as well as a little ‘pick’ thingy for winkling the meat out of the tricky spots. For years now, I have been using a pair of kitchen shears whenever I cook lobster at home and, though said shears are a bit unwieldy, I rarely need anything else. I thought, then, that a device that incorporates both shears and crackers into a single implement was a pretty clever idea.

I gave mine a test run on a whacking great 2lb lobster at Lobster on the Wharf in Charlottetown where I also bought the tool (there is a little seafood market attached to the restaurant which carries these and other tools). I can tell you, right now… the shell on that 2lb sucker was really thick and tough but my new purchase did really well. In the spirit of full disclosure, though, I should point out that, while the crackers worked okay on the joints of the claw appendages, they were just a bit too short to provide a enough leverage for opening the big claws themselves. A one pounder would present no problem, even a one and a half pound job, but the thick shells on my dinner were just a bit too much.

Did I have to resort to the larger crackers the restaurant gave me? Heck, no… with careful use of the tough little shears I was actually able to open the claws by cutting them open. Not only was this easier, but I avoided crushing the tender meat inside. Quite impressive, really.

Anyway, I have long been meaning to do a post on ‘How to eat a Lobster’ (it’s a bit more involved than most people appreciate) so, when I do, I can show you my new tool in action…

Baby Scallops with Peanuts and Peppers

Scallops with Peanuts 1

The fact that this dish contains both peanuts and chili would be enough to classify it as a ‘Kung Pao’ dish in most restaurants. In point of fact, though,  it has neither the traditional ‘sweet and sour’ background flavors  of a ‘Kung Pao’, nor the ‘scorched chili’ fragrance that comes from blackening dried chili in the cooking oil before adding other ingredients. The original recipe for today’s preparation comes from Chinese book on ‘healthy’ foods and it actually uses sliced fresh red chilies along with ‘garlic peanuts’, whereas my peanuts are just the plain roasted variety and I have substituted red bell pepper for fresh chili. I do add some garlic and chili paste at the end of the cooking to not only provide a little fire, but also to create a thin sauce, or glaze, for the main ingredients. If you can get your hands on the same little baby scallops I used here, then give this a try. It is really quick and easy… Read more

Notable Nosh: Bao Wows

Bao Wows 1

Bao, or Bao Zi, are Chinese buns (chiefly made using a leavened bread-type dough) that are steamed with a filling of some sort. One very popular variety, almost always available in dim sum restaurants, is the famous Cha siu bao (叉燒包), which comes stuffed with Chinese BBQ Pork.

The rather cutely named items you see pictured above were not served at a dim sum restaurant, but rather at a little place called Tomo in Ottawa’s Byward Market. Tomo is primarily a Japanese restaurant, serving sushi, and other favorites, but they also do a number of non-Japanese items, including Pad Thai. The Bao, I was served here , are actually the specialty of ‘Daisy’, the wife of the owner and, while very much in the spirit of Cha siu bao, they are unique in including caramelized onions along with the pork.

I am not actually featuring the buns because they ‘Wowed’ me, so to speak, rather because the idea is one very much worth borrowing even if it wasn’t, in this case, terribly well executed. My main issue with the buns was that they were a little too sugary. The dough itself was quite sweet (more like a desert variety) and the filling even more so (due in part, no doubt, to the onions). This could, fairly easily, have been offset by providing a dipping sauce that was either sour, salty, or spicy (or a combination of these), but, surprisingly, not even soy sauce was offered.

The other aspect I though spoiled the buns was that pork was ground rather than chopped and did not have a nice meaty ‘bite’ to it. There was also, in my opinion, not enough of it in ratio to the onion and, on the whole, too little filling for the amount of ‘bun’. That being said, though, I like the idea of sweet onions with pork and I am going to try making a ‘spin-off’ of my own using pork belly and crispy fried onions… I’ll share the results as soon as I do…

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