Kimchi made easy

kimcheeI have to confess – I’ve always been intimidated by kimchi. Not by eating it, oh no, I’ll gladly eat plenty. No, my intimidation is in making it. Kimchi has held a long-standing reputation for me as something that is both quite difficult to make and something to be revered. Friends have shared that kimchi can be a rite of passage for some, and for many, can represent a lifetime pursuit in perfecting their personal recipe and making it truly their own. I think that’s what has always intimidated me… the gravitas of it all. Kimchi deserves respect. So recently, I decided to respectfully try my hand at it and since then, I’ve been making it non-stop. So much so that I’m probably at risk of becoming the subject matter in Portlandia’s infamous “We can pickle that” skit. I digress.

The great news is that kimchi is actually simpler to make than you may think. The most important step is really the fermentation and for that, the good bacteria does all the work. (We just need to make sure we do everything to help create the right kind of environment for it to do its job.) Still, I can see how a person can spend a lifetime perfecting their recipe. The one I’m including here is a basic one that’s good to start with, which you can add to as you make more. There are plenty of more robust and complex kimchi recipes out there that include things like rice flour and an assortment of herbs and vegetables to add different flavours, but I’m going to keep it simple – since that’s what worked for me.

What will make it unique to you are the ingredients and quantity of ingredients you choose to put into it, along with how long you choose to ferment it for. The longer the time you let the kimchi ferment, the softer the cabbage and more sour the flavour. The moment you finish “dressing” the cabbage, you can already eat it fresh.

One last thing to note before we get started. Kimchi takes a long time to make not because it’s complicated, but because of the brining that needs to take place initially. What I recommend is salting the cabbage the night before you want to make the kimchee. This way, the actual process of making it will only take around 30-90 minutes (based on how fast you are at chopping everything up). Brining takes a minimum of 4 hours – but like I said, it’s best if you leave it overnight.

Ingredients: (makes about 3-4 L of kimchi depending on size of cabbage)

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  • Initial salt soak
    • 1 nappa cabbage (the larger the cabbage, the more kimchi you’ll have)
    • 1/2 cup of sea salt
    • water (approximately 3 litres) Continue reading

Buttercup squash soup to chase the howling winds away

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Winnie the Pooh: Happy “Winds-day”, Piglet.
Piglet: [being blown away] Well… it isn’t… very happy… f-for me.
Winnie the Pooh: Where are you going, Piglet?
Piglet: That’s what I’m asking myself, where? [he is lifted into the air by a gust of wind]
Piglet: W-Whoops! P-P-P-Pooh!
Winnie the Pooh: [grabbing Piglet’s scarf] And what do you think you will answer yourself?

If Pooh and Piglet were here in Toronto today, they would agree that today is most definitely a blustery day. With the gusts of wind howling around buildings and off roaring over rooftops – maybe taking a thing or two off with them – it’s a perfect day for a hearty soup. More specifically, buttercup squash soup. Buttercup squashes are a variety of winter squash with a sweet, savoury, nutty flavour to it. They taste more like sweet potatoes than pumpkin, and are perfect for roasting, and taste fantastic in a soup.

Ingredients: (serves 4-5)

  • 750mL of beef stock (you can substitute with chicken stock for a lighter flavour or vegetable stock if you’re vegetarian or vegan)
  • 2 buttercup squashes, chopped
  • 5 large carrots, chopped
  • 1 ear of corn, halved
  • 1 Spanish onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon of ginger, chopped (optional)
  • 3-4 sprigs of fresh thyme (or dried, if you don’t have fresh)
  • 1 tablespoon of oil (your choice, I used hazelnut oil)
  • 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon
  • Salt and pepper to taste

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Hong Kong’s 001: A Speakeasy worth the search

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I love Hong Kong. I love the energy, the accessibility, the sights, and… most of all, I love the food. From hole-in-the-wall noodle shops and open air street dining to luxurious world’s finest (and highest) rooftop restaurants, the city has it all. Locals and visitors alike can enjoy a never ending array of anything you can imagine wanting to eat – even things you can’t. All within steps of an MTR stop and available in just about any price range you want. If you seek it out, you’ll likely find it.

One of the latest gems that had landed on our foodie hit list on our recent trip there was 001. My hubby and I had heard a lot about this little underground speakeasy cocktail bar that had been getting a lot of international attention. As a speakeasy, it was hidden: tucked away deep in one of the oldest areas of Central behind one of Hong Kong’s last remaining wet markets. The only challenge – it was a speakeasy, so it wouldn’t be easy to find.

Armed with the map on my phone and obscure instructions I’d picked up somewhere, we started our quest. Luckily, we happened to be in the area earlier that afternoon, so decided to locate it in advance while it was still light before we would head back later in the evening for cocktails. I’m glad we did. As later, in our usual form, we were running late, and it was far easier to navigate the old winding streets of old Hong Kong when we knew where we were going.

The good news is that if you have a general idea of where to look and what to look for, 001 isn’t nearly as difficult to find as you may be led to believe. The trick is knowing the intersection: Wellington Street and Graham Street. The cocktail bar is on Graham Street on the left, just before Wellington Street (if you are facing Wellington). Keep an eye out for the black door with the bronze doorbell. You may need to sleuth around behind some of the vegetable vendors.

For my husband and I, our visit was well worth the extra effort and ended up being one of our favourite experiences on our trip. Sporting a hushed 1920s art deco decor and ambiance, the feeling you get walking in is like you’re being ripped back in time a 100 years or so. From the custom bronze coasters and small lanterns on the table, muted lighting throughout the bar, marble tiled floors, and backlit bar, 001 aimed to impress and it did.

001

As expected, their cocktail menu was enviable. I tried the Earl Grey Martini first and was blown away by its flavour: aromatic, soft, and downright delicious. We also tried a few other cocktails, like the Blood and Sand, lychee martini, and Elderflower Caipirinha. All fantastic, but the Earl Grey was by far my favourite. As for food, we had heard that 001 is known for its cocktails, rather than the food – and by all accounts, we agreed with our sources. While the food was good, it also wasn’t particularly memorable or special. Although if you do get food, the grilled cheese is supposed to top the list. (We had the fried chicken.)

So if you’re ever in Hong Kong and happen to have a free night – definitely try 001. They only seat up to 40 people; however, so it’s best to reserve in advance at +852 2810 6969. You won’t regret it.

Gom Bui!

Mentsuyu: a multipurpose base

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If you’ve ever had Japanese tempura, udon noodle soup or zaru soba, you’ve had mentsuyu. It’s a multipurpose soup base that is used in two ways: either cool as a “dipping soup” (tsuketsuyu) for chilled noodles such as zaru soba, or warm as a soup base (kaketsuyu) for hot noodles like udon. If you are using mentsuyu as kaketsuyu, the hot form, you will need to dilute it even further than the cool tsuketsuyu type.

Mentsuyu is flavourful and can either be purchased ready made from your local Japanese grocery store, or can be easily homemade as well. It gets its flavour from bonito flakes, kelp, soy sauce, mirin, and sake, and as with any sauce or soup base, you can adjust the proportions of the ingredients to your liking, depending on what you’re making. You may want it a touch sweeter with a stronger sake flavour for your zaru soba, but saltier, with more emphasis on the kelp for your udon soup.

The recipe here is one I like as a base, and you can adjust from there.

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup of bonito flakes, packed
  • 1/2 cup of soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup of mirin
  • 1/3 cup of sake
  • kelp (a small cut piece, approximately 2 inches wide)

Preparation

1. Place your sake into a medium-sized saucepan and bring it to a boil, let it reduce slightly and add your other ingredients. Give everything a quick stir.

2. Reduce the heat to a medium low heat and let the mixture simmer for a few minutes. Leave the cover off.

3. Remove your pot from the heat and let everything cool to room temperature.

4. Strain your mixture through a sieve. (You can keep your kelp and bonito flakes to use for onigiri or as a rice or noodle seasoning by dry roasting it in a pan with some sesame seeds. Yum!)

5. You can now use your mentsuyu right away or bottle it. It should last in the fridge for about a month.

A chilled reprieve: Zaru Soba

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It’s been a hot week. Sticky hot. The kind of hot where a walk down the block leaves your skin glistening, heart working a little overtime, and feet feeling a couple beats heavier. But it’s also been the last week of August and where we are, that may signal (possibly) the last of our summer. I really hope not. Some may call it denial, I like thinking of it as a hopeful optimism. So in anticipation of a little more summer spilling over into the September we kick off today, I’m posting on Zaru Soba: chilled buckwheat noodles. The perfect meal to satiate the lesser appetite that often comes with a stifling heat that also offers a little reprieve. Best part, it’s very fast and easy to make.

Ingredients: (serves 4)

  • 200 to 250g of dried soba noodles (1/2 of a larger 500g package)
  • 1/2 cup of mentsuyu (you can purchase this in a ready-made bottle, or make your own homemade version – I’ll be posting the recipe up tomorrow.)
  • 1/3 cup of seaweed, shredded (about one sheet of nori sliced up)
  • 1-2 green onions, finely chopped (also called scallions)
  • wasabi
  • 2 teaspoons of white or black sesame seeds (optional)

Continue reading

As local as possible: Fresh City Farms

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Earlier this season, a good friend of ours stumbled across a new food box program in our city: Fresh City Farms. After our time with Culinarium, which sadly closed its doors earlier this year, we were open to participating in another food share program.

What is attractive about Fresh City Farms that sets it apart from other programs was its door-to-door delivery, organic promise, and finally, the hyper-local focus of their food philosophy – as local as possible, in fact.

Perhaps organic and door-to-door is obvious, but why local?

1. It’s healthier. The produce we eat is in essence converted energy from the sun. I know this is an oversimplification of a far more complex series of systems; however, at the heart of it, food is energy. The sooner we eat that produce once it’s harvested, the greater the amount of energy we retain from it. The longer our food is in transit, storage, and processing after its harvested, the more energy is lost. It’s no wonder fresh fruit and vegetables from a farmer’s market always looks, smells, and tastes so much more flavourful than the same tired looking fruit and vegetables near the end of a week at a grocery store (or perhaps in a fridge at home for too long). You know the kind I’m talking about.

That said, there is nothing wrong with eating food that has been shipped in, it’s just that we’re not getting as much nutritional value from it. In some cases, it can’t be helped… there are certain things we simply can’t get where we are. At the same time, there is also so much variety locally to be explored and experimented with that it brings to question. Why not?

2. It’s more environmental. The transportation of import foods over long distances means high costs in energy and fuel for their transportation and storage. Eating more locally means a reduction in the need for those logistics and energy burn.

3. It supports local sustainability. By buying straight from local farms and gardens, more of our dollar goes to the families who grow the food. It doesn’t get split up along the way by a series of middle men. (In case it’s of interest, the Story of Stuff is worth checking out if you haven’t already in the past.)

So back to Fresh City Farms. Most of their produce is farmed in gardens right in the city and when necessary, in nearby farms. Only when the produce cannot be farmed here in Ontario does Fresh City Farms bring it in from the outside, and when they do, it’s clearly labeled. You can opt-out of certain produce, or add additional products to supplement your weekly food box. Food boxes come in small and large sizes that contain fruit or vegetable, or both, and can be delivered weekly or biweekly.

When you order, you can also send the foodbox to a pick-up point, or if you have three or more deliveries to the same address, you can create your own pick-up location. Pick-up locations get a few dollars off each food box. It may take a little communication and follow-up to get your box set-up, as they’re still quite new, small, and ironing out wrinkles. But once it’s set up, it’s worth it.

Our friends and we have been getting our food boxes like clockwork this season and it’s been great. If you haven’t yet, give them a try.

Sushi rice in under 5 minutes?

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To follow-up on my post yesterday about home-made sushi rice, this one is about an interesting product I was recently introduced to by the kind folks at Bento & Co. Although many of our posts are generally focused on dishes that are made from scratch with ingredients that are as fresh as possible, I felt compelled to share this: Wooke’s instant microwave sushi rice. (Note, this is not a product endorsement on behalf of Bento & Co or Wooke, I just really liked this product.)

The ingredients themselves are the same things that you would normally cook sushi rice with, only it’s pre-cooked, pre-mixed, then dehydrated:

  • Koshihikari rice, dehydrated
  • Vinegar, dehydrated
  • Dextrin (in the vinegar) – which is a simple carbohydrate and a gluten
  • Sugar
  • Salt

Preparation of the rice is a simple two step process:

1. Take the rice packet from the package, peel open the marked corner to the line (they have it marked), and place it in the microwave for about two minutes.

2. Once your rice is ready, open the sweetened dehydrated vinegar package and sprinkle the powder evenly over the rice. Mix the powder in similar to how you would mix in the vinegar for your homemade sushi rice with a rice paddle or spatula.

And that’s it. All done.

What’s more is the rice is surprisingly good. All in under five minutes. Maybe this is not something to eat everyday, as ultimately, I do believe that whole, homemade foods are always better for us, but this instant rice is a good option once in a while if you’re on the run.