The French Laundry Cookbook-Yukon Gold Potato Blinis

If I ever find myself in a food rut, the French Laundry cookbook is a goldmine of inspiration. The photography is beautiful and the writing makes it clear that Thomas Keller is an incredibly skilled chef that strives for perfection in his creations. Some of the recipes are a little more involved than others--for example, the recipe for Baby Lamb-Five Cuts Served with Provençal Vegetables, Braised Cipollini Onions, and Thyme Oil involve breaking down an entire animal. I think I'll leave that one to the professionals. 

This is the first recipe I have tried from the book and it's a simple one: Yukon Gold Potato Blinis. Keller notes that this type of potato absorbs more cream and results in the best texture. The blinis are soft, a little dense, and taste faintly of the crème fraîche. The recipe instructs you to serve them as soon as possible. While they do taste best when warm, I served them as an hors d'oeuvre and found that they are fine at room temperature as well.

In the book, the suggested accompaniments are Bottarga di Muggine and Tomato Confit, or Roasted Sweet Peppers and Eggplant Caviar, but these make great bases for other toppings as well. Here, I've served them with smoked salmon, crème fraîche and dill.    

Recipe after the jump

Christmas Special: Whipped Shortbread Cookies

Christmas just wouldn't be Christmas without holiday cookie baking. Rather than the icebox shortbread I usually make, I decided to try a whipped version instead this year. Filling the kitchen with the scent of buttery, rich shortbread baking always makes me feel festive. This recipe is unusual because it requires whipping the batter for 10 minutes. The light, fluffy batter can then be spooned or piped. The resulting cookie is delicate in texture and almost melts when you eat it.

Note: Having the cookie keep its ruffled, piped shape without melting into a blob while baking can be tricky. I tried refrigerating the piped batter before baking it, but had better results baking the cookies right after they were piped (at room temperature). 

Recipe after the jump!


A Delicious Discovery: Lamb Chops with Rosemary Roast Potatoes

I think families are extremely influential on an individual's eating habits. My family enjoys a relatively large range of foods and cuisines, but up until last year, I had never tried lamb. We would never cook it at home and, with my parents' warnings of its funky, animal-y flavour ringing in my head, I would shy away from it on menus.

Then last year, at a dinner party, I finally (hesitantly) nibbled on a lamb chop and enjoyed it immensely. Sure, the meat is more strongly flavored than chicken or pork, but when marinated and roasted just so, I was sold (and frankly, a little peeved that I had been missing out on something so tasty for so many years).

Now, lamb makes the occasional appearance at home. I find lamb (rib and loin chops especially) pretty forgiving to cook and it stays juicier and more tender than other types of meat. This is my new favourite way to prepare them.

A note on shopping: I haven't had much experience shopping for lamb. However, I learned that if you are looking for the classic frenched chops (with the bone running the length of the chop), look for rib chops. I ended up buying loin chops which also have the bone in, but it does not penetrate into the meat part as deeply, making for a less sturdy lamb "lollipop".

Recipe after the jump...


Lemon Panna Cotta with Blueberry Sauce

I bring odd souvenirs home with me when I travel. A tube of curry ketchup and a box of coconut "sheets" studded with raisins (to be eaten on toast) from Amsterdam. A little bottle of pandan extract from Singapore. Pearl sugar from Belgium. And, amongst other things, sheet gelatine from Barcelona. This last one is a bit strange, because sheet gelatine isn't even unique to Barcelonan cuisine. It's a little hard to find in North America and I'd never worked with it before, so I thought why not?

I finally used this gelatin to make a simple but sophisticated Italian dessert: panna cotta (or "cooked cream"). It's important to add just enough gelatin to make it set, but not so much that it's bouncy and flubber-like. Heavy cream is used to lend a silky, luxurious texture to the finished dessert. There are dozens of ways to flavour panna cotta, from simple vanilla to earl grey to rosewater. Since I had plenty of great blueberries to make a sauce with, I thought of the classic pairing with lemon. 

Tips and recipe after the jump...


Chocolate Petticoat Tails

The amazing thing about shortbread is that really, you only need three ingredients to make a darn delicious cookie: butter, flour, and sugar. A few additions like cocoa and salt are nice additions but not absolutely imperative. This buttery chocolate shortbread was baked in a fluted tart shell to give it a pretty scalloped edge.

Tip: Cutting the wheel into the "petticoat tails" can be a little tricky to do without breaking the narrow points. Allow the shortbread to cool for about 15 minutes before cutting straight down using a chef's knife. The cookie should be cool enough so that it "sets", but not so cool that it becomes crunchy and crumbly.  


Mmmmmac and Cheese

It's been oddly cool in Vancouver for the past few days, so I don't feel that mac and cheese is quite so out of place during a season typically filled with light, fresh, zesty summer fare. In all its ooey, gooey glory, this pan of comfort is enjoyed by my family year round (and is one of my grandmother's favourites!) I wasn't one of those kids that had ketchup with their Kraft Dinner, but I put thinly sliced tomatoes on top for a little freshness to cut the richness. I put panko on everything these days and here it works well for a some crunch on top of the pasta.
I used cavatappi (which was labelled "scoobi doos" on the package. I have no idea why.) I'd recommend sticking to old school elbows though, since the cavatappi tends to be a little too thick and chewy for the cheesy sauce.


Sweet Saltines: Toffee Crunch Bars

I love the buttery, sweet, salty crunch of English Toffee. This is a quick way to get a similar result without fiddling with a candy thermometer. It's also the most delicious use for the humble saltine crackers that I know of...


PATCh Pasta

Hurrah! It's time for a new post after a very, very, very long break. Here's a bright, colorful pasta perfect for summer dining. 
This combination was inspired by what seems to be a British dish: Crab, Rocket and Chili Linguine. A little Googling brings up many variations of the same flavour combinations and Tesco even has a prepared packaged version. Despite the simplicity of the preparation, all the ingredients play very nicely with each other. The rocket (also known as arugula) has a mild peppery bitterness that cuts through the tomato's sweetness. Everything is warmed through with the chili. The result is big flavour payoff for a pretty small handful of ingredients.
Recipe after the jump...


Where to Eat: Hong Kong Edition

Oh, Hong Kong. The city is, in my opinion, as food obsessed as it can get. Indeed, there seems to be a restaurant, cafe, or food stall on every street and tucked behind every corner to satisfy every taste. The dishes and styles can range from inexpensive and comforting to sumptuous and luxurious. This is already apparent in the food markets. Traditional/wet markets are busy and noisy, touting piles of fresh meats, seafood, and produce. Contrarily, there are specialty food markets like Great or Citysuper where the shelves overflow with gourmet, imported (many European) products. These are the places to hit when searching for super-rich Hokkaido milk (which, incidentally, makes delicious soft serve ice cream) or fresh bread from Poilane (incredible sourdough bread… There are only three bakeries worldwide: two in Paris, one in London).
Poilane's famous sourdough (taken in London)

The markets are just the beginning though. There are so many exceptional spots with food from all around the world that it is possible to forgo home cooking altogether. Perhaps the fact that people eat out so frequently explains why they care so much about the quality of their food. Everyone and their mother seems to have an opinion of where to get the freshest and best of everything.

The fresh factor is an important one. If you've been to a traditional Chinese restaurant, you may recall the big blue fish tanks where you can literally observe your dinner in action before it lands on your plate. There are wet markets in Hong Kong today where you can buy live chickens too. How’s that for fresh?

It is impossible for me to cover everything delicious available in the city. In the short time that I was there, I'm positive I didn't even come close. I went to too many restaurants to count (dim sum, Cantonese, Shanghainese, Vietnamese, Japanese, the list goes on...) but rather than singling out a handful of random spots, I'll give a few quick snapshots of some highlights and where I got them.

Australia Dairy Co.

Real all-day breakfast: packed at 11pm
When I first heard the name of this place, I imagined a hokey Ben and Jerry's-type ice cream shop. In fact, this little restaurant in Kowloon has nothing to do with Australia and doesn't serve ice cream. However, as the top rated "HK style" restaurant at OpenRice.com (HK's version of Yelp and the like) I knew I had to try it.
The meal was...an experience in itself. The turnover is probably insanely high; I was in and out in under 30 minutes. Expect to order really, really quickly. (Case in point: the waiter literally walked away while I was mid-sentence in my order. By the time I finished the sentence the food had already landed on the table.) And while they don't actually rush you, this is not the kind of place where you'd feel comfortable kicking back and leisurely sip tea. I scarfed down the macaroni soup (a little salty with overcooked pasta, but that's the way it's supposed to be) and moved onto the scrambled eggs. The eggs are what make this place famous and they really were quite something: fluffy and buttery, soft and moist, served with ham and a very generously buttered thick piece of white toast. The meal was topped off with your choice of a hot drink (I had a Horlicks malted milk). The bill? 60 HKD for two servings, which is equivalent to just under 8 USD. Beat that.
Twenty minutes later
(more after the jump)

Where to Eat: Singapore Edition

For a city of its size (1 hour by car from east to west or so our cab driver said), Singapore definitely packs in its eateries. Or maybe it’s just an Asia thing (see the Hong Kong post).

It feels like the entire city is linked by an underground labyrinth of shopping malls. Most of these malls contain quality food courts... No Sbarro or McDonald’s here! It makes finding your next meal simple and convenient, but also challenging thanks to the number of choices. There are also great outdoor food markets like Lau Pa Sat if that's more your style.

The following are a few highlights from a whirlwind 48 hours in Singapore.


I heard that the best place to get satay is off Lau Pa Sat market (an outdoor covered food court). At night, the bordering Boon Tat Street is blocked off and filled with locals and visitors alike enjoying cold Tiger beers and freshly grilled satay.

There are numerous vendors set up along Boon Tat Street all attempting to hustle customers to their seating area. According to local sources, all the meat comes from a central supplier; it is the sauce that varies between stands. I went to stall number 8, mainly because there were plenty of patrons in the seating area and also because they claimed to have been featured in a Hong Kong travel publication.
The fan is used to control the flame on the charcoal grill. There are piles of satay in those plastic bags, waiting to meet the heat.
Chicken, beef and mutton skewers with peanut sauce and rice cake
There's something about sitting outdoors in the smoke laden air eating copious amounts of charred grilled meat that feels authentic. I felt a little like Anthony Bourdain, who has a penchant for eating probably-bad-for-you food in foreign outdoor settings. (The irreverent Mr. Bourdain is a foul-mouthed, steel-stomached celebrity chef who travels around the world eating crazy stuff like beating cobra hearts. He's a real badass in the food world, unlike one Mr. Ramsay... who's just a big bully.)

Hainanese chicken

Speaking of Mr. Bourdain, he visited Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice in the Maxwell Food Center and so I followed. If you ever go to Singapore, this is the “national dish” to seek out.

The chicken rice was probably the best 3 USD that I ever spent. The soup was mediocre (tasted like salt water to me) but the “oily” rice was so amazingly fragrant you just want to stick your face in it. I was also surprised that boiled chicken could taste that good.

(more after the jump)

Salmon to Love (Roasted, Herb-Crusted)

The Pacific Northwest is blessed with an abundance of wild salmon. Or, should I say, overabundance. We have salmon in the fridge so often that I had been running out of creative ways to prepare it.  This is my fifth salmon-themed post. I think it's also the only fish I've every written about.

Anyways, I may be able to end my search for variations because this is pretty darn tasty. The panko gets satisfyingly crispy and golden brown, while the crust seals the salmon and keeps it perfectly moist.

The side dish for the evening starred my favourite pasta-which-thinks-it's-rice, orzo. Dressed up with some lemon zest, herbs and parmesan, it played quite nicely with the salmon.

(Recipe after the jump)


Where to Eat: A Voce Columbus

I haven't written about a restaurant in a while. But when I realized that I have been repeatedly thinking back to this one dinner I had over a month ago, I decided that it is probably worth writing about. The restaurant that made such a lasting impression is A Voce at Columbus Circle. It is a contemporary Italian "chain" (if you could call it that. Its only other location is on Madison Ave.) but don't let that put you off. Sure, it has a Michelin star. But what I loved was that the food was the main focus, without the potential pretension that can accompany fine dining. The dining room was dimly lit, but was casual enough to feel completely relaxed. Although not quite an "open kitchen," there is a large window where you can look into the studio where the magic happens. (This is all I remember of the interior. Oh, and they have cool light bulbs hanging over the bar.) The restaurant claims to have views of Columbus Circle and Central Park, although there are mostly a few large semicircular banquettes next to the window, and they all face into the restaurant. The service was very friendly and prompt.  
 Nice bulbs

(More after the jump)