How weird and awesome is this mug that Isabel found while we were thrifting on Saturday?
Due to a shortage of space in our condo, Isabel has put a moratorium on buying new cookbooks. That instruction was briefly suspended today when in a flurry of thrift store madness we bought 24 new hardcover titles. The books in question are an out of print series from Time Life called “The Good Cook.” From what I’ve read, the series was made up of 28 volumes, released monthly between 1978 and 1980. Each installment focuses in on a broad topic. From “Poultry” to “Pasta,” “Offal” to “Terrines.”
They are nicely bound and feature surprisingly decent illustration and photography. On the whole, it’s an interesting time capsule of how people ate and cooked in the 1970s, but from what I can tell, each book is grounded in techniques that are still very much relevant today. And I gotta say, they look great packed together on our bookshelf. We’re going to keep our eyes open for the outstanding four titles in the series (I’m really bummed we are missing the “Preserving” installment). But I think that I’ll probably jump right into the “Terrines, Pates and Galantines” book for an edible project in the coming weeks.
We’re more ready than ever for a 70s-themed dinner party.
With every visit to Hong Kong my obsession with their local variety of milk tea grows stronger. A staple of the city’s afternoon tea culture – a remnant of its colonial past – there are few things more distinctly HK. You can find a passably decent cup of it in Toronto, the best of which (in my slightly-less than humble opinion) can be found at Ming’s Noodle Cafe in Scarborough.
But after having well over a dozen cups of it on our last trip, I decided that I wanted to bring the flavour – and technique – home with me.
I would describe a good cup of milk tea as strong and smooth. Strong is an obvious word for any caffeinated beverage, but to the uninitiated, ‘smooth’ seems an odd adjective. But it’s without a doubt the most important part. A well-balanced milk tea is creamy and full-bodied, but without being cloying or heavy. This is achieved through the use of evaporated milk (in the right quantity) but equally important is the journey it takes from boiling water to steaming mug. Which is all down to the tea master’s technique.
When it comes to milk tea, it’s impossible to separate the tools from the technique. And the most important tool of all is the tea sock. This porous, cloth device is used to steep the tea – both in the traditional way, and a local variation. Once brewed, the tea is poured through the sock several times, aerating it to add further body and caffeinated strength to the end product. The tea-stained sock is a ubiquitous sight in the cha chaan tengs of Hong Kong, so before I left, I knew I needed to find one for myself. This meant wandering into a few restaurant supply stores and asking the owners (in a little bit of broken Cantonese) if they could sell me one. A cursory Google search found that getting one online is pretty easy, but I’m way too impatient for that type of thing.
- Loose black tea (in HK, most cafes have a proprietary blend of multiple ceylon variations)
- A couple of tablespoons per cup of evaporated milk (this is not sweetened condensed milk, so don’t make that mistake)
- boiling water
- sugar to taste
- Tea sock
- 2 kettles (or heatproof jugs) to pour the tea back and forth
1. Bring a kettle of water to boil.
2. Place the loose leaf tea into the sock. A standard kettle will probably make between 6 and 8 cups of tea, so be generous with the amount of tea. I usually use about 5 or 6 heaping spoonfuls. Sometimes more.
3. Once the kettle comes to a boil, remove it from the heat and drop the tea sock inside. Let it steep for ten minutes off the heat.
4. After ten minutes of steeping you will be left with a very strong black tea. To make it Hong Kong-style, you will need to remove the sock and pass the liquid through it at least 4 times. This is where the second kettle (or heatproof jug) comes into play. Feel free to pour from a height, it looks cooler but it also will add to the beverage’s body.
5. After the tea has been strained 4 times, it is ready to pour. Add the evaporated milk to the individual cups, and pour the tea (once again through the sock). Sweeten to taste. I’ve found that the time of day will inform your desired sweetness, but maybe that is just me.
I can drink this at just about any time of the day, but it’s most traditionally taken with breakfast and at afternoon tea – usually accompanied by a sweet Chinese pastry (a pineapple bun would be my choice.
With summer road trips and afternoons at the ballpark on the horizon, the hungry mind switches to snacks that are as portable as they are delicious.
Growing up, jerky was never something that I ate. It always seemed a bit like gas station food, and I guess we didn’t spend enough time road tripping in the States to really be exposed to it. But for whatever reason, the idea to make my own appealed to me. Probably because the very thought of it prompts most sane people to ask, “what weirdos make jerky at home?”
So I did some research and found this classic episode of Good Eats. In it, Alton Brown shared one of the best life hacks I’ve ever seen: turning a box fan and a bunch of air conditioner filters into an industrial food drying device. This is more of a technique than a recipe (you can play with how you flavour the meat – or even play with the idea of using meat at all), but the principle is the same: cool air dries food better than warm air. It takes about 12 hours of drying time to make this jerky, but if stored properly it’ll probably outlive you.
Between this and homemade yogurt, I think I can go off the grid now.
- Flank steak (as big as you want, fat trimmed)
- 1/3 cup of soy sauce
- 1/3 cup of worcestershire sauce
- 1 tbsp honey
- 2 tsp cracked black pepper
- pinch of chili pepper
1. Place the flank steak in the freezer to firm up (between one and two hours). You’re going to want to lay it flat. This will make it easier to cut into strips.
2. Mix the marinade ingredients. Stir to combine.
3. Slice the flank steak into strips along the grain. This will give the jerky the kind of chew you’ll be looking for. Slice it as thin as possible. If it’s too thick, it won’t dry out properly.
4. Place the strips and the marinade into a ziplock bag and leave it in the fridge. I do it overnight, but a couple of hours should do the trick.
5. After the marinade has been given the time to do it’s thing, pat the steak strips dry and place them in the slats of the air filters. These will be placed on top of the box fan. I balance the fan over two chairs, to maximize the air flow. With the fan on medium (or high – depending on your noise tolerance) the meat will be dry within 12 hours. Store in an airtight container.
Isabel introduced me to the concept of Japanese-style Italian food from at an unassuming restaurant called Shiso Tree in Markham’s J-Town. While the concept seemed strange to me at first, the flavours are some of my favourite and truth be told, we probably eat Asian-style pasta more often than Italian.
Udon is usually a lazy, Saturday afternoon lunch option for Isabel and I. It’s not my favourite variety of noodle, but it’s chewy, and bouncy and is good in a soup. To switch things up, we decided to have it a different way, very much inspired by a dish we’d had at Guu SakaBar.
Carbonara in general is quite a simple dish, and the flavor modifications here don’t make it any more complicated. But the result is a creamy and delicious weekday night dinner option for two.
- 2 bricks of good quality frozen udon
- 2 strips of diced bacon
- 1 egg
- Dash of white pepper
- Dash of soy sauce
- Dash of hon dashi seasoning
- Freshly grated parmesan
- Sliced green onion
- Sliced nori (for garnish)
1. Bring a pot of water to boil. While coming to temperature, begin to fry the bacon.
2. In a large bowl whisk the egg, pepper, dashi seasoning, soy sauce and parmasean. This will form the sauce for the noodles.
3. At this point, the diced bacon should be crispy and delicious. Take it off the heat.
4. When the water comes to a boil, drop the noodles. They shouldn’t take long to cook. After a couple of minutes, strain them in a metal colander. Shake off as much excess water as you can.
4. Add the cooked, strained noodles to the egg-sauce component. Stir vigorously. The residual heat from the noodles should cook the egg, but if you don’t stir fast enough, it will scramble and ruin the dish.
5. Add the sliced green onion, nori and serve.
One of my most vivid childhood food memories is of the sour tang of homemade yogourt.
My mom used to make it all the time. But this was before probiotics were an ad buzzword and “Greek yogourt” was something only Greeks (and Turks, and Cypriots, and Lebanese, and Pakistani, and Mongols, and basically every culture with a yogourt-making tradition) ate. So I kind of took it for granted. And to be completely honest, I’m not sure I even liked it.
But fast-forward to today, and like most people, yogourt is one of the most common things I eat. And with that comes a whole lot of spent plastic cups in a recycling plant somewhere, the occasional artificial sweetener, and a lot of wasted money. Because the mark-up on what’s essentially funky-ass milk is huge.
But I’m not an environmentalist. Or even all that much of a cheapskate when it comes to food. So it was with nothing more than an embarrassing sense of adventure that I decided to make my own batch of the white stuff. I use the term, ‘adventure’ rather loosely, because making yogourt is just about the most passive and boring thing you can do in a kitchen. But there’s something nerdishly cool about transforming a pot of milk into something completely different. Maybe if I had a greater understanding or appreciation of science it would be less magical, but in this case, ignorance really is bliss. Sour, tangy bliss.
- 8 c Milk (as much or as little fat as you want)
- 1/2 c Dry milk powder (optional – will add a richness to the end product)
- 2 tsp Plain yogourt (must have live active cultures or this science experiment won’t work)
1. Pour milk into a sturdy pot and using a gradual heat bring it to a temperature of around 180ºF. While it is coming to temperature pour in the milk powder and stir. You don’t want lumps and you don’t want to scorch the bottom of the pot. So don’t be an idiot and walk away.
2. When the milk comes to temperature, take it off the heat and let it cool gradually. You need the liquid to drop down to a temperature in the 115-120ºF range. Any hotter and the live active cultures will become dead inactive cultures, and any cooler and they won’t do their thing. When the liquid has reached a suitable temperature (which takes about a half hour, depending on a number of variables) stir in your 2 tsp of room temperature plain yogourt. This inconsequential amount of yogourt is your starter, and with incubation time will yield enough yogourt to last you a week (or less).
3. Place a lid on your pot of milk and wrap it in a bath towel. The aim is to insulate the heat, allowing the cultures to multiply in a dark, quiet place. Put this wrapped package into a cool oven and don’t touch it for 10 or 12 hours.
4. Remove the towel and place the newly created yogourt in the fridge for a couple of hours to set. If you want “Greek-style” strain the works through a cheesecloth removing the whey. Or if you just want to eat it now, pour off a bit of the liquid that may be on the surface.
You can store it in the fridge in sterilized jars, but in my experience, the pot I made it in (with a tight-fitting lid) will suffice. And as long as you didn’t screw it up, it shouldn’t last too long before you need to make another batch.
Obviously it’s good with jam, or honey, or whatever other sweetener you’d like. I’m not sure if it’s ghetto or inventive, but sometimes I pour a dash of Ribena concentrate into a bowl of it for a sweet blackcurrant variation. There are many savory applications as well.
Isabel tried her hand at food styling for the above photo. Hence all the pink. Plain yogourt with blueberry jam, Ribena, honey, granola and strawberries.