Friday, May 28, 2010

BC Spot Prawns - a sustainable choice

BC Spot Prawns

Spot prawn (Pandalus platyceros) season started here early in the month so by now, you should be able to get a good deal at any local supermarket. I've found them for around $8 dollars at T&T and other Asian markets. They are also available at the False Creek Fisherman's Wharf, but at a premium. Supposedly you'll get fresher and bigger specimens, but I've never compared.

As food, spot prawns have a prominent sweet note with an interestingly firm texture. When cooking them, I tend to keep it simple. Most of the time, I steam or boil them plain just until the tails turn white. Occasionally, I will cook them with garlic and cooking wine or dip them in a lemon pepper mixture. The key is to not overpower the natural flavours of the shrimp.

My favourite part to eat has always been the "head". Anatomically, that part of the prawn contains the hepatopancreas (digestive gland) which is an organ that contains functions similar to the mammalian liver and pancreas. In lobsters and crabs, the hepatopancreas is commonly known as tomalley, the tasty green gooey paste.

BC Spot Prawns tomalley hepatopancreas anatomy

So, why are they a sustainable choice?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Urban Burger

I had a great burger today at Urban Burger. They happened to have a $5.99 + tax combo, which came with fries, a 16 oz fountain drink, and a basic burger with tomatoes, lettuce and red onion. The place was empty and I hadn't heard about this place before, so I wasn't sure what I was going to get. I did notice that the dining area and kitchen were very clean and organized, which is much appreciated.

Urban Burger
1067 Davie Street
Vancouver, BC V6E 1M5
(604) 568-3133

Their menu is very small to say the least. Customers have the option of the $5.99 combo, a chicken burger or combo and a veggie burger or combo. Add ons (cheddar, mushrooms, bacon, etc) were $1.00 + tax each. Their milkshake seemed reasonably priced.

The burger bun was excellent, lightly toasted on the outside soft on the inside. The patty was on the thinner side of the spectrum, but at $5.99 + tax for a combo, this should be expected. The patty was beautifully browned without being too greasy or dry.

Urban Burger on Davie in Vancouver

I'm not sure what the sauce was (some fancy mayo), but it was tasty. The lettuce, tomatoes and red onions were noticeably fresh. I added bacon which turned out great, not too crispy and not too soft. Best of all, the burger didn't fall apart on me, which seems like a rarity these days.

Urban Burger on Davie in Vancouver

The fries are fresh cut, which definitely came through in the flavour and texture. The downside to this is that some pieces end up being pretty small. My fries were very lightly salted, which I personally don't mind. It's easy enough to add or ask for more salt if you want it.

Urban Burger on Davie in Vancouver

Overall, I found this to be a fantastic deal for the quality of the food. I'm not sure if the burger combo deal is temporary or permanent, but if it's permanent, I'd definitely come here over Vera's.

Urban Burger on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Mussels in Tomato Broth - What's for Dinner?

mussels in tomato basil red wine broth

Prepare a broth with the following items and simmer for 5 minutes.
~1 cup of crushed tomatoes (fresh or canned)
~60 mL to half a cup of red wine, depending on taste
1/2 an onion, diced onion (can substitute with onion powder)
1 clove garlic, minced (can substitute with garlic powder)
1 tablespoon dried basil
Juice from a small lemon wedge
Salt and pepper to taste

Add in ~ 1lb live or frozen mussels and cook until mussels are cooked. If using live mussels, cook until the shells are open and discard any that remain closed. Top with chopped scallions and lemon wedge.

Optional: Brown onions and garlic prior to preparing the broth for extra flavour.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Food Bargain Round Up #3

deals, coupons, freebies, and bargains
Free Wrigley's 5 React Gum, must have facebook.

Free Multi-Grain Cheerios offer. Click the "Facebook Offer" banner on the site.

Free 1lb of wings at Wings on Granville from 9am - 6pm on Sunday May 23rd.
1162 Granville St.
Vancouver, BC

free wings

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Why leftovers and reheated foods taste different or off

While there are tons of foods that can taste good or even better the next day (pizza), many foods suffer from short term storage. Meat is particularly susceptible and can obtain flavours which some characterize as stale, metallic, or cardboard-like. In academic literature and industry, this is called warmed-over flavour (WOF).

A fundamental concept to keep in mind is that food is dynamic in its physical and chemical composition, even after cooking. Over time, the chemical make up of a stored food will be different than when it was first cooked.

In a nutshell, the chemical changes that occur during food storage are responsible for the staleness in leftovers. There is also water loss, but I'll focus on the chemistry side. Food scientists point to lipid oxidation as the main factor for developing WOF. The typical victims of storaged induced oxidation are lipids found in the outer membrane of cells (phospholipids, sphingolipids, glycolipids). Fat tissues are mainly saturated fats, which are not as suspectible to oxidation.

Meats with more unsaturated fat content are more prone to developing WOF.

Fish (most likely) > Poultry > Pork > Beef > Lamb (least likely)

So why is meat more likely to develop off flavours compared to other foods?

Meat contains iron embedded proteins. Iron is released from these proteins (hemoglobin and myoglobin) during cooking. This free iron can then speed up (catalyze) lipid oxidation during storage, hence meat is particularly vulnerable to developing that "off" taste. I have created some diagrams to show how lame I can be and for illustration purposes (I guess).

Iron increases warmed-over flavours in leftovers

So, how do we minimize these warmed-over flavours?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Sunrise Tofu Dessert: Caramel Custard Flavour

I found Sunrise flan (crème caramel) flavoured tofu dessert in the fridge the other day, which was a little confusing for me, mainly because I thought this only existed in my head. I never thought my custard tofu idea was a good one, but I was excited nonetheless.

Sunrise Tofu Dessert, Flan Caramel Custard Flavour

It basically tasted like tofu dessert with artificial caramel flavours, which actually tasted a bit like real caramel (obviously, it didn't have the depth or complexity). Supermarket flavoured versions of tofu dessert never quite win me over, but this was at least fun to try.

Sidenote: Anyone else think that the easy peel corner is not so easy, but rather frustratingly difficult?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Forgotten Foods

In the spirit of nostalgia, I present foods from another time.

Jimmy's Chinese Style Beef Jerky used to be ubiquitous around Canada and the US. For that reason, it's surely a part of many of our childhoods. Over 5 years ago, it became impossible to find. A quick google of Jimmy's Fine Food Ltd. gives a relevant phone number (604-254-6616). Sadly, many jerky mourners have called this number, without success, indicating that the company is indeed out of business. I feel sorrow that I'll never get to taste this paper thin treat again, but at least I know I'm not alone.

Jimmy's Chinese Style Beef Jerky

Orbitz is an instantly recognizable drink that was produced by the Clearly Canadian Beverage Corporation. The concept was cool. Surprisingly, the suspended edible balls made the drink look refreshing. Unfortunately, I don't think I've ever tried the product. One thing for sure is that despite whether or not you've tasted it, most people will remember seeing the product at 7-11. If they ever bring it back, I would buy it just to satisfying my childhood urge to drink a lava lamp (I bet you've made the same association).


The Clearly Canadian Beverage Corporation also produced a glass bottled flavoured sparkling water. The product was widely available for a time and then fell out of popularity. While it is still produced, the classic glass blue bottle is gone and I doubt that the product is the same. Moreover, it doesn't seem like it's widely distributed at all.

Clearly Canadian Flavoured Sparkling Water

I have fond memories eating at McDonald's with the older decor (unlike now, where some of them are more contemporary than a condo). I remember the excitement as a kid waiting 10+ minutes for a McDonald's personal pizza. Unless they bring it back, I'll never know if it was the pizza that was awesome or if it's just because I miss my childhood.

McDonald's Pizza, McPizza

Cadbury's Astros were like big Smarties with a biscuit center after the milk chocolate. The biscuit part was sort of like Maltesers or Whoppers. They used to run ads on TV and I distinctly remember going to the local corner store ever so often to buy a box of them. From online searches, it appears this product is still available in South Africa, of all places.

Cadbury's Astros

Friday, May 14, 2010

Bo Laksa King

I felt hungry the other day and noticing that Bo Laksa King had their new website up, I thought it'd be a good idea to finally try them out. A word of note: their website lists that as of May 15th, their prices will no longer include tax, so there's going to be a bit of a price increase.

Bo Laksa King (inside Joyce-Way Food Market)
4910 Joyce St
Vancouver, BC V5R 4G6
(604) 339-0038

The roti canai ($5.99 for a large) is quite oily, including the curry chicken dip. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, it's just different from what you would get at Banana Leaf. Bo's version is much chewier and therefore, quite different texturally. I also noticed that the flavour ends on a bit of a sweet note. Though the amount of oil makes it difficult to eat a lot of it, I do like the version here and would buy it again. My preference is for the dipping sauce to be less oily though.

Roti Canai, Bo Laksa King

I had the laksa with yellow noodle ($7.50), which was great. The flavour profile of the curry was complex, yet each spice could be distinguished. Overall, it was fragrant, tasty, and the noodles were well cooked. You can see from the picture that it's quite heavy on the coconut milk. In some ways, the coconut milk does mask some of the elegance of the curry sauce, but depending on if they add the coconut milk after, it's easy enough to request less or more of it.

Laksa, Bo Laksa King

I wasn't expecting much of the wraps ($4.50 each regular price) because they looked rather typical so I tossed them in the fridge after my meal. When I got back to it, only the curry chicken one was left. It was surprisingly good. The flavours worked well together and the ingredients felt balanced, not even the potatoes felt excessive. This is in contrast to a lot of the wraps available in Vancouver.

Wraps, Bo Laksa King

Great food, maybe a little overhyped. This place is close to my house, so I would happily go back. The quality in the cooking does show. I also noticed that they'll be having two new items on their menu, Faluda and a pickled mango salad from Myanmar. Descriptions from their website are listed below for reference.

Faluda - A great summer dessert, which is a popular beverage in South Asia made with rose water, tropical fruits, beans, ice cream and basil seeds along with condensed milk.

Pickle Mango Salad - Pickled green mango with red onion, crushed peanuts, dry shrimp, fired onions, sesame seeds, garlic chip and chick pea powder.

Bo Laksa King on Urbanspoon

Banana Leaf on Broadway

Banana Leaf's a place everybody's been to. It's accessible, reliable, and most people like it. I've never been since I'm not usually a fan of this type of food (at least in a restaurant setting). I got to go recently for a friend's birthday.

Banana Leaf on Broadway
820 West Broadway
Vancouver, BC V5Z 1J8
(604) 731-6333

I ordered the Appetizer Sampler for two, which worked out to be $8/each. Below is some sort of salad with papaya, pineapple, etc. It was okay, but personally not for me. The vinaigrette was pretty strong. FYI: you get two plates of the salad with the sampler, but only one plate of the other stuff.

The chicken satay was well done. The meat was tender and juicy. Seemed better than the one at Tropika, but that was too long ago to make a fair comparison.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Lazy Pasta - What's for Dinner?

creamy tomato sauce with spaghetti

This is one of the lazy pasta dishes I cook when I want a quick meal without tinkering with crushed tomatoes. I don't have an exact recipe for the sauce, but the following is a guesstimate:

350 mL tomato sauce from a jar or a can
1/2 tablespoon onion powder (ran out of onions)
1/2 tablespoon garlic powder (also ran out of garlic)
3 heaping tablespoons of sour cream
1/6th of a cup of red wine
100 grams of ground beef, browned for extra flavour
3/4 tablespoon dried basil
3/4 tablespoon dried thyme
1/2 a tomato, diced
Salt and pepper to taste and dried parsley to garnish.
Mushrooms would have also been a nice addition, but I didn't have any on hand.

Mix and serve with your favourite pasta.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Browning Food: Principles and Misconceptions

Everybody is familiar with the browning process that happens when food is cooked in a hot pan, oven or over an open fire. This process has been utilized since our prehistoric cave dwelling ancestors discovered fire. Browning is essential to the development of the flavours we tend to associate (and appreciate) with cooked meat.

steak panfried and oven roasted

There are two main types of reactions responsible for the browning process:

1. Maillard reaction: a very complex set of reactions starting with an amino acid reacting with a sugar. I will explore this reaction in another post since it is omnipresent in cooking.

2. Pyrolysis: a complex series of reactions starting with the spontaneous breaking down of either carbohydrates or proteins due to high temperatures. Caramelization (oxidation of sugars) is a type of pyrolysis. Like with Maillard reactions, flavour and colour compounds are formed.

While both reactions are involved in browning foods, the Maillard reactions dominate by a large margin. The extent of each reaction depends on temperature, sugar content, protein content, etc.

Chefs and cooking enthusiasts often throw out terms like caramelization and the Maillard reaction, without differentiating the two. There seems to be a great deal of misunderstanding and confusion among online communities. The key point to remember is that both pyrolysis and Maillard reactions are involved, but it is the Maillard reactions that dominate.

I've recently read online posters claiming that Maillard reactions are not involved with the browning of meat due to the lack of sugars. They propose instead that the main player is pyrolysis. I have not been able to find a citation to support this. In fact, I have found experimental evidence of the contrary (see reference 2 at the end of the post). The problem with this claim is that there is an abundance of sugar in meats, as part of molecules found in cells (ATP, nucleic acids). Scientific literature I have read state that ribose, the sugar found in ATP and nucleic acids, is the major sugar participant in the Maillard reaction in the browning of meat. Hence, there's no reason to doubt there is enough sugar in meat for Maillard reactions.

So how does the browning process begin? With sufficient heat! The reactions involved occur most readily, or sometimes exclusively, at very high temperatures.

Heat is not the only requirement though. Food does not brown when it is boiled or steamed, even though there is a heat source. This is due to the presence of free water (ie: not water content in the meat). Non-enzymatic browning requires temperatures in excess of 100°C (boiling point of water). That means when a lot of water is present in liquid form, no browning can occur because water will take up all the heat and keep temperatures from exceeding 100°C. I drew up a little diagram in photoshop, mostly for fun.
browning meat, Maillard, pyrolysis, caramelization
You might be wondering about the inherent water content in food. Since there's always water in food, why does browning occur at all? The answer is simple when we think about how it's only the exterior of what we are cooking that is browned. What happens is that as water evaporates from the food's surface, the temperature can increase increase to sufficient browning levels.

There's another reason why water inhibits the browning process besides temperature. The Maillard reaction produces water. If water is already present in the system (ie: your pot or pan), a reaction that produces water is less likely to occur. (Remember Le Chatelier's principle from high school chemistry?)

For the scientifically inclined:

Mottram DS (1998). Flavour formation in meat and meat products: a review. Food Chemistry 62(4), 415-424.

Pearson AM, Tarladgis BG, Spooner ME & Quinn JR (1966). The Browning Produced on Heating Fresh Pork II. The Nature of the Reaction. Journal of Food Science 31(2), 184-190.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Ginger Milk Curd: How the Milk Coagulates (no magic)

A while back, I discovered that the process of making Ginger Milk Curd depended on enzymes, found in ginger, that break down proteins (proteases). Since then, I've always wondered how an enzyme that breaks down proteins would cause the proteins to solidify. I did a little research and some of inferring. So below are the cliff notes.

ginger milk curd

I have to note that I didn't find an exact mechanism for ginger, but I did find one for rennet (a set of enzymes produced in the mammalian stomach and often used in industry to produce cheese). After reading some articles and wikipedia, I think the enzymes in ginger and the enzymes in rennet likely work in a similar, but obviously not identical fashion.

So why does milk solidify in the presence of certain proteases?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

DOV-esque dining deals available year round in Metro Vancouver

During my research (see this post) of which restaurants to eat at during DOV, I've found quite a number of Dine Out like deals that are available after the event. With Dine Out 2010 drawing to a close, I thought I would share some of these.

Set Menus
- availability, prices, and times may change

(*) - varies from being more expensive to cheaper than dine out counterpart
(>) - more expensive than dine out counterpart
(<) - less expensive than dine out counterpart
(=) - cost the same as dine out counterpart

A Kettle of Fish (*) - three course menu varies between $35-$45
Brasserie Bistro (>) - 2 course meal for $32.00 and a 3 course meal for $38.00
Brix Restaurant & Wine Bar (<) - $29 three course "first seating menu" (between 5pm -6:30 pm)
Diva at the Met (=) - $38 dinner tasting, $28 lunch prix fixe
Mistral French Bistro (<) - $19-24 dollar lunch menus (11:30 am-2 pm Tuesday-Saturday)
Raincity Grill (<) - $3o three course early prix fixe (between 5-6 pm)
Trafalgars Bistro (>) - $35 three course menu

Entertainment Coupon Restaurants

Some restaurants that participated in DOV have 2 for 1 entree coupons, which often works out to be cheaper than DOV, with more selection. You can view the restaurants that have Entertainment coupons here (warning: huge list):

Let me know if you find anything else!

Food Bargain Round Up #1

deals, coupons, freebies, and bargains
Get a free 591 mL bottle of Canada Dry White Ginger Ale - expires May 8th.

Between May 7 and May 16, enjoy a half-price Frappuccino® blended beverage at participating Starbucks from 3 to 5 p.m.

Get a free participating Mars Canada Inc. Chocolate Single, while supplies last.

Get a free honey nut flavour All-Bran bar, while supplies last.

Burger King - Two WHOPPER® Sandwiches, two medium fries and two medium soft drinks for $8.98 + tax, offer valid from May 1 – June 30, 2010.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

West Restaurant + Bar (Dine Out Vancouver 2010)

I was very excited to try West. I had to reschedule this multiple times and was worried from hearing about how everybody was disappointed with their meals at West during Dine Out Vancouver 2010. Oh, parking was pretty expensive. $2/hour at the meters.

West Restaurant + Bar
2881 Granville St. (Around 13th Avenue)
Vancouver, BC V6H 3J4

Bread didn't seem that fresh though the server emphasized it was baked fresh in house. Having both butter and olive oil was a nice touch.

West Restaurant, Dine Out Vancouver 2010, bread with butter and olive oil

Queen Charlotte salmon tempura with smoked creme fraiche, cracked wheat and citrus. Very good, well fried and good flavour.

West Restaurant, Dine Out Vancouver 2010, Queen Charlotte salmon tempura

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Food scraps and yard trimmings

Since Earth Day of this year, the city of Vancouver has allowed food scraps to be picked up with yard trimmings. According to their website, this first phase will only allow certain items to be placed into the yard trimmings. Cooked food and anything with oil is not allowed yet to keep odours down and deter pests (since yard trimming pick up is only on a bi-weekly basis).

I have also been critical of how archaic our municipal waste and garbage collection is, but I think this is a step in the right direction, especially for those that don't have room for a backyard composter.

In 2011, they expect that all food scraps (fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, dairy, bread, cereal products and food-soiled paper) will be allowed. This will involve a transition to weekly yard trimming pick up. However, it does note that garbage pickup will be bi-weekly. So it's best to get into the habit of separating the food scraps now.

Below is some info I found on the Residential Food Scraps Collection website.

Here are some of the items that are currently allowed:
  • Uncooked fruits and vegetables
  • Eggshells
  • Coffee grounds and along with coffee filters
  • Teabags
  • Newspaper or brown paper that's used as a bin liner

  • Here are some tips to minimize odours, insects and pests when collecting collectable scraps:
  • Sprinkle with baking soda
  • Line or wrap food scraps with newspaper or a paper bag (these can be put into the yard trimmings too!)
  • Empty it out and wash it regularly
  • Keep a lid on when not in use

  • They have an online survey and an open dialogue in blog form.

    hidden (Dine Out Vancouver 2010)

    Number 3, $18 price tier. This was a late dinner, so it was pretty dark and my hands aren't the steadiest. They had a paper fortune teller at each table that turned out to be pretty lame. It wanted to tell me what to get.

    hidden (@ the Weston Grand, near the main library)
    433 Robson St.
    Vancouver, BC V6B 6L9
    (604) 647-2521

    hidden, Dine Out Vancouver 2010

    Pacific poutine with halibut cheeks, qualicum cheese curds, crispy Yukon golds and lemon hollandaise. Halibuts were a bit salty, but great dish overall. We had a side order of fries that happened to be rather soggy, but the fries in the poutine were fine.

    hidden, Dine Out Vancouver 2010, poutine

    Saturday, May 1, 2010

    The Observatory (Dine Out Vancouver 2010)

    Numéro deux, this one's at the $38 option.

    The Observatory
    6400 Nancy Greene Way
    North Vancouver District, BC V7R
    (604) 980-9311

    To take full advantage of the beautiful weather since this year's Dine Out got pushed back, I planned dinner reservations according to weather predictions from two sources as well as sunset times. I was determined to have a nice view. I seem to be cursed. The weather today was dreadful. It was overcast and snowing on the mountain, it was exactly like looking through a thick fog.

    Observatory Grouse Mountain, Dine Out Vancouver 2010

    In addition to my weather woes, traffic was stalled all over Vancouver due to multiple accidents. A 15 minute car drive turned into an hour, and as a result, we had to skip the Theatre in the Sky. I will digress a bit, dinner reservations at the Observatory has a few complimentary perks. In addition to the Theatre in the Sky show, the skyride up and down the mountain is also free. In the winter, there is even a sleigh ride and free skating on the pond, weather permitting.

    To make matters worse, we found out that the car was leaking engine coolant (wish I remembered to take a picture of the green fluid). On the way back, we had to resort to using water on a pinch. Wait that's not all, when I got home and started editing the photos, I realized that I forgot to turn off the High ISO settings. Hence, the pictures for the night are ridiculously grainy, so much so that I couldn't really adjust any of them without the grain becoming even more apparent. So I apologize for the poor pictures.

    On with the food...