Wednesday, December 27, 2017

DIY Seafood Cocktail Platter...

Impress and save $ by making your own cold seafood appetizer platter! Popular but pricey frozen shrimp rings don't cut it-- defrosted overnight the shrimps are waterlogged and their natural flavours diluted. When the occasion arise, I cook up frozen shrimps and make my own cocktail sauce, but this year for our family Christmas gathering I wanted to take it up a notch and create a variety trio platter-- tagging on mussels and imitation crab meat. It's so simple to do-- just boil/steam the seafood that requires cooking, shell the shrimps, refrigerate to cool and arrange it all on a nice serving dish. Never buy cocktail sauce, I repeat, just don't do it! You likely have the four ingredients to combine to make a wicked one, namely ketchup, horseradish, Worcestershire sauce and lemon with hot sauce as optional. Why add another condiment in the fridge? And the bill on this gourmet delight of a seafood platter? A mere $25... An extravagant offering without the extravagant cost. 

DIY Seafood Cocktail Platter
Serves 12 and more as an appetizer

2 lbs. frozen *zipperback shell-on shrimps (medium to large size). 
2 lbs. frozen half shell mussels (I used New Zealand Greenshell mussels)
1 pkg. (227 g) stick imitation crab meat (cut into bite-size pieces) or flake-style

Cocktail Sauce:
1 cup ketchup
2 to 4 Tbsp. grated/prepared horseradish (add a Tbsp. at a time for desired flavour and texture)
2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
a splash or two of lemon juice
hot sauce (optional)
lemon wedges
fresh parsley sprigs and hydrated dried seaweed for garnishing

Bring a large pot of water with a tsp. salt to a boil. Bring the shrimps to a boil, and cook for two minutes until the shell is bright orange, and flesh is opaque and firm. Ladle them out into a large bowl filled with cold, cold water to stop the cooking process. Strain well. Peel the shrimps (* with slit shells you can easily “zip” off these shrimps), but keep the shell ends intact for easy holding and dipping. Lay the shrimps on a paper-towel lined bowl and refrigerate until cool.

Meanwhile, bring the water back to a boil and add the mussels. Bring to a boil and cook for two to three minutes until mussels are firm. Ladle out into another bowl with cold water. Drain the water well, and place the mussels into a bowl and refrigerate until cool.

Combine ketchup, horseradish, Worcestershire sauce and lemon juice, and mix well. Add hot sauce if desired. Refrigerate until ready to use.

I used homemade ketchup from RFRK with chunky bits of tomatoes and onions.

Arrange the shrimps, mussels, and imitation crab meat pieces onto a platter along with a ramekin/small bowl of cocktail sauce and lemon wedges. For the bells and whistles on presentation, add green garnishes such as parsley sprigs and seaweed tucked in and around different points of the platter. I made mine super simple-- still gorgeous no?

This is just a beauty shot portion of what I was serving at the dinner party!

Talk about impressive to bring to any gathering! Succulent, juicy and pretty sophistication!

Sidebar: Most Torontonians are familiar with the lobster mountain by now, but have you ever heard of the shrimp chip mountains? Very famous in my household :). Home deep-fried, large hand-size real shrimp chips from Vietnam, bespeckled with cracked black pepper... I often don't leave home to a party without them :).

Seafood medley served straight out of the toted plastic tupperware no frills-style at my parents' place! Thank goodness for thinking ahead with my white platter home beauty shots!

The Festive East meets West spread as usual with my extended family!

What did you EAT to celebrate Christmas Day?

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Profiteroles (Cream Puffs)...

Ahhh profiteroles-- those cute tender-crisp hollow airy puffs filled with creamy vanilla pastry or as my Montreal-raised husband has been chiding forever, ice cream. "Restaurants don't make proper profiteroles anymore. They do it easy with prepared crème glacé." In his mind, every part of a profiterole takes a skillful artisan to dole out-- the understanding of food science inner workings between flour, water, butter and eggs to produce the fluffy choux pastry shell (the same dough that makes beautiful éclairs) and having the patience and masterful technique to whip up a luscious cream filling. In the spirit of a workplace cookie exchange, this prompted him to roll up his sleeves and attempt to uncomplicate his favourite classic treat with a nod to la belle province. 

As a starting point, we know we just can't go wrong with recipes from Mr. Montreal food pro himself, cookbook author and TV food host & personality Ricardo. Following his measurements and recipe instructions to a tee (recipe was quadrupled for the exchange needs), will my husband eat his words or will he and everyone else eat his profiteroles???

This hefty batch looks pretty good huh?

Success-- YAY! This was indeed a fantastic fool-proof recipe-- just make sure you follow each step by step (I've added some tips and watch-outs along the way).

Profiteroles (Cream Puffs) (adapted by Ricardo)
Makes 16 profiteroles  (double or triple the ingredients to feed a crowd)

1/2 cup of milk
1/2 cup of water
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1 tsp. of sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup unbleached all purpose flour
4 eggs

Choux pastry: 
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line a baking sheet or two with parchment paper (if using two make sure they fit side-by-side in oven). In a saucepan, bring to boil milk, water, butter, sugar and salt (mixture has to come to a rolling boil-- this helps the pastry's aeration). Remove the pan from the heat and you must add the flour all at once (this helps the starch swell and absorb the liquid so the dough has structure). Stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until the dough forms a smooth ball that comes off the pan sides. Put the pan back on a low heat and cook stirring the dough for about two minutes. Remove from heat and let cool a few minutes. 

Add the eggs one at a time, vigorously beating with a wooden spoon or electric mixer between each addition, until the dough is smooth and homogeneous. Eggs are a leavening agent and the yolks add fat for a tender and light texture. Egg proteins add to the structure of the cream puff.

Using a pastry bag or large plastic freezer bag with a 1 cm (1/2 inch) round tip filled with choux pastry, emit 16 mounds the size of a golf ball leaving 1-inch in between on the baking sheet (they grow). Or use two spoons to set. Flatten the tips with a finger dipped in a bit of water. Bake in the centre of the oven about 25 to 30 minutes until golden brown. Remove from oven, and cut a tiny slit in the side of each puff to let some of the steam escape. This allows the inside of the puff to dry out, stiffening the structure. 

To make it easy, we used two spoons- one for spooning and the other for swiping the pastry onto the baking sheet.

Voila Magic-- light, airy and fluffy little hollow balls!

Cut a tiny slit in the side of each puff to let some of the steam escape so the insides will dry out, and create a firm but tender-crisp shell. 

Now for the pastry cream... Does it really take that much effort and skill?

Vanilla Pastry Cream (adapted by Ricardo)

2/3 cup sugar 
1/3 cup unbleached all purpose flour 
2 eggs 
2 cups milk, warm 
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract 

In a saucepan, (not on heat) combine the sugar and flour. Add the eggs and whisk until the mixture is smooth and even. Add the hot milk gradually while whisking. Bring to a complete boil over medium heat, whisking constantly and scraping the bottom and corners of the pan. Simmer for 1 to 2 minutes over low heat. Remove from heat and add vanilla. Stir until thick. To prevent the formation of a skin on the surface of the pastry cream, place a plastic wrap directly on the hot cream. Let cool. Refrigerate until completely cool, about three hours. 

Not bad right to make a classic profiterole cream filling? 
Ok, No excuses restaurants!  Even my 6-year old was helping good ol' dad out :D

Whisk, whisk baby!

Add the hot milk and whisk, whisk baby!

Pastry cream is ready when it thickly coats the back of a spoon.

Fill each choux pastry with some cream. You can pipe it in or spoon it if the slit is big enough.

Wow, I am impressed honey! Way To Go!! A+ for effort and originality!

The cookie exchange with my husband's 11 colleagues went deliriously super! Everyone baked up about 72 pieces and exchanged six of their own sweet offerings with others times 11 :D. And he said his delicious pastries were an original with the staff admiring the cuties. 

Here were the eye-popping variety of beauties that came back in nicely packed boxes!
Sweet treats for a week! Where to begin?

What are you baking up to celebrate this season?

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Food Revolution Toronto December Contest-- Celebrations!

Resharing from Food Revolution Toronto:

Happy December! This month's #CookwithFoodREVTO challenge is all about celebrations! This month, share a photo of your holiday celebrations, whatever they are, and the foods you prepare and eat with our team on social media and you will be eligible to win a Jamie Oliver cookbook courtesy of HarperCollins Canada!

For me, holidays is for spending time doing engaging things with friends and family, and what better than cooking something yummy together? One year, I had just learnt the techniques for baking up tall, flaky, brown-golden, crunchy and chewy basic best-ever scones, and our annual pre-Christmas dinner gathering was imparting these very tips to my girlfriends-- perfect for a hot-out-of-the-oven midday treat with tea, and to enjoy while we painted! 

How are you going to celebrate this festive season?

Best-Ever Scones and Homemade Lemon Curd

Celebrations with Baking, Painting and Feasting!

How To Enter:

Snap a photo of your celebration and tell us a little bit about it!

You MUST use the hashtag #CookwithFoodRevTO AND tag us on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook. That's it! Then you'll be entered to win a cookbook!

Eligibility and Contest Rules:

– Contest begins on December 1st 2017 at 6am EST on and closes January 6th 2018 at 6pm EST.
– Prize consists of one (1) Jamie Oliver cookbook.
– Open to readers of the age of majority with a Canadian mailing address.
– No purchase of any product necessary for entry.
– Winner will be chosen randomly (using from all qualified entries on January 6th 2018 after 6pm EST.
– Winner will be notified January 7th or 8th 2017 and will have 48 hours to respond to the message.
– Winner will be required to answer a skill testing question.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Five Spiced Soy Sauce Duck Gizzards...

Duck gizzards for the Asian in me!! One can usually enjoy these sliced up in a stir-fry at Chinese restaurants but nowadays, they can be ordered prepared whole thanks to Chinese mom and pop shops selling all-parts canard like Kung-Fu Duck and similar take-out counters. Think neck, tongue, head and yummy webbed feet :). Gizzard is a small organ, part of the digestive tract in some animals that aid in grinding up hard foods and particles. It is very high in protein- 44g and low in fat with just one cup serving (about 12 pieces). #eateverythingwastenothing

My mother made these while growing up. Her signature style was salting, then drying to cure much like hard jerky. I remember pieces strung together and hung to air-dry like laundry in the basement for days to the horror of my non-Asian friends. My Asian friends didn't notice cause chances were their parents were doing the same thing :D. But undeniably tasty and chewy they were! Not subjecting my kids to hanging offals, I like the saucy kind you cook over the stove for an hour with soy sauce and five spices. Nothing like that beautiful fragrance along with the nose of garlic and ginger wafting in the air. My kids called out the intoxicating aroma walking in the front door from school. Chicken wings they ask? When they found out it was an offal matter, they shrugged and lapped it up with the  same gusto at dinner. The only wish was that I added boiled eggs to the brew. A note for next time, and there'll certainly be a next time. 

Five Spiced Soy Sauce Duck Gizzards

1 lb. duck gizzard, membranes removed (look for fresh, red pieces in packages at Asian supermarkets)

(1/2 tsp. salt and 1 Tbsp. cornstarch for cleaning)
1 Tbsp. oil

2 to 3 thinly sliced ginger
1 green onion, cut into pieces
2 cloves garlic, chopped
3 pieces of star anise
1/2 tsp. five spiced powder
a few dashes of ground white powder
3 Tbsp. good soy sauce
1 cup water

Rinse and soak the gizzards in a bowl of cool water to cover for 1/2 hour to an hour. This will help soften the membranes which will be removed before cooking. You won't want to have rubbery stringy membranes in the way of the delectable organ grinding. 

Drain the water. Pull and rub off the membranes. Add salt and cornstarch to the gizzards and mix well. Let sit for 10 minutes to allow impurities to be released and eradicate some of the offal smell. Rinse well in cold water several times, until water runs clear. Drain well.

I like to use a soy sauce brew that is slightly sweet and a rich umami soy flavour. Japanese brands Yamasa and Kikkoman has these attributes. Use a soy sauce to impart the flavours you enjoy. Add a little sugar for sweetness if needed for balance.

Heat a sauce pan with the oil and add ginger slices, onions and garlic; cook until fragrant, about one minute. Add the star anise, five-spiced powder and pepper. Mix and cook for 1 minute with the duck gizzard. Pour in the soy sauce and water. Cover with lid until the mixture boils. Turn heat down to medium and simmer for 45 minutes to an hour or until the mixture turns syrupy (coating the back of a spoon).

Serve hot or cold with a sprinkle of sliced green onions and with the sauce.

Deliciously aromatic and beautifully lacquered in the thickened sauce with the resulting orbs slightly sticky, flavourful with a springy chew! It was a delectable accompaniment to a meal of Pork Bones and Preserved Egg Congee along with deep-fried dough fritters and Chinese greens.

If you love to eat and experiment with off-cuts, try my Yakitori Grilled Chicken Hearts, Spicy Pork Intestines Stir-Fry and Chieko's Fermented Squid Guts! Happy offal-ling!

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Too Easy Tuna Cakes...

My family loves all kinds of seafood cakes. While crab (our favourite kind of cakes) is not readily on hand to make, tuna cakes are, with canned tuna always in our pantry. They also make an awesome portable lunch to pack and an after school snack for little ones. These patties can easily be made with just drained can tuna, mayonnaise and breadcrumbs... I like to see what I have on my counter and in the fridge to give it texture and to jazz them up. Potato and carrot shreds do just that giving them a nice character and added nutrients. It's a great recipe to have your children help in the kitchen and an easy way to #eatmorefish.

Too Easy Tuna Cakes
Makes 10 to 12 cakes

2 cans of tuna, drained (I use flaked tuna)
1 medium potato, grated (squeeze well to remove moisture)
1 medium carrot, grated
2 green onions, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbsp. mayonnaise
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 egg
1/2 cup dried bread crumbs
salt and pepper to taste
oil for pan-frying
lemon or lime wedges and mayonnaise for serving

Place all the ingredients in a medium bowl and incorporate to mix well. If mixture seems too moist, add a Tbsp. of breadcrumbs at a time and mix well. Let firm in the fridge for about 1/2 to one hour. Form mixture into patties.

I use disposable gloves to make it less messy. 

Heat 1 Tbsp. oil in a pan over medium-high heat and pan-fry tuna cakes until golden brown on one side; then flip with a spatula to cook on the other side.

Meaty, delicious and too easy-to-do....Serve with lemon or lime wedges. We like Japanese kewpie mayo for dipping. Vegetable crudites are perfect accompaniments!

Try also my Mini Crab Cakes as a tasty gourmet appetizer for a party!

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

A Day of Sensory at Vineland Research and Innovation Centre...

Innovate For Impact by enriching people’s lives through science and discovery in horticulture is what goes on at Vineland Research & Innovation Centre in Vineland Station en route to fruitful Niagara from Toronto. As an independent non-for-profit research organization set up in 2007, their focus was on creating impact for the Canadian horticulture sector to bring us fruits, vegetables, flowers and plants to the local market as well as to the global marketplace. This means acres in the field, shelf space in the stores, and economic and environmental gains for farms, greenhouses, exports, new businesses and jobs. Today Vineland prides itself in rebuilding the centre into a thriving hub of horticulture research furnished with the latest scientific equipment, a full-to-capacity greenhouse and a highly-skilled research team. They work with the right commercial partnerships to deliver on the concepts, and consumer insights has everything to do with the execution. 

As they approach their tenth anniversary, they invited members of Food Bloggers of Canada with an exclusive inside-the-science look into the importance of conducting sensory evaluation with consumers and how this plays a crucial role in bringing the right products to market. We engaged in three mini workshops and had a lovely catered-in lunch with the centre's produced harvest. Flashback, sensory exercises I am very familiar with conducted back in my days as a product developer for a food manufacturer and then as a culinary expert in a Corporate test kitchen collaborating with brands to test products for market. This was going to be a fun day with other bloggers!

Vineland Research and Innovation Centre

What is consumer insights? This is what drives consumer behaviour-- their attitudes and influences to what they buy and consume. Here, consumer intelligence is put to work for horticulture research. This can be applied to opening new markets, bringing growth of plant varieties to Ontario and Canada, breeding varieties for Canadian production to global markets, and enhancing quality and production of say greenhouse tomatoes and breeding non-edible products such as the Canadian hardy rose.

Inside Vineland's greenhouse grounds.

Me with @nomadicnutritionist

A bounty of tomatoes thrive in the controlled greenhouse. 

In partnership with the Canadian Nursery Landscape Association (CNLA), Vineland manages Canada's only national rose breeding program focused on cold hardy, low maintenance roses that are strongly aligned with consumer preferences. Extensive consumer research and branding concepts generate renewed interest in landscape roses with new and younger Canadians. The first rose for release from the program in 2017 is the Canadian Shield, part of Vineland's 49th Parallel Collection.

Can you guess what attribute of a rose is the No. 1 driver of consumer preference?

In person, fragrance is of utmost importance, on-line or catalogue, it is colour!

As part of the insight to consumer-driven horticulture strategies, we looked at two rose plants for a test exercise. One of the consumer surveys was a like and dislike check-list for the features of the plant. These include attributes we don't normally think about such as its density, height, flower coverage and thorn length. The other was mini profiling of the plants by standing back and assessing the plants as they compare to one another with a low to high scale on things like flower size and petal curling. These kinds of collected consumer data help determine desirable features of a rose that can lead to new breeding, thus reinvigorate the rose market landscape in North America.

The food technician preparing food products for our next hands-on sensory workshop.

A preference taste was done on apples. The sample cups were coded and we tasted in the order that was received with a sip of water and a bite of cracker in between to cleanse the palate. We indicated our preference and select the reasons for our choice. Our evaluations were collected and the results show that preference was given to the apple that was sweeter with a crisper texture. This was the Smitten apple. It is the first variety scouted by Vineland that's ready for commercialization in Canada.

The next evaluation was on baked sweet potato. This was done on a rating scale with two types of sweet potatoes. In general, uniform bright orange sweet potatoes are golden for consumers and looks matter most. This has been tested with taste panelists as fries, baked and pureed over the course of two years. 

In the controlled sensory lab as our final workshop, sterile, plain and odour-free is the optimum environment for unbiased taste testing without influence from other factors. Each survey is set up on a computer in individual panelled booths/cabins with regulated lighting above. Behind the roll-up panel door, taste samples were provided when ready to be tested.

This was a reference picture of apples, glasses of cider and samples of baked potatoes shown in controlled lighting. The lighting unit enables a uniform and glare-free lighting of the workplace. We tasted two samples of apples and two samples of ciders.

To cap off an interactive morning, we had food catered in from Zoomacaters using harvest-- eggplant, sweet potato and apple produced at the centre's grounds.

Oven-roasted chicken with soy ginger eggplant and mushrooms over sweet potato puree. I especially enjoyed the baked lightly seasoned crisp potato skin used as a lovely textural garnish.

Harvest apple shortbread crumble with maple cream.

The real measure of success, has certainly been seeing the fruits of Vineland's labour in orchards, fields, greenhouses and of course in supermarkets. There is so much more including winter-hardy Cold Snap pears, Pixie grapes, okra, peaches and nectarines. I look forward to scouting out and savouring our local Ontario-grown creations knowing that our collective consumer voices propelled these kinds of innovative harvests, and that they are accessible to us all. 

If interested in more, stay up-to-date on Vineland's research programs by joining their mailing list.