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Friday, December 26, 2008

I Yust Go Nuts at Christmas

It will be of no surprise to anyone that in our house, food plays a big part in our Christmas celebrations. There are a few that come from my childhood, but most of those involve dishes that made an appearance at the Christmas Dinner table, and at no other time of the year. Dishes like "Golden Glow Salad" and "Potatoes Romanoff" will forever remain part of my Christmas, but will NEVER appear on any table I set. There is no place for Jell-O in my Yuletide.

Fortunately there are many new food traditions we have adopted and are hopefully passing on to my children. In the spirit of the season, I'd like to share a few of them here.

Good Beer: While there is always room for wine at the dinner table, beer is my drink of choice between meals. The good folk at Firefly have a terrific selection of craft brews from North America, as well as a wide variety of European brews. I love the Belgian beers, and often pick up 1/2 a dozen of the 750ml bottles. Pair this with a selection of cheese (Stilton and Compté are favorites) and you can hunker down during any winter storm.

Chinese Food: We're not talking some of the fine Chinese meals I've enjoyed with my good friend Lee. Christmas Eve dinner in my house has been Chinese delivery ever since I can remember. Beef Broccoli, Sweet & Sour Pork, Egg Rolls ... and of course the leftovers that accompany them. We have a favorite local joint that makes a killer Ma Paul Tofu and a Ginger & Spring Onion Chicken (bone in!) that has thankfully taken the place of the day-glo orange Sweet & Sour Pork.

Wife-Saver: Back in the late 70's, I was introduced to something called the "Wife-Saver Breakfast Bake." Essentially a savoury bread pudding, this dish was a staple at our Christmas morning breakfast table. My version features corn-bread in place of the Texas toast, bacon from J,N & Z Deli, and Gruyere instead of Cheddar. The original is good as well, but I'll be making mine with corn bread from now on.

The dish is assembled the night before, and left to "blend" in the fridge overnight. Christmas morning, while the rug-rats are opening their gifts, you simply pop the dish in the oven for an hour and relax with an eggnog latté. For the health-conscious you can also add a fruit salad.

Smoked Turkey: Easily my favorite new Christmas tradition, the smoked turkey actually made its first appearance on our dinner table a few New Year's Days ago. We didn't host Christmas that year and so we were without any turkey leftovers. Being of the "smoking brotherhood" the natural choice was to smoke. The results were beyond my expectations - perhaps my favorite recipe, next to Pastrami.

This year, my brother and his wife hosted the family dinner and asked me if I could contribute. I agreed, thinking it would be a simple process during the lazy days before Christmas, However, our recent snow-storm(s) changed that happy dream by complicating travel and fire-making. What the cold temperatures did do however was make brining the turkey much simpler. I brine for 24 hours in a mixture of apple juice, brown sugar, salt, cloves, ginger and bay-leaves. Because the brining period is so long, the challenge is keeping the temperature low enough for the duration. Nothing a cooler in a snow-bank can't solve.

I smoked the turkey on Christmas morning. The process is a little different than other smokes I've done. For one, the water pan in the smoker is left empty. This allows the temperature to get up to 325F which reduces the smoking time to about 3 hours. The other benefit of an empty water pan is drippings ... SMOKED turkey drippings which make a pretty amazing gravy.

But the undisputed star of the show is the turkey itself. The meat is moist and tender throughout. Even the traditionally dry breast is juicy and often mistaken for dark meat (I help this along by placing some back under the skin before I smoke). Your favorite turkey wine will pair nicely, but the added depth of flavour provided by the cherry smoke also works well with a Pinot Noir.  As an additional benefit, we'll take the carcase and simmer it with a couple onions and some carrots to create a rich smoked turkey stock. Turkey soup never tasted so good!

So while we dig ourselves out from all this snow and try to figure out what we're going to do with all the leftovers, I'd like to wish you the Merriest of Christmas's, and the peace and joy of the season to you and yours.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

How to Handle a Snow Day, Vancouver Style

If you've ever been to Vancouver, you know we're not exactly a winter city. Oh sure, we're hosting the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, but apart from freestyle skiing, all the snow-related events will be held in Whistler, about 90 minutes north of Vancouver. So when we actually receive a bit of snow, we find ourselves at a bit of a loss.

Such was the case on this, the first day of winter. The snow started to fall about 9 on the evening of the 20th, and continued through the night. We awoke this morning to about 6cm of fresh snow, and then watched as it piled higher throughout the day. A few brave souls drove, but downtown, your feet were your best option. The lack of traffic, and the sound-dampening effect of the snow produced and eerie quiet downtown. And while the economy may not have needed another reason for shoppers to stay home, the weather certainly seemed to add a lightness to their spirit.

So where's the food in all of this?  Well, after a day of trudging around in the snow, one works up an appetite.  So on this first real snow day of the year, grab a favorite bottle and some snacks, light a fire in the fireplace (or put on the DVD of the same) and watch the snowflakes fall.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

I Can Brine With A Little Help From My Friends

I owe a lot to eGullet. The food-centric web site taught me much of what I know about food today, and introduced me to a number of like-minded food lovers with whom I still share friendships (and the occaisional glass of wine).  One of the first threads that caught my attention on eG was The Great Pastrami & Smoked Meat Experiement. I encourage you to read it. Chef Fowke really gets into the whole process. Even if you never plan on making Pastrami, or Montreal Smoked Meat, the discussions are quite interesting.

Last year (just before the Cookie Exchange) I found myself with a spare brisket, a couple bags of charcoal, and the need for an extra item to serve at the party. Not that I needed an excuse to do some smoking, my own Pastrami Experiment was born. I was able to consult with Chef Fowke during the process as well, so the results were pretty good. This year, with some better planning involved, I undertook Pastrami Part II.

The hard part about making pastrami is the brining. Not that brining in and of itself is all that difficult, it's finding a way to keep the briskets cold for the required week of brining that's a challenge. Enter Chef Wyles of the Hamilton Street Grill. The brine was made in his Yaletown kitchen and brisket were kept in his walk-in cooler. Of course, a couple visits over the lunch hour were required to check on their progress.

The pastramis left "The Hammy" on Friday morning, the wonderful aroma of pickling spice eminating from inside two "I Love Yaletown" shopping bags. I'm surprised the neighbourhood dogs didn't follow me home!

Smoking pastrami's only takes about 6 or 7 hours (for 2 x 10lb briskets) so I decided to stay up and smoke the night before the party. Before placing the meat in the smoker with French oak and apple wood, each brisket is rubbed with a mixture of 1/3 cracked black pepper and 2/3 crushed coriander ... another amazing smell!

This is a finished piece is from the flat part of the brisket ... I had to do a taste test after all! The other fatter end was much more succulent and juicy. The smoke ring (the bit of red around the outside edge) is about 1/4" deep. Deeper would be better, but I think the brining might inhibit it a bit. I let the meat sit overnight to "rest", allowing the juices to be reabsorbed into the meat.
I think my favorite part of making pastrami is slicing it. Watching the thin strips of meat pile up onto the plate reminds me of the deli, and provides ample opportunity to taste test. This slicer is also a connection to my past, as it belonged to my mother. Although a vegitarian towards the end of her life, she would be happy to know the appliance was being put to good use.
A plate full of meaty goodness. The final results were much better than last year's. VERY moist and tender. Serve it cold or warm (use a steamer, not the microwave) with rye bread, grainy mustard and horseradish. The extras freeze brilliantly ... if there are any.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Visions of Sugarplums ...



A few years ago, J. and I started hosting a cookie exchange, because as much as I love to eat baking, the actual baking takes more time than we have during the holiday season.

If you've never heard of a cookie exchange, it works like this:
  1. Invite some friends to a Cookie Exchange Party.
  2. Have each family bake one dozen cookies for each family coming to the exchange. Ideally, each family should bring a different type of cookie.
  3. On the day of the exchange, each family takes away 1 dozen from each of the other families. The extra dozen is to be shared at the party.
  4. Knowing that all your Christmas baking is now complete, use the rest of the time at the party to eat, drink, and be merry.
Merry Ho Ho!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Mele Kalikimaka

I had really hoped to provide you with more information about dining options in the Ridge-Meadows area. Sadly, the best I've come up has been a diner, and my son's cooking school. Last night however I think I found a winner.

In fact, the boys and I have driven by this establishment a number of times. We almost went in once, but the concept seemed so odd and the recipe didn't really jump out at as as being anything other than a potential train-wreck.  Last night was different for some reason. And so we found ourselves sitting in the Waikiki Hawaiian BBQ & Sushi Restaurant in Maple Ridge.

Yup. BBQ and Sushi. Apparently this is not all that odd. A little bit of thought will bring you to the realization that there are a lot of Japanese on the Hawaiian Islands. So while the menu at the Waikiki doesn't have any spam, there are many items here that are typically Hawaiian.

Loco Moco for example.

Loco Moco is a hamburger patty on top of rice, surrounded by gravy and topped with a fried egg. Our particular version of Loco Moco even had some pineapple and pickled daicon as a garnish, and as the boys and I stared at this concoction it occurred to me that our previous decision to avoid this place may have been the correct one. Ryan took one for the team, and since he didn't keel over in pain, Matt & I followed. It wasn't awful, but there was nothing here to inspire visions of Don Ho either.

Things did improve. Quite a bit in fact.

I asked our server what she would recommend, and was a little disappointed when she pointed to the Spring Rolls. To me, Spring Rolls are about as Hawaiian as ... well ... the blond-haired blue-eyed server that suggested them. "But they're really good," she insisted. And to her credit, they were.

Nicely deep-fired so they weren't too greasy. The pork and veggie filling was almost creamy (I suppose this is how Hawaiians like their Spring Rolls?) which gave a nice contrast to the crunchy exterior.

Matt and I each ordered the ubiquitous "Combo Platter." You choose two items from a list of about 10 (which included the aforementioned spring rolls, dumplings, short ribs, "Volcano" pork/chicken/beef, and others) and they come with salad, rice and fries. I had Volcano Pork and Short Ribs (like Korean Ribs, which are cut across the rib bones), Matt had the same Pork and the dumplings.

Give the dumplings a miss. But everything else was really quite excellent. The Volcano Pork is thinly sliced pork flash fried with a spicy rub/sauce. If I had a minor quibble it would be that there was a little grainy texture left on the pork from the rub. But the flavour more than made up for it. A little heat, with an almost Spanish seasoning. It was really tender and had Matt and I hoarding it from Ryan. The short ribs were equally tender, but with very little seasoning.

The combos were accompanied with a small portion of really crispy but quite greasy fries. I only bring them up because they seemed such an odd accompaniment ... but were so damn tasty! I'd go back for an order of fries and Volcano Pork alone. There was also a small dish of chili-plum sauce which was tasty with the Spring Rolls but not much else.

Dinner for 3 set us back $55 including tax and tip. Apparently they do a roaring take-out business as well.

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Waikiki Hawaiian BBQ & Sushi
22783 Dewdney Trunk Rd
Maple Ridge, BC
604) 466-3131
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