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Monday, 31 January 2011

Paella Night

I have featured this book last year (see Iraqi Date Squares). It boasts (and delivers) over 365 recipes from 64 countries. I have had it for close to 30 years and use it regularly. 

One of my few favourite recipes from it is one for Paella. It is a no fuss, quick, simple and adjustable-to-taste recipe that always turns out good. 

The first choice is what meats to include. Tonight I opted for chicken, sausages and shrimp. The recipe calls for tomatoes, but I decided to skip that and replace it with green and red peppers.

I went slow on the saffron, skipped the wine in the broth, ensured having enough garlic and onions, and ignored the peas.

The outcome was a very fresh tasting Paella.
Did you know that the word Paella comes from the Old French and Latin for pan? Read more at Wikipedia - Paella.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Dining Iranian Style

The Iranian weekend adventure (see Shopping Iranian Style) continued with an authentic feast at Cazba - a restaurant described by my Iranian escort as the most authentic in the city. This was confirmed by a crowd that is 90% Iranian. 

 Cazba Restaurant
 132 West 16th Street
North Vancouver, BC

The first serving though, Barley Soup, was returned to the kitchen because, according to my escort, it was oily and not done right. Ash Reshte was the replacement, a hearty soup of noodles, vegetables, beans and lentils. The food was uphill from there.

A green salad of lettuce, cucumber and tomatoes covered with a light mayonnaise sauce is the kind of salad every restaurant in Iran starts the meal with. 

The appetizer was Kishk-e Bademjan, which is simply deep fried eggplant, pureed, and covered with Kishk and fried mint.

Kishk is a middle eastern additive to food that varies from one country to another. The Lebanese version is yogurt and cracked wheat, while the Iranian version is similar to whey (learn more at wikipedia).

The meal progressed to a platter of freshly grilled meats served with broiled tomatoes and Iranian rice. I learned that I should mash the tomato in the rice, mixing it in it.

The meats included Koobideh (ground beef kebabs), Barg (tenderlized steak) and Jujeh (chicken kebabs). 

We were so stuffed that we could not face dessert right there and then. But after a stroll to Yaas Bazaar, we were ready and ordered strong Iranian tea with Iranian cream puffs - right on bottom shelf below (very similar to the typical one we find here, but the dough is fluffier) and a nicely flavoured rolled cake filled with cream and pistachios - left on bottom shelf below.

You will be greatly missed Masi!
Cazba on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Shopping Iranian Style

A rainy Saturday is definitely not the time to hit North Vancouver, where rain is the heaviest. 

But the opportunity to discover the hot Iranian shopping spots with an Iranian escort was not to be missed.

Stop 1: Ayoub's Dried Fruit & Nuts - Lonsdale @ 14th

This is one of the most interesting bulk food places I have seen in the city. The ambiance resembles a fancy Persian palace where Omar Khayyam would have recited poetry to beautiful maidens. The uniqueness of the selection of nuts and dried fruits (even vegetables) confirms that we have been transported to far away lands. 

Roasted sunflowers that are over an inch long, dried figs and mulberries, dried vegetables including green beans are just a small sample of the exotic finds. Worth the trip.

Stop 2: Yaas Bazaar International - Londsdale @ 19th

Yaas means jasmines in Iranian and this space is as exotic and exciting as the beautiful smell of jasmines.

This is a one stop shopping by all means. You can buy your groceries, toiletries from both North America and Iran, fresh meat, fruit and vegetables, kitchen utensils, CDs & DVDs.

There is also a section for freshly baked goods (you see them making them right there and then) as well as hot savoury foods cafeteria style. 

Clean, friendly, alive and a reflection of the variance of the Iranian land, culture and people.

Stop 3: Rex Bakery - 16th @ Lonsdale

The cutest bakery where you can buy to go or sit and enjoy a cup of strong Iranian cake with the sweets of your choice. 

Too many sweets to describe, just as many tempting ones to try. Textures varying from the doughy and fried, to the dry cookies, and the creamy syrupy cakes.

A tour to remember. 

 Thank you Masi!

Friday, 28 January 2011

Chai'ing My Weekend Away

What is a better way to boost a weekend kick off than with a double chai afternoon at Shaktea.

As I learned from the experts at Shaktea, chai is simply the Indian word for tea. It is typically tea drunk with milk and (for many) lots of sugar.

To have less spiciness and more sweetness, I opted for the organic coconut cream chai - a blend of black tea, cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, black pepper, clove, vanilla and shredded coconut. Not only was it heavenly but I understand it is one of the most popular with chai lovers. 

And as if one pot of chai was not enough, it had to be accompanied by their exclusive Shaktea chai chocolate pudding. An invention of their talented bakeress, Jackie, this is a decadent blend of Shaktea chai and Belgian dark chocolate.

I cannot think of a better way to kick off a weekend. Thank you Shaktea!
Shaktea on Urbanspoon
3702 Main Street
Vancouver BC

Thursday, 27 January 2011

The Occupied somerville kitchen Territories

somerville kitchen replacement chef, after getting a taste of working the kitchen two weeks ago, launched a surprise colonization and somerville kitchen was under occupation all night.

The pork tenderloin escaped the invasion and was already baking in the oven, so it was left alone by the colonizer. The roasted potatoes were decreed to be crunchy on the outside but like mashed potatoes on the inside. Rather than roasting in the oven, they were compelled to perfection under the broiler.

Kitchen Hint from the occupied forces: To achieve the above, you throw the potatoes in a plastic bag with oil, salt and pepper. To decide how much salt and pepper, you just have to think like a potato and how much would a potato like on it. Always use the broiler since it has only two variables to control - time and heat.

The stove top stuffing just wanted to soak in the spa's hot water calmly for five minutes. But the occupation changed its fate. Onions were fried, along with a bit of chopped pecans, almonds and dried cranberries for enhanced taste and texture.

Kitchen Hint from the occupied forces: The amount of nuts to add to the stuffing should not be too much to overwhelm the stuffing but enough to create a surprise element while eating it. Cranberries should be minimal and chopped up. Add a bit (1 tsp) chopped parsley for colour.

Decision on what to do with the broccoli was driven by the rest of the meal's flavours and textures. "We have meaty, squishy, and crispy, we now need fresh". So the poor broccoli was thrown in a steamer until it turned lime green. It was then drizzled with melted butter and lemon juice. 

Kitchen Hint from the occupied forces: Don't sprinkle the broccoli with salt and let them sit, this will toughen them. A bit of garlic (1/4 of clove) would have made a great addition to the taste, but the indigenous revolted at the prospect of this proposition, and succeeded in a garlic free meal.

All, of course, was in the spirit of a fun cooking experience and a delicious fancy meal.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Lebanese Snack

I grew up eating this meal at least once a month. It is simply boiled potatoes and boiled eggs smashed together with salt, pepper and olive oil.

Interviewing my mom to understand the origin of this dish did not yield much. Any other Lebanese reading this who can share insights as to (a) whether you actually eat eggs and potatoes this way and/or (b) where/when this dish originated in Lebanon?

This meal (or snack) is eaten with pita bread, olives, yogurt, cucumbers, and/or pickles. In tonight's case, I ate them with my home made Lefett (pickled turnips).

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Fraser Street Finds

Fraser street is changing, providing a new discovery every week. In support of my changing neighbourhood, I have set up a new label called Fraser Street Finds that very quickly gets you into the different blog entries representing places to eat and places to shop at on Fraser street. Some of those are previously featured restaurants (Les Faux Bourgeois, Original Tandoori Chaat House, Tandoori King) and some are yet to come (Al-Watan, The Outpost Cafe).

Tonight's discovery was the Dhaka Fish & Biryani - a sweet, cozy and quiet Bengali restaurant.

Quality comes through the pleasant service of the owner, the smells coming out of the kitchen where her husband is cooking and the fact that dishes are made on the spot, making the wait for food longer than expected (but pleasantly so).
We started the meal with the restaurant's special Chaat (more on Chaat at Fun Day in San Francisco). It was a huge platter, the dough was freshly made, lightly fried and the spices just right. This was the best part of the meal.

The main meal was Basa Fish Biryani and a Rohu Fish cooked in spices. A bit oily, a lot spicy, but a taste to savour.

 Dhaka Fish & Biryani Halal Restaurant
 5750 Fraser Street
Vancouver, BC

Monday, 24 January 2011

West End Soiree

A very pleasant west end soiree with good food, wonderful guests, pleasant hostess, down to earth fun chatter, and the cute cat Nelson checking on us throughout the evening.

The meal was simple and full of flavours. Chicken and figs cooked with cardamon, cinnamon and other spices producing the most sophisticated sauce flavour. The chicken was served with boiled potatoes in a dill butter drizzle.

One of my hostess's specialties are her baked vegetables. These were fennel, beats and carrots, sprinkled with olive oil, baked then broiled quickly before serving. A great accompaniment to the meal.

And the hostess is one of the best bakeresses I know and tonight's dessert was a delicious upside down pear cake.

Thank you MaM!

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Sunday Dinner Accompaniments

Brussel Sprouts

Research on Sunday Dinner Accompaniments shows a range of vegetables including turnips, cabbage, parsnips, carrots, peas, corn, broccoli, but no mentions of brussel sprouts. Well, brussel sprouts are a favourite at somerville kitchen and have been featured twice over the past six months (Happy (American) Thanksgiving and Salmon in Cedar Papers). So it is time to share the somerville kitchen brussel sprouts recipe.

Cut the brussel sprouts in half. Melt some butter (or butter/vegetable oil combo) in a frying pan and fry the brussel sprouts on medium heat. 3 to 4 minutes on each side seems to do the trick. Once they are a bit charred on each side, sprinkle with salt, pepper and parmesan cheese and serve hot. Delicious.

Yorkshire Pudding

Yorkshire pudding repeatedly comes up as a Sunday Dinner Accompaniment. While those may look like Yorkshire pudding, they are in fact Janice Wong's Chow cookbook's popovers (page 163). The original recipe from her dad includes the basics of many Yorkshire pudding recipes (milk, flour, oil and eggs); but I love Chow's simpler approach to baking them (no pre-heating of oil, butter or pan). Simple, and if you follow the instructions carefully, they come out perfect.

You can buy Chow directly from the author at Chow Book Store and Janice will most likely sign it for you. The cookbook has its own blog as well at And if that does not convince you, you can see Chow in action here at Dining on Pieces of Art and Chow.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Dinner from Murdo, South Dakota

This is an amazing cookbook that you are not able to find easily in bookstores anymore. It is packed with recipes from different villages in all US states. 

Given that these are old recipes from villages, and all the stories about the villages the book includes, it is not the kind of cookbook you use for a quick meal. But it is a leisurely Saturday morning and I have all the time to prepare a meal from it and read the stories along the way.

Leisurely Saturday also means being lazy about going out for grocery shopping, so working with what I had on hand, the choice was a Cabbage and Beef Bake (page 281); a recipe from Murdo, South Dakota. Mudro was established in 1913 and is now an Antique town with just over 600 people. Anyone reading this is from Murdo or been there? I'd love to hear from you.

The dish begins with making a tomato sauce from scratch - six tomatoes, rosemary, thyme and 1 Tbsp sugar simmered on medium heat for 45 minutes. 

Despite the cold weather we had, the jardin's rosemary and thyme, particularly the thyme, have never looked better. So out into the jardin to pick up the herbs and get the sauce going.

In a separate pan, brown 1 lb ground beef with 1 onion (chopped) in 2 Tbsp of butter (about 10 minutes), season with salt and pepper, then leave on low heat until the tomato sauce is ready.

Mix all, add 1/4 cup rice and cook on medium heat for another 10 minutes.

Butter a small casserole dish, arrange the pieces of half a cabbage cut into 6 slim wedges at the bottom, add the meat mixture on top and bake, covered, in a 350 oven for 1.5 hours. Enjoy as any Murdoist would. 

Friday, 21 January 2011

Keeping Vampires at Bay with Garlic Night

Garlic night included pasta, Caesar salad and garlic bread.

Croutons were made from scratch - pieces of baguette sprinkled with salt, pepper, parmesan cheese and olive oil and toasted in the toaster oven (the first batch was burnt, so the exercise was done twice).

The Caesar salad was based on a Martha Stewart recipe which I mentioned in an earlier post (Simple Pasta and Caesar Salad Dinner). Many have asked for the dressing recipe and so here is the anchovy-free version:

- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp pepper, 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1 Tbsp lemon juice
- 1/2 tsp dijon mustard
- 1 egg yolk
- 1/4 (or less) olive oil 

6 other garlic cloves were used for the garlic bread. I simply crush the garlic, melt some butter, then mix and spread on the bread. Parsley is sprinkled on them prior to baking for taste and colour.

Toaster oven is perfect for garlic bread. It gives them the softness on the bottom and crunchiness on top.

I will be sleeping soundly tonight knowing that I have injected enough garlic to keep neighbourhood vampires away.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Dining With My Pet Fish

Guests at Hotel Monaco in San Francisco can have a pet fish, at no extra charge, to keep them company in their room. Alone on the road again, with no dinner plans beyond room service, made this offer very appealing. So I ended up dining with my one-night pet fish (who I named Laura). Food descriptions below, based on the menu, sound more fancy than they tasted, but at least I had Laura to keep me company (and I were glad my cat stayed home).

Salade de Chevre et Fruits

Organic greens with goat cheese, pears, grapes, rum soaked golden raisins and honey vinaigrette.

Wood Oven Mac and Cheese

Macaroni baked (I guess in a wood oven) with bechamel sauce and white cheddar cheese. Best way to describe it is rubbery. 

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

More Muffinmania at somerville kitchen

This is one of the most interesting cookbooks I own. It has about 30 muffins recipes that you may not find anywhere else. I highly recommend it for any muffins lovers - if you want to buy it, click on the picture to the left, you'd help me generate money to feed my cat.

Tonight's muffins were Carrot Muffins (page 39) - a simple recipe with flour and baking powder; carrots and pecans; butter and icing sugar (giving them a very light and cake texture).

Quoting a muffin expert tasting them: "these muffins were really good and quite interesting. They tasted like scones but felt like cake - a sweet bread sweetness; a most delicious and unique semi savoury muffins."

More on muffins and my muffins helper at Muffinmania at somerville kitchen.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Mom's Chicken Soup

Mom's chicken soup begins with making chicken broth from scratch. She boils the chicken in water with a bay leaf, cinnamon stick, peppercorns and salt.

Once the chicken is cooked, she strains the broth and separates the chicken pieces. The clear broth is put in the pot again, and she adds the chicken pieces, rice (1 cup rice for each 4 cups of liquid) and chopped parsley. She simmers the soup on low heat until the rice is cooked. Yummy!

Monday, 17 January 2011

Bring Back the Jell-O Days

Yesterday's 70's Sunday Gourmet Dinner brought to mind a dessert that was popular few decades earlier - Jell-O. While Jell-O today is associated with post hospitalization food, or at best cafeteria or all-inclusive desserts, it definitely had its days. There is no reason why we can't bring back the elegance of Jell-O, so join me in making, celebrating and promoting Jell-O.

My first attempt at this was a mixture of raspberry and strawberry Jell-O chilled in champagne glasses. Bananas were added to half of the glasses. Elegant, tasty, and probably healthy in its own way. 

Anyone knows the origin of gelatin? Find out at Jell-O Wikipedia.

Become somerville kitchen friend on Facebook and follow our interesting Jell-O stories and discussion.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

70's Sunday Gourmet Dinner

I inherited from a friend 100's of Gourmet and other cooking magazines from the 70's - 90's period. So tonight's dinner was based on recipes from the 70's when butter was the queen of the kitchen.

The main dish was Chicken Poblano Carolina's  which is chicken breasts stuffed with Monterey Jack cheese, fried then baked.

The chicken is served with a chili butter sauce where the recipe, in the 70's style, called for 1 cup of butter. This was reduced to 1/4 cup at somerville kitchen. But the highlight of the meal were those delicious Wild Rice Pancakes for which I am sharing the recipe.

1/2 cup cooked wild rice
1/3 cup finely diced carrots 
1/3 cup finely diced celery
1/2 cup finely chopped onions
1/3 tsp crumbled dried or fresh thyme
1 egg
1/3 cup milk
1/2 cup flour

Cook the vegetables and the thyme is some butter over medium heat for 10 minutes. Transfer to a bowl, whisk in the egg and milk, add the cooked rice and stir in the flour with salt and pepper to taste. Scoop the batter in 1/4 cup drops onto a hot griddle, flatten the top and cook over medium heat for 2 - 3 minutes on each side. Easy and tasty, worth the try.

A 70's inspired beats and blue cheese salad with balsamic-oil vinaigrette was also part of the meal.