In This Issue...
I’ve been having so much fun these past weeks cooking for my family. It sucks that I’m leaving again soon, because I realized I’ve really missed eating at home.
★ My weekly Food Diaries are a way of tracking what I cook, buy, and eat every day. They provide insight into my eating preferences, allow me to analyze patterns in my spending, and help improve my cooking. And I always share my recipes! ★
Red, White, and Blue Blondies
Another KAF recipe! Had to use up all the berries in the freezer. I dialed the butter down to 1/3 cup and only added 1/2 cup of sugar. It was definitely still sweet, but only lightly so: perfect for breakfast rather than dessert.
My only complaint is that they turned out a bit dry. I’m still not super familiar with my parents’ new oven, and I realized this morning that it actually has a fan at the back. I think that means it’s a convection oven, which cooks food faster? I probably should’ve turned down the temperature by a few degrees or taken the blondies out sooner.
Ridiculously Simple Banana Bread
I only have a picture of this banana bread before it was baked, because my cousins came over and devoured it all before I had a chance to take an after-photo. The recipe is from /r/Old_Recipes. I used half the sugar (just half a cup) and it was still quite good. Not quite as sweet as you’d expect a banana bread to be, but it’s a good, light-tasting snack. Next time I think I’ll try 3/4 cup sugar which should be the sweet spot. The texture was awesome—fluffy, moist, and not too dense—and it smelled so good coming out of the oven. Man I wish I took a picture!
Roasted Red Pepper Tortellini Soup
Served this alongside the banana bread for my cousins’ lunch today. My mom bought a pack of tortellini a couple of days ago, and the only way we’ve cooked them before was to boil in plain water. Of course I would not stand for this again! I found a soup recipe that used tortellinis. I had everything I needed in the fridge except basil and heavy cream, which I just left out. It was perfectly fine.
Only thing is, if you make this soup, make sure to blend it for a looong time. I thought I had everything blended, but it was still a bit grainy, not perfectly smooth. Got lots of compliments from my cousins, anyway! Ever since I’ve gotten back to Calgary, my cousins have been really encouraging about my food. It’s nice cooking for my family. 🙂
Don’t ask me why, T&T had fresh coconuts on sale today. So we bought a pack of nine and we ate two of them today. Super yummy! Hacking open the coconut did not take nearly as much effort as I seem to remember from the last time we ate them. The juice from a fresh coconut is completely incomparable to the bottled or canned stuff. And there was so much delicious, fatty coconut meat inside! I thought about saving one of the empty coconut shells to use as a bowl for dessert, like they do at Sugar Marmalade, but was too lazy to do it in the end.
Also, here’s a bonus pic of one of the T&T bakery aisles. One of my favourite places in a grocery store. Look at all those varieties of swiss rolls. Sooo many unhealthy carbs in one corner!
My mom made this strange noodle dish today. Im calling it liangpi for now because, to be honest, I dont know what its actually called. Unlike your typical liangpi dish, it’s served warm (although I enjoyed mine cold as well). It’s covered with loads of chili oil, sesame oil, peanut crumbs, and other spices from a seasoning pack. I will ask my mom what this dish is called and report back.
You have to believe me that it’s soooo good!
Pandan Crazy Cake
Also known as Wacky Cake, Crazy Cake is a super budget-friendly cake recipe that uses no butter or eggs. Instead, it uses a combination of vinegar and baking soda to help it rise. As a result, it’s far from being fluffy like angel food cake or genoise sponge, but instead is rather moist and dense, not in a bad way. The most common flavours are vanilla and chocolate.
I’ve been trying to come up with a pandan-flavoured version, since I had a bunch of pandan leaves on hand. I used this base recipe to test, replacing all the water with strained juice from the blended up leaves.
To make pandan juice, simply chop up about 15 leaves, add them to a blender with a cup of water, blend until very smooth (I used a Vitamix), and strain. If you leave it in the fridge overnight, the pandan will have settled to the bottom, and you can pour off the top part to get a more concentrated extract. However, for this cake, I didn’t bother with the overnight separation. (Note that it will not stay good for any longer than a day, so be sure to use it all up the next day.)
I’d hesitate to call the experiment successful. The pandan flavour wasn’t strong enough for my taste, so I guess I should’ve used the more concentrated extract. Also, my parents said they could taste too much baking soda in the cake. I’ll reduce the soda to 1/2 tsp next time, but hopefully that doesn’t make the sponge too dense.
This vegan jjajangmyeon with shiitake mushrooms is another one of those recipes I’ve had in the back of my mind for some time. I used my mom’s handmade noodles. We also have two varieties of bean sauce in the fridge: a black bean sauce (what is traditionally used for jjajangmyeon) and a soybean sauce (no, not soy sauce). Both of them taste great, although I usually use the soybean sauce as a spread on toast etc, rather than in cooking. This time, I decided to add a little of each one.
The sauce itself was great, although the noodles were a little disappointing. To start with, I accidentally left the noodles cooking for too long and they had gone a little past al dente. The rest of the veggies cooking in the sauce were supposed to be cooked until very tender too, so overall the dish was kind of mushy. Next time I’ll crumble in extra-firm tofu in place of some of the veggies, for a chewier mouthfeel.
Dim Sum at Phoenix Kitchen
For New Year’s Day, we went out to a dim sum restaurant with the rest of the family (uncles, aunts, cousins, grandparents). This place had opened up fairly recently, so I’d never been, although my parents had.
The food was… interesting. Many dim sum items that you wouldn’t typically expect to be deep-fried, like custard buns, were fried. (They also happened to be the biggest custard buns I’ve ever eaten – no complaints from me.) In fact, a lot of menu items seemed to be either deep-fried, or oversized, or both – typical Americanization, I guess? I found many dishes to be overly greasy. Overall, I would rank this restaurant below Toronto dim sum establishments, such as Dim Sum King and Rosewood.
The good thing, though, is that here in Calgary I get to do it with a big group. Part of the joy of dim sum is the family atmosphere, and being able to order a billion dishes that everyone can try a little bit of. I got to eat a lot of things that I haven’t had in a long long time, such as fried smelt (the small fish with a lot of eggs in its body) and he fen (stir-fried broad rice noodles).
Since my parents are PC members, we get a gift box from them every year. This year’s contained some espresso powder and a box of chocolates. Tbh, I was more impressed with last year’s selection, which contained a red velvet cake mix and a shortbread cookie mix. I guess I’m not really a fan of fancy chocolates, especially the ones containing dark chocolate or fillings like orange or liqueur.
I started this recipe by using King Arthur Flour’s potato bread, but substituted mashed taro in place of the mashed potato. Since I had steamed rather than boiled the taro, and let it sit in the fridge overnight, it was dryer than the potatoes. I also rolled some diced-up taro pieces into the dough to see if it would form a swirl pattern once baked. It didn’t give the visual result that I was hoping for. Next time I think I’ll mash the taro for filling as well, to give it a smoother consistency.
My mom says this is one of the better sushi places she’s been to, so I was excited to give it a try. I have never ever eaten good all-you-can-eat sushi in Calgary before this. So although it wasn’t as good as Kinkaku Izakaya in Kitchener, I was still happy with the food here. The ordering is done on an iPad which makes it super convenient, and the menu is huge!
Considering they offer unlimited sashimi on the dinner menu, the price is quite good. However, the sashimi itself isn’t the freshest that I’ve eaten nor was it professionally presented. The worst offender was the tuna sashimi, which had rough edges and hadn’t even been separated properly into individual pieces. I assumed they used some kind of mechanical slicer to cut the fish, and it was dull or something. Not a very appetizing concept!
Other things I enjoyed from the menu: they had a spicy miso soup that was quite delicious. Also, lots and lots of tempura: everything from yam and shrimp, to broccoli, mushroom, and yes, banana. The batter isn’t extremely heavy like you’ll find at some AYCE sushi restaurants; the tempura quality was pretty good. I wasn’t a fan of the udon or sushi rolls, I found them overly sweet. Overall, however, we had a great dinner.
Pandan Cassava Cake
My mom baked us a cassava cake this morning. It’s insane how much grated cassava resembles sticky rice. Even though no rice or starch was added, the resulting cake was chewy and gluey just like a sticky rice dessert! But when you remember that tapioca starch is essentially cassava flour, it makes a lot of sense. We had a little pandan juice leftover from Tuesday’s Wacky Cake, so my mom added that to the batter.
Although the soft, bouncy texture was so fun to eat, there was a note of something off about the cake. We think it was from the eggs in the recipe, although now I wonder if it may have been the pandan as well, since tbh, I’d kept it in the fridge for far too long. I don’t even think this recipe needs eggs, though, since it’s not really meant to rise and the cassava already acts as a binding agent, so if I try baking this I’ll just leave them out entirely.
This is very much an Instagram-inspired breakfast. We didn’t have any jam to spread on the toast and I didn’t want to eat it plain. Literally took a slice of bread (from yesterday’s taro loaf), toasted it, added a sliced banana on top. Taste? 6/10. Kind of bland and the carb and carb combo doesn’t work too well.
Broccoli Miso Pasta
Quite a sad dinner tonight. I botched both the main and the side.
For the main: This recipe sounded sooo intriguing when I saw it on @cookingforpeanuts‘ Instagram page. I love broccoli, I love miso, I love pasta… Unfortunately, I learned today you cannot replace fresh basil with dried basil, especially not dried basil that has been around since we moved into this house. The fresh green sauce in the recipe photo could not be further from my sad, watery, greyish blended up broccoli. The taste was not great, but edible.
Why does fresh basil have to be so damn expensive? It’s like $3 for two leaves. I would probably have to mortgage my house for a cup of the stuff, which is the amount I was supposed to add to the recipe. I’m telling you, the only reason it hasn’t become the next avocado is because it’s easy and cheap to grow at home. Sadly, I don’t have a garden, so this is not possible for me. It’s so sad to not be able to make your own pesto.
Broccoli Mushroom Stir Fry
For the side: this was supposed to be a broccoli mushroom stir fry, but became more of a broccoli onion stir fry. I chopped up the mushrooms too small, and there wasn’t much of them to begin with, so they practically disappeared into the onions. Then there was the stir fry sauce itself which tasted weak and sour. Not impressed with this dish. At a minimum, you’ll have to add some hoisin sauce or some other thick, savoury sauce to make this a little more appetizing.
Another perk of cooking for my family, though: my parents are far less picky than Kevin is about my food. They don’t mind if most of the meals I serve are vegetarian, or even when things don’t taste… so good. For that reason alone, it’s a lot easier and less stressful to cook. It’s definitely good to have some of both, though. Without someone like Kevin to give me critique and to tell me straight-up when something isn’t edible, I would have slower progress.
Another vintage recipe today: good old brownies! I went for a more firm, cakey brownie texture, so I used 30 g less butter than the recipe called for. This was a bit of an arm workout to mix. The mixture was super, super thicc. You’ll need to spread it around and smooth it out with your hands when putting it into the baking pan.
The brownies were a tad dry for me, I guess I still prefer soft, fudgy brownies in the end. But the taste was great! I didn’t skimp on the sugar, which was a great decision. It was just the right amount of sweetness; any less and it may have tasted a little bitter.