Thursday, December 30, 2010

Christmas Dinners

(Last updated: Feb. 4th, 2011 at 21:47)

I love Christmas because of the quality family time. In our family, Christmas means that most of our extended family in Ottawa is all together under one rooftop. Sometimes we even have relatives who visit from Toronto.

Although the holiday is always fun, one aspect of the holiday is getting a bit tiresome. Christmas dinner. We make the same dishes every year: turkey, ham, my uncle’s famous heart of palm salad, mashed potatoes, stuffing, turkey gravy, and garlic bread. As a kid, I always looked forward to our Christmas dinners because we only make and eat turkey dinners twice a year (the two occasions being Thanksgiving and Christmas). The excitement just isn’t there anymore.

This was the spread during our 2009 Christmas dinner.

Christmas Dinner 2009 -</p><p>2

Christmas Dinner 2009 -</p><p>3

Christmas Dinner 2009 -</p><p>4

Christmas Dinner 2009 -</p><p>5

For dessert, M made a few apple pies and mom brought over krop knao.

Christmas dinner was essentially the same this year, other than a few differences...

Christmas Dinner 2009 - 1
My mom usually makes something to snack on before we start making the turkey dinner. Something to keep our stomachs from being empty, ya know? Mom made hang jing bian (aka ham chim peng or bánh tiêu) two years ago. She had just started to experiment with the sweet dough a few months earlier.

Christmas Dinner 2010 -</p><p>1
In addition to the usual mashed potatoes, Lucy made scalloped potatoes this year.

Christmas Dinner 2010 -</p><p>3
Desserts are usually different every year. My aunt brought over her homemade Vietnamese dessert called che suong hot luu. There were also chocolate chip cookies that A and E made.

Our Christmas dinners are in a dire need of a makeover, though I’m not sure our family agrees. It's pretty much the same thing, year after year. To further my point take a look at our 2007 and 2008 Christmas dinners. I would love to change up the sides, but can't think of anything. Do you have a favourite side dish that we could make for our next Christmas dinner?

Friday, December 24, 2010

Pre-Christmas Baking

Cookies 12

Earlier this week, we invited our younger cousins over to do some pre-Christmas baking. Lucy had two recipes in her recipe box that I wanted to make/wanted the kids to make (with supervision, of course); shortbread and chocolate chip cookies. Both recipes are simple and quick to make – perfect for kids around the age of 10 to make by themselves. Just be there to make sure they measure ingredients properly, mix thoroughly, pre-heat the oven, etc.  

I think kids should be involved in the kitchen really early (5 years +), even if they don’t want to cook/bake. Sadly, it’s a huge life skill that a lot of people lack these days.

Lucy and I are huge fans of Anna Olson. Her recipes not only produce really tasty treats, and always turn out really well. I mean, you’d think that recipes would always turn out when you follow them – which we actually do (sometimes), but that’s not always the case.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Kimchi Teaser

A few weeks back, Lucy made kimchi from scratch! Lucy will go into more details later, but for now, here's a glimpse into our (multiple) kimchi dinners.

Homemade Kimchee 3

Homemade Kimchee 4

Korean Hot Pot 5

Stay tuned for recipes!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Random Tidbits: Part 5 - Camping at Sandbanks

Here's part 5.


Every year, our family does a camping trip and last year we went to Sandbanks. Now, when our family goes camping it’s not exactly what you think. We don’t backpack and hike to find a campsite, nor do we portage as a family. Nope. We do get a campsite, cook over the campfire, roast marshmallows over the embers, sleep in tents – although some family members do bring along their air mattresses… psh! Our family does go to the beach for the day to swim, tan, play catch in the water, etc. But where everything changes is what we bring to eat. Other than the Canadian breakfast options (bread, eggs, bacon, breakfast sausages, coffee, and hot chocolate), our meals were purely Chinese/Cambodian based; rice, marinated pork and chicken, bok la hong, lap, gapit pao, etc. We'd have the same things to eat from day 2 to the last day... anyway, that's another story for another time.

When we went to the beach, while camping at Sandbanks, we brought along lunch and other snacks. You know, the typical lunch and snacks you’d expect when you go camping? Like gapit pao, rice, sliced cucumbers, bread, marinated pork and chicken, bok la hong, and pickled carrots and daikon. Yeah, those typical Canadian camping food options.

Gapit Pao 1

So what did Lucy enjoy when we were on the beach? A gross sandwich made of gapit pao and rice in a hot dog bun. Wow. To be fair, I love my share of trashy foods as well, like eating mock chicken (the stuff with the bright orange stuff on the outside) sandwiches on white processed bread with hot chocolate. I’m not ashamed of my guilty pleasure, but Lucy, I’m not so sure. I think she forgot about her lunch on the beach.

Gapit Pao 2

When I showed her these pictures, she couldn’t believe that she ate this for lunch. She ended up eating 3 or 4 of these. Yikes.

Hmm… I think I should explain what gapit pao is. To be honest, I don’t even know how to spell it. It’s a Cambodian dish made of shrimp paste, onions, ground pork, red curry paste, kaffir lime leaves and coconut milk. You eat with rice and/or vegetables like sliced cucumbers.

When it was time to go back home, half of the family went to Toronto (since Sandbanks is almost half-way between Ottawa and Toronto), while the rest of us went back home to Ottawa. On our way home, we dropped by Kingston for lunch. My dad was craving his favourite pizza. Guess what his favourite pizza is?



This is going nowhere. Let me just tell you. My dad’s favourite pizza is made by A&P (now called Metro). The thing he loves about it is the thin crust, the amount of cheese and – the most important thing – how cheap the pizza is.

A&P Pizza</p><p>1

With 7 mouths to feed, two of their family sized pizzas were more than enough to feed us. At $12.99 for a family sized pizza with 3 toppings (on each pizza), I have to admit, it is cheap. We enjoyed the pizzas with some pop and junk food by the waterfront on a warm and very sunny Kingston day.

A&P Pizza</p><p>2

The first pizza was half pineapple and bacon crumble (bleh) and half Italian sausage.

A&P Pizza</p><p>3

The second pizza was half pepperoni and green peppers and pepperoni and bacon crumble. I really liked their tomato sauce. It was very simple with chunks of tomatoes. Other than that, it was a solid meh-pizza.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Random Tidbits: Part 4 - Great ByWard Market Restaurants

I'm still cleaning out my external hard drive and found a few more pictures. These two meals were from last summer. Shall we begin?


Totoya is located on Dalhousie and Clarence in the ByWard Market. This cute Japanese restaurant is run by a Japanese family and is my favourite Japanese restaurant in Ottawa. I haven’t been there in a while, though, so I’m not sure if the quality is still there. The restaurant is a bit on the pricier side, but I’m sure the reason is to counter the high downtown costs. 

Totoya 1
My favourite dish is their agedashi tofu. It’s so crispy on the outside! Be careful of the molten-hot tofu on the inside. The dashi and dancing bonito flakes round out the dish. It’s so good!

Lucy, Jimmy and I were there for an early dinner. We didn’t want to order too many things because we didn’t want to go on a splurge that night. So we ordered two other small dishes to share and two larger dishes to fill us up.

Totoya 2
One of the smaller dishes we decided to try was Totoya’s spicy chicken kaarage. Think of really juicy popcorn chicken with a spicy sauce. If it weren’t so expensive (I think it as $8 for this), we would’ve ordered another plate. The photo doesn't show the whole serving. I took this picture after a few were eaten, but at the same time, we weren’t given a lot to begin with.

Totoya 4
The other smaller item we shared was the spicy salmon rolls.

Totoya 3
Jimmy had the tempura dinner set. We were all quite surprised at how generous they were with the tempura. There were 3 pieces of shrimp tempura with a handful of vegetable tempura. This dinner set included rice and miso soup.

Totoya 5
Lucy and I shared the katsudon (fried pork cutlets on rice). I was pleasantly surprised at how good this was. The tonkatsu was served on top of scrambled eggs and onions, with a liberal drizzle of a sweet soy sauce, and rice. I liked how the sweet and salty components of the dish never got boring.

Totoya 6
To finish off our dinner, we went with the smooth green tea ice cream. I really enjoyed how the tea was stronger than most other matcha ice creams out there. I wish the serving sizes at Totoya were a bit larger, especially for the prices they charge. The quality is there, and I'd still go again if everything is the same, but I think if they either lower their prices or give a bit more, they will gain more local customers.

Another favourite downtown restaurant is Blue Cactus. It’s also located in the ByWard Market. Lucy has gushed about their ribs for years. One night, I finally agreed to join her for dinner to try Blue Cactus’ ribs. Fortunately, we went for an early dinner so we didn't have to fight the normal tourist rush.

Blue Cactus 1
I had their virgin strawberry daiquiri. I remember it was fruity and very good. 

Blue Cactus 2
Although we would be more than full without an appetizer, both of us eyed their Cajun seasoned calamari. The lightly battered calamari were perfectly cooked. I don’t think I’ve had properly cooked calamari before this. The tender babies weren’t very heavy, which made it even better!

Blue Cactus 3
Whether eaten dipped in the sauce, with a squirt of lemon juice, or even by themselves the fried calamari appys were amazing!

Blue Cactus 4
We both ordered the ribs because Lucy didn’t want to share. The ribs looked promising at first, but I felt that there wasn’t enough flavour without extra BBQ sauce and the meat was a tad dry. I liked how tender they were though. I thought that some of the ribs we had at the ribfest, earlier in the summer, were more enjoyable. Lucy definitely over-hyped the ribs, though she did say that our ribs that night weren't as good as she had had. 

I was far more impressed with the appetizer than I was with the ribs. The daiquiri was delicious, too! To put it lightly, I think Blue Cactus is more of a restaurant for tourists. But Blue Cactus is great for a get together with the girls, since it’s too noisy for a date night. I’d definitely go back, but only for appetizers and drinks.

297 Dalhousie St
Ottawa, ON
Totoya on Urbanspoon

Blue Cactus
2 ByWard Market Square
Ottawa, ON
Blue Cactus on Urbanspoon

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Krop Knao aka Med Kanoon - Dec. 24, 2009

I found this while cleaning out my external hard drive. I totally forgot that we didn't blog about this, even though we blogged about the hot pot dinner. So continuing with the random tidbits, here's the third one.


Krop Knao is a Thai dessert, made of mung beans, sugar, coconut milk and egg yolk. In Thai, the dessert is called med kanoon, whereas the Cambodians call it krop knao. It doesn't look the best. Okay, so they look like yellow turds - sweet and sticky yellow turds. Mmm.. very appetizing. Hahaa!

Krop Knao 7

This is another dish my mom makes without a recipe. When she cooks and bakes, she doesn’t necessarily know the exact ingredients and measurements, but she does know how it’s supposed to look and feel before/when she cooks and bakes.

The recipe is taken from Thai Sweet Taste, since my mom doesn’t know how much she put. I asked my mom to look at the recipe on the blog and confirm the measurements. “I don’t know. Depends on how much you want to make,” she answered. I added two additional ingredients to the recipe and changed the steps up a bit because that’s the way my mom did it.

For the mung bean:

450g Yellow Mung Beans
200g Sugar
400g Coconut Milk           
½ Teaspoon Salt
2 Drops of Rose Extract/Water
5 Egg Yolks

For the syrup:

3 cups Sugar
2 cups Water

To prepare the mung beans, soak it in water for 2 hours. Then steam the mung beans until cooked. While the mung beans steam, boil some of the coconut milk with the sugar until it becomes as sticky and thick as liquid honey. Cool the coconut syrup for a few minutes.

Krop Knao 1

Once the mung beans are cooked, mash (or blend it in a blender) and then mix them with the coconut syrup, the remaining coconut milk, salt, and rose extract. If you like the mung beans smoother, mash it more. You can add more or less drops of rose extract, depending on how fragrant you like it. Same thing applies to sugar. If you like it a bit sweeter, or less, just adjust the amount – but remember, this is a dessert. 

Krop Knao 3

Krop Knao 4

Separate the egg yolks from the egg whites and scramble it. Set the scrambled yolks aside.

Prepare the syrup by simmering the sugar and water in a deep pot on medium-high heat until its consistency is a bit thicker than syrup. My mom says that she tests the syrup by adding a drop of yolk. If the drop of yolk spreads out and doesn’t cook quick enough, then the syrup is not thick and/or hot enough.

Krop Knao 2

Med Kanoon 5

You’re ready to start dipping and cooking the mung bean pellets when the drop of yolk holds it’s shape and cooks.

Krop Knao 6

While the syrup gently simmers to the right consistency, you can form the mung beans into small pellets. Then when the syrup is ready, take the mung bean pellets, dip it in the egg yolk and then drop them into the simmering syrup. They should float up pretty quickly. Once the yolk-dipped mung bean pellets start floating, give it an extra 30 seconds before taking them out. You can serve them right away or throw them in the fridge to enjoy later.

Krop Knao 9

Krop Knao 8

Sometimes my mom takes some syrup and mixes it with a few drops of rose extract/water, then pours some of the rose scented syrup onto the cooked pellets.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Black Bean Spareribs - Nov. 8th, 2010

Leftovers. I don’t mind them – especially when we get to take home leftovers from dim sum. But for some reason, there are certain dishes that is never left over at the end of the meal. For myself, one of the dishes is the black bean spare ribs. Our family rarely orders steamed black bean spareribs (aka pai gwat), which is sad because I really like the dish. The main reason we rarely order the dish is because my mom claims that it’s easy to make. Damn!

Well, pork ribs were on sale a few weeks ago, so we bought it, searched up a recipe online and then began to make it. My mom used the recipe as a guideline. This is my mom’s made up recipe.

2 pounds pork spareribs
2 tablespoons fermented black beans
A few garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon minced ginger
2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
2 teaspoons light soy sauce
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1½ teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon Chinese cooking wine
A few drops of sesame oil
1½ tablespoon baking powder 
A small chili pepper, finely minced (we used half of one of my dad’s bird eye chili

Black Bean Spareribs
Black Bean Spareribs

My mom chopped up the pork spareribs into smaller chunks, minced the garlic, soaked, drained and minced the black beans. It was all thrown into a large container.

The rest of the ingredients, except the baking powder, were mixed into the spareribs in the container. Since we didn’t want to eat it that night, the spareribs were thrown into the fridge to marinate over night. Alternately, you can marinate the spareribs (including the baking powder) for 3 hours before cooking. In our case, the baking powder was mixed into the marinated spareribs and thrown back into the fridge.

Black Bean Spare Ribs

My mom stir fried the marinated black bean spareribs with some vegetable oil and then served with steamed rice. Because we didn’t exactly follow the recipe, a few things tasted off. My mom added too much ginger so the ginger overpowered the stink of the garlic. Also, I thought that there wasn’t enough sesame oil. Something was missing from the dish though. I can't put my finger on it. Anyway, it was pretty good. Meh.

Black Bean Spareribs 4

Monday, December 06, 2010

Random Tidbits: Part 2 - Quick and Easy Meals

When you don’t have bread to make sandwiches, crackers to eat with the cheese in the fridge, and instant noodles other quick snack/meal options, what would you do – other than ordering pizza or going out to eat? The solution? Pancakes! Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there are other answers but I was craving pancakes that day.

Lucy can whip up batches of pancakes in her sleep. She’s always been able to do it since we were kids. I, on the other hand, need a recipe to follow. I’m not sure where this recipe came from, but we’ve been using it for years!

Pancakes 2

I’ve met some people who, for some reason, can’t and don’t know how to make pancakes. Even when they use the pancake mixes and follow the instructions, they still don’t know how to cook it properly. I love my pancakes with a crispy crust (which is essentially fried in butter), so I always add a bit more butter than I need. On a medium-high heated griddle, cook it until bubbles start popping and the edges start cooking and no longer look like a liquid batter. You can check the bottoms of the pancakes to make sure you have the right heat. The pancakes should be ready to flip after about 5 minutes.

Pancakes 1

I made the pancakes for lunch and ate them with peanut butter, ripe bananas and a butter-flavoured syrup. I was too hungry to take a picture of the yummy mess. Chasing it down with milk or HK-style milk tea is a perfect ending to the quick meal. Pancakes make a really quick and cheap dinner, too!

Another cheap and quick meal option is a Cambodian dish called Loc Lac. Lucy wrote about this before. I’ve read that it’s actually a Vietnamese dish, but at this point, the origins of the dish are not important.

Loc Lac

This is a summer dish in our family, because that’s when vegetables are fresh and abundant. Loc lac (or lok lak) is usually made by stir frying slices of beef and onions in oyster sauce and a bit of dark soy sauce. It’s served with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, fried eggs, and a dipping sauce made of white vinegar and (black or white) pepper. For some reason, the beef was cubed this time. This dish can usually be made within 20 minutes. Nice and easy, right?

If you like seafood instead, try some fried fish in ginger sauce. My grandpa really likes this and often brings over fish for my parents to make for lunch. I think the fish we usually use is turbot.

Fried Fish with Ginger
Soy Sauce

Once defrosted, the fish was rinsed and then patted dry with a paper towel. It was then dunked in cornstarch or flour before being shallow fried. Once it the fish was nice and golden brown on both sides, my parents took the fish out and set it aside. Most of the oil was drained out before sliced ginger was briefly fried until aromatic. Then garlic is added along with a slurry of oyster sauce, sugar, water and cornstarch. At the end, green onion gets thrown into the sauce. The ginger and green onion sauce was hen added on top of the fried fish and is served with plain steamed rice. If you decide to make this, be warned that it makes the house smelly.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Random Tidbits: Part 1 - Two Sweet

There are a bunch of random meals that we haven’t written about yet, so I’ll write about them all in a few parts called Random Tidbits.


A few weeks ago, most of our extended family gathered at my aunt’s house for a dinner of steamed crabs. What I want to focus on, though, is what we had for dessert. Firstly, we had sesame balls filled with red bean paste. Yup, the same stuff you can find during dim sum. These are like the fried versions of tangyuan.

Sesame Balls 4

My mom has always wanted to try making these. I was hoping this would be a home run right off the bat.

Soaking Red Bean

For the red bean filling, we soaked the red beans for a bit before boiling it in a pot. Once cooked, they were drained and mashed up with sugar and water. The dough was made from glutinous rice flour, sugar, and both boiling and warm water. The dough was hard to handle because it broke when you tried to stretch and form it around the filling.

Sesame Balls 2

We tried to fry up a few small ones to see how they turned out. The filling was too dry and was hardly a paste, but rather a dry mash of sweet red beans. The dough came out hard because the dough wasn’t thick enough.

Sesame Balls 1

Adjustments to both the filling and the way the sesame balls were made, then deep fried. In the end, we had a two plates piled high with sesame balls that were so-so. We still couldn’t achieve the thickness to the dough and get the soft cooked sweet glutinous rice flour. The filling wasn’t moist enough either. Next time, we will definitely have to look up a recipe online.

Sesame Balls 3

The funny thing was that we made these sesame balls before our steamed crab dinner. No one ruined their appetite for dinner though, cause let's face it, the sesame balls were disappointing.

Chocolate Mousse Cake 1

Once all the mess from dinner was cleaned up, a chocolate cake from T&T was brought out. The cake was for Jimmy’s belated birthday. Lucy said that the cake was a chocolate ganache cake, but the cake was actually chocolate mousse.

Chocolate Mousse Cake 2

The chocolate mousse cake wasn’t overly sweet. In fact, the chocolate cake base was probably sweeter than the mousse itself. At first, the cake felt pretty light. The airy mousse was in a perfect balance with the light chocolate cake base.

Chocolate Mousse Cake 3

The chocolate mousse cake felt like an anvil in my stomach after a few minutes, though. Milk would’ve helped, but we had something better: tea. Hot Oolong tea, that was pretty strong, helped cut the heaviness of the mousse.

Tea with Dessert

At the end of the night, I probably ended up drinking a full pot of tea and ate three slices of cake. No wonder I felt so sluggish afterwards. Oops.


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