Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Homemade Rice Noodles with Black Bean Sauce

It's pretty tough to mess up a dish like rice noodles with black bean sauce. There aren't many ingredients at all. Let's take a look at our family's version of rice noodles with black bean sauce:

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Rice noodles
Onions
Soy Sauce
Dark soy sauce
Vegetable oil

Black bean sauce
Garlic
Oyster sauce
Sugar
Cornstarch/potato starch
Water
Egg

Chinese broccoli
Thinly sliced beef

Easy enough, right? Well, apparently you can mess it up. You see, we had a bad batch of potato starch in our cupboards. It smelled like plastic and tasted like it too. Someone thought that the odour and taste of it would be covered up by the flavour of the sauce, so they used the sketchy potato starch to thicken the black bean sauce.

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As for the noodles themselves, they tasted fine if you didn't mix any of the tainted sauce. Onions and rice noodles were sautéed together with a bit of soy sauce, dark soy sauce, and sugar.

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People just loaded their bowls of noodles with satay sauce and sriracha sauce. As for me, I stupidly added more black bean sauce (from the jar). It was sooo salty.

If you're going to take something from this, make sure you don't use ingredients that smell/taste off. I thought everyone knew that.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Koreana in Chinatown and a Rant

Nobody felt like cooking on a Friday night late last month, so we (Mom, Richard, Andrew, and myself) had dinner at Koreana in Chinatown. I had previously heard of good things from the family.

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The first time I ate there was on Canada Day, where VN and I had the stir-fried kimchi with tofu and jja jang myun (Korean version of the Chinese black bean noodles), along with the banchan. I was surprised at how large the serving of jja jang myun was. The flavour of the black bean sauce was too plain for my tastes. Everything tasted the same to me after two bites. If it weren’t for the slivers of cucumbers, I wouldn’t have been able to stomach more than a few bites. I’m not sure how legit their version is, but I do know that I’m not a fan. VN’s stir-fry was better, though I found there to be too much sesame oil.

When our family arrived for dinner on the Friday night, a table had just left so we didn’t have to wait very long at all. We spent quite a bit of time deciding what to get. Mom doesn’t like Korean food much, but came because she told Andrew to pick where to go for dinner. Lesson learned? lol

After we gave the waitress our order, she brought us some complimentary bowls of miso soup. Once we were finished, she set down the banchan of pickled bean sprouts, daikon radish, potatoes in a sweet gloopy sauce, kimchi, and seasoned seaweed. I typically love the sweet potatoes at Korean restaurants but the sweet gloopy sauce ruined it for me. It didn’t taste homemade.

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To start off the meal, we got an order of haemul paejon aka seafood pancake. Mom was disappointed because the pancake wasn’t crunchy and crisp. I had to remind her that Korean pancakes are chewy like this and not flaky like the Chinese version. Unlike the loaded seafood pancake at Nak Won (in Toronto), there wasn’t a lot of seafood in the pancakes we received.

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Our main dishes began arriving not long after we began with the seafood pancakes. The mul naeng myun (aka cold noodle soup) arrived in the familiar stainless steel bowl as the jja jang myun I had previously. I knew that the soup was supposed to be seasoned with vinegar and mustard, but the cold soup just tasted like the pickling liquid of the daikon and carrots. I thought the soup was supposed to be a cold beef broth with just a bit of vinegar. I didn’t get any mustard, though I could’ve just asked for some. Mustard wouldn’t have made it anymore tasty.

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Richard wanted to order the sukiyaki, but since Mom wanted that, he went with the unagidon aka BBQ eel over rice. He looked like he enjoyed it since he ate it quietly.

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Andrew was craving the stir-fried kimchi with tofu. I’m pretty sure it was the same dish as VN’s, but the flavours were well balanced this time. There were pieces of pork, kimchi, green onions and tofu. This was a favourite at our table.

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The other favourite was the sukiyaki that Mom got. The beefy soup was sugary. I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be like that, but it was strangely addictive. We all kept taking bites of Andrew’s stir-fry and then sips of the sukiyaki.

Though Koreana isn’t the best Korean restaurant in Ottawa, we’ll still come back for their stir-fry of kimchi, tofu, and pork.


On a somewhat related note, I need to vent about the people who review restaurants (small restaurants specifically) and complain about horrible service. I usually check sites like Urbanspoon to see what other people think about restaurants, but I mostly read up on what certain food bloggers think. There are always people who comment more about the service than the food. I want to know how good the food is, not the service. My blood pressure slowly rises whenever I see those comments.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Perfect Summer Dish: Banh Xeo

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On a gorgeous hot summer day, most of our extended family came over for a banh xeo dinner. Since it was a scorcher, we made banh xeo outside on two portable cooking elements to prevent the kitchen from becoming a greasy-smelling oven. Banh xeo is a savoury Vietnamese crepe.

Our family who came over for lunch brought over some cucumbers, herbs from their garden, and drinks.

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The first steps was to make the banh xeo filling, which contained ground pork, toasted shredded coconut, finely diced onion, soy sauce, and a bit of fish sauce.

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All the vegetables and herbs were rinsed and plated on two trays, as the filling was allowed to cool.

Then the batter was made using a premix, which contained rice flour, and water. Then some turmeric was added for the yellow colour.

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Peanuts were toasted and then cooled before getting crushed in our stone mortar and pestle. If the peanuts were still warm, they oils in the peanuts would turn the crushed peanuts into sticky clumps.

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People typically eat banh xeo with their hands, wrapping bits of banh xeo with lettuce, herbs, and vegetables, then dipping the wraps into a dipping sauce of crushed peanuts in nuoc cham (made of fish sauce, vinegar or lemon/lime juice, fish sauce, sugar, water, minced garlic, and minced peppers). Many people say that banh xeo tastes better when eaten with your hands.

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But I didn’t feel like getting my hands dirty, so I mixed everything in a bowl. It was quite filling! I think it's the perfect summer dish because you can add so many fresh herbs and vegetables.

We’ve had quite a few banh xeo dinners since the beginning of summer. The herbs in both our garden and our relatives’ garden absolutely love the unusually hot and humid weather in Ottawa this year.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Sweet Potato-Filled Vegan Ravioli

Earlier last month, I ordered an interestingly tasty ravioli dish at Milestone’s. The raviolis were filled with butternut squash and were baked in a spicy tomato sauce. There were toasted pecans, dollops of goat cheese, and ribbons of sweet Thai basil, all of which elevated the plate of ravioli to a different experience. I was pleasantly surprised at how well all the components hit all the right notes. There was textural contrast, a variety of flavours – none of which took the attention away from the butternut squash-filled raviolis. Every bite was surprisingly delightful.

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When I thought about the composition of the dish, it seemed easy to recreate. Homemade pasta, butternut squash or sweet potato filling, spicy tomato sauce, toasted pine nuts or something else, goat cheese, and Thai basil. No problem.

VN and I thought of a menu and picked up some groceries. Since Ontario corn was on sale that week ($2.99 for a dozen), corn was the menu twice:
  • Pot ang, a Cambodian take on grilled corn
  • Sweet potato-filled ravioli
  • Che bap, a tapioca coconut pudding with shaved corn

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Snacking on Chicken Dumplings

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These aren't chicken and dumplings. They're chicken dumplings.

With the help of the Andrew and two KGs, we made chicken dumplings (I've also called them pot stickers in the past) in under an hour. I whipped up the dumpling skin by mixing all purpose flour, sugar, a bit of salt, boiled water, and some room temperature water. The dough was kneaded and then allowed to rest, while the filling was mixed together; ground chicken, a small package of firm tofu, oyster sauce, sesame oil, grated ginger, sugar, black pepper, and green onions.


As KG rolled out the dumpling skins, the other KG, Andrew, and I wrapped them with the prepared filling.

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Using the steam-fry-steam method with a bit of vegetable oil, most of the dumplings were cooked to perfection. I got impatient and tried to take the dumplings out after all the water evaporated, but the bottoms stuck. Pot stickers indeed. Instead of scraping all of them off, I gave the dumplings some time with the hot pan until they let go without much difficulty.

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The thin dumplings reminded me of the dumplings I ate in Taiwan while at the hospital. We were able to roll out the dumpling skins really thin. It was kissed with sweetness, too! The filling was salty enough to eat without a dip of soy sauce and red vinegar, but we had it on the table... so... why not?

There was a lot of leftover filling. We didn't even use half of it. The bowl of dumpling filling was put into the fridge. Andrew helped me make another batch of dumpling skin the following afternoon. We wrapped the dumplings, cooked them, and munched on them for a late lunch.

I was extremely happy with the dumpling skins and cooking method. "You've mastered it!" Richard said.

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A strong brew of jasmine tea finished our small meal.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Scratch-Made Butter Chicken and Naan

A few years ago, we took all of our younger cousins out to the Museum of Science and Technology. On our way home, we swung by the Indian Express and picked up some butter chicken and naan to eat at a park. At a later date, AU and EU both helped me make butter chicken from scratch.

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Since then, AU and EU have repeatedly asked me if we can make butter chicken again.  They were in luck. I went grocery shopping and picked up some ingredients to make naan and butter chicken.

EU was very enthusiastic and wanted to be in charge of the naan making, so I supervised him as he measured out the ingredients to Life Tastes Good’s Home-made Naan recipe. We doubled the recipe since we had nine mouths to feed. The dough was allowed to rest for an hour. The following recipes are the approximate values that we added…

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Nem Nuong aka Vietnamese BBQ Pork Meatballs

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A few months ago, I made Vietnamese-style meatballs at VN’s place from scratch. We were originally going to make Chinese-style meatballs from a cookbook, but I just made my own version. Since she didn't have things like oyster sauce, I just used what she had and changed the flavours around. It ended up tasting like a Vietnamese dish. Woops!

Starting with ground pork, finely chopped cilantro, minced garlic, and a row of crushed crackers, I mixed everything together until the smell of cilantro and garlic seemed right. Then I seasoned it with sugar, soy sauce, and fish sauce. I wanted to pack it with Vietnamese flavours, since we took a detour from the Chinese route.

When the consistency seemed right and when it smelled right, I nuked a little nugget in the microwave with a bit of water to taste it. After tasting it, I added just a bit more sugar and fish sauce. I tried it again. I was happy with it. KN and VN gave it a try. They approved of them and said it tasted familiar. “They remind me of nem nuong (which are seasoned grilled pork meatballs) that you typically serve on skewers with vermicelli or in rice wraps,” VN commented.

The meatballs were browned in a pan and became tender and juicy. While I didn’t take photos, you’ll have to take my word for it. They were really good. These would be perfect for a picnic outside! I made too much because we were expecting other company that never showed, so we froze half of the seasoned meat and made them again a week later. Since making the nem nuong, I’ve wanted to recreate it.

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During a grocery trip to T&T, I picked up cilantro and ground pork so that I could try making the meatballs again. We didn’t have any crackers in the house or bread I wanted to use, but we had leftover rice. I thought I’d try and replace the cracker crumbs with leftover rice. I also finely chopped up some fresh mint to add another dimension.

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After combining all the ingredients, I roughly measured out 5 tablespoons of sugar and 7 tablespoons each of soy sauce and fish sauce. It smelled like I over-seasoned it, so I scooped a bit out and cooked it in the microwave. When I opened the microwave door, the smell of fish sauce hit me right away and it was followed by soy sauce. Shit… I took a bite. I was right. There was too much fish sauce and soy sauce. I couldn’t dull the saltiness with sugar, so I chopped more cilantro and mint.

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Though they were still very salty, it did taste similar to the first rendition I made at VN’s place. Close. The leftover rice didn’t do a great job of absorbing the liquid. I’ll avoid adding leftover rice in the future. The cooked nem nuong was a bit loose and had a tough time maintaining it’s shape. I added an egg to help bring it together. I threw a few slices of some milk bread, ripped them into little pieces and tossed them into the mix, in hopes that the toast would absorb some moisture. The mixing bowl was wrapped in a bag and placed in the fridge to marinate overnight.

Throughout the process, I tried to write down rough measurements in hopes that you, too, can taste how good these were. If you do try this out, please taste the meatballs and adjust to taste like I did.

Nem Nuong aka Vietnamese Ground Pork Meatballs

1lb ground pork
5 cloves of garlic, minced
5 tbsp fish sauce
5 tbsp soy sauce
5 tbsp sugar
1/3 cup finely chopped cilantro
4 tbsp finely chopped mint
½ cup breadcrumbs or cracker crumbs*
Black pepper, to taste

*I didn’t have dry breadcrumbs or crackers so I used the following:
3 slices of toast, crumbled and torn
1/3 cup leftover rice


On the following day, we fired up the BBQ and cooked the nem nuong. I pretty sure the meatballs needed to be cooked on medium heat to allow the sugar to caramelize.

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While the meatballs were being cooked, Mom sautéed some zucchini with salt, pepper, and a bit of olive oil. Then she added chopped mint.

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It was another sunny day out, and so we ate in our backyard again. Dad made a pitcher of spiked Clamato (a mix of tomato juice and clam juice). Richard bought some baguettes and I brought out some of Dad’s homemade kimchi. Some of the meatballs burned because the BBQ was cranked up on high.

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Even though we ate the nem nuong with bread, they were still too salty to fully enjoy them. The flavours of cilantro came through really well, but I’d probably add more garlic and mint. In hindsight, I should’ve gotten more ground pork to dull the soy sauce and fish sauce. Richard and Lucy really liked these. I'll have to be less generous with the fish sauce and soy sauce next time. But still, fresh bread, homemade Vietnamese meatballs, sautéed zucchini, and a pitcher of ice-cold bloody caesar made a great meal.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Baked Penne with Cheese

Since moving back from Toronto, I've rarely made macaroni and cheese or any pasta for that matter. While other people resort to instant noodles, pasta and cheese was my go-to quick comfort food. Using the small bits of cheese still leftover from all the homemade pizzas, I made a quick penne with cheese. I don't usually cook with a recipe, but Blog Chef's recipe looks similar to my version. I have written a rough recipe in the past. And by rough, I mean the measurements weren't exact. Should you dare to try out this recipe of mine:

1 cup                       Macaroni, Rotini, Penne or Baby Shells
4 tsp                        Butter
4 tsp                        Flour
1½ cups                 Milk
1½ tsp                    Chicken Bake/Broth Mix or Salt (I use the bright yellow one)
1½ cup                   Cheese (I use old cheddar, but sometimes make it with mild cheddar)
Sprinkle                 Black pepper (Optional)

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Although I love baked cheese, I typically don't bake the pasta with cheese because I never have the patience. On this occasion, I undercooked the pasta a bit and then made the mornay sauce with mozzarella cheese. The pasta was incorporated with the cheese sauce and then added to the lightly greased and floured baking pan. Since I just wanted the cheese to brown on top, I just broiled the pasta until it was done.

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While the pasta was let to cool on the table briefly, I grabbed my camera and took these photos.

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While the pasta was in the toaster oven, I went through the fridge and made myself a side salad. I have to admit that I added too much cheese. The sauce needed more milk. It certainly doesn't look like there was too much cheese though.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

5th Blogiversary!

To those who have stuck with us over the years, thanks so much for your support!

Our food blog was originally started as a food journal. We wanted to document what we cooked, baked, and ate. We never intended to critique restaurants or create and share recipes, but we have tried to incorporate them over the years. There are plenty of other blogs on the interwebs who specifically supply those niches. Same thing applies to making the food porn look like it belongs in a magazine or ad. We want to show everyone how we make something and how we eat it. It's not always pretty. We didn't used to spend the extra time to plate up dishes with presentation in mind. It didn't matter what it looked like, as long as it tasted good. Although after writing that, we have been putting more effort in making the dishes more presentable as of late.

While I do pump out boring articles just to have something published on the blog, I do still try to improve my writing style. It has never been my strong suit. I've gone back and re-read some of the entries I wrote and, on multiple occasions, came close to deleting them -- they were that bad. But then there were pieces where I could vividly relieve the events. It's tough for me to make things interesting when they're really not.

Take the Popeyes Chicken in Waterloo article for example of a boring piece of work. There wasn't a great adventure in Waterloo. The truth was that we went to check out the open house and we happened to eat lunch at Popeyes. That's it.

On the other hand, there's the article Toronto Marathon Trip - Oct. 15th - 17th. I had so much fun writing about it because so much happened. The memory of Lucy and myself standing in front of the counter and ordering our sandwiches has been burned into my memory bank. I'd say it's the best example of my writing on this blog to date.


We'd like to answer a few questions that we've been receiving. We hope that you'll get to know us better through this. Lucy's answers will be in purple and my answers will be in green.

Why is the blog called Tea for Two Sisters when you don't write about tea? And who came up with the name?
Lucy cleverly thought of the name.
It sounds cute, incorporates our last name, and is easy to remember.

You tend to write about Chinese, Vietnamese, and Cambodian cuisines more than others. What's your background and nationality?
We're the first generation of Chinese-Canadians to be born in Canada, and the rest of the family are Canadian-Chinese-Cambodian. We're Teochew, to be more specific. I believe we're only four generations removed from China.

I used to think that everything we ate were categorized as Chinese, Cambodian, or Canadian cuisine. But I've come to the realization that dishes like banh xeo and bun cha gio are actually Vietnamese.

Growing up, we were accustomed to eating from a large variety of cuisines at home. Some dishes are more familiar than others (Cambodian, Chinese, and Vietnamese), so we tend to write about them more. The articles also tend to be more interesting since they're different from what you'd see day-to-day in Canada.

Why don't you write recipes?
We've touched on this a few times in our articles. The main reason for not including recipes in our articles is because we cook by feel and smell. Our mom, on the rare occasions that she actually has a recipe in front of her, uses them as guidelines. She'd often replace ingredients to her liking and if the consistency doesn't feel or look right, she would do her own thing and fix it until she's happy. And most times, her intuition pays off.

As Christine mentioned, recipes aren't followed to the letter, so much that they are guidelines for us. I have never followed a recipe exactly, with the notable exception of Anna Olson's chewy chocolate chip cookie recipe. I am not a cookie baker, so when I found a recipe that finally worked for me, I stuck to it faithfully. For everything else, I adjust it to taste. After all, there is no use in following the recipe if the end product tastes bad. I cook and bake to eat!

Do you make everything from scratch?
Long answer: We do make a lot of things from scratch. It comes from a combination of two things. Our parents, specifically, have always been frugal with their money since they fled from the Khmer Rouge. The other thing is that our relatives, including our parents, have experience working in the restaurant and food industry.

We rarely ate out at restaurants when we were younger. I used to get giddy knowing that pizza day at school was just one sleep away. My parents always thought that they could recreate dishes in the restaurant. They even claim that their version tastes much better. As a young'un, I disagreed. It just didn't taste the same, but now, I've come to appreciate their efforts. Some of their versions of dishes actually do taste better than eating out. Like Phnom Penh noodle soup and mac and cheese.

Something like Kraft Dinner; I used to think that the TV shows made up the "all Canadians love their KD" stereotype. We never had KD in the house. Our mom always made mac and cheese from scratch for us (sort of). She used an unnaturally yellow chicken powder to season the cheese sauce and sometimes added freezer-burned cheeses when we didn't have any in the fridge. Of course, the blocks of cheese were purchased on sale and then thrown in the freezer. Despite the freezer-burned cheese, she still said it tasted better than the boxed mac and cheese.

Short answer: No.

What are your favourite restaurants in _____________?
Our favourite restaurants and establishments keep changing. My favourite pizza place is Pizzeria Libretto in Toronto. For Chinese food between Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal, it has to be the House of Gourmet hands down. Although they don't serve dim sum, their breakfast/brunch is pleasant.

The restaurants I like are quite varied. In Ottawa, I'm a big fan of Greek takeout from Cozmos Souvlaki and Indian takeout from Indian Express. Both give great value for money, are consistent in quality, and serve you with a smile. When we go to Montréal, we typically end up at Marché Kei Phat for Cambodian food. (Full disclosure: the place is owned by our uncle's family, so we often score small freebies like extra youtiao.) Toronto is a little more difficult to pick favourites, as I have so many! I've been on a ramen kick lately, so Ajisen Ramen in Markham is my current favourite.

Can you make slideshows again and post them up?
Instead of creating slideshows, I've thought of two alternative ways to view food porn. The first idea is creating monthly albums on my Flickr photostream, which will showcase the things we've written about. The second idea is summarizing the month's articles into a post at the end of each month.

Why doesn't Lucy write more?
The truth, plain and simple, is that I lost my mojo and didn't feel like writing anymore. Since moving from Kingston a couple of years ago, I have been on the brink of a burnout with work and wedding planning. I have also cooked less. All of this, coupled with a stomach issue, was not conducive to food blogging. I have, however, continued to take a million pictures of meals. As a result, I have a giant photo backlog of two years to work through, including two trips to Taiwan! I'm hoping that my upcoming trip to South-East Asia will inspire me to write again soon!


In closing, Tea for Two won't be the "go to" blog for recipes or a good read. We'll keep writing about the happenings in our lives, whether it's dull or entertaining.

Thanks again for joining us on our blog!


~ Lucy and Christine

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