May 06, 2006

Cough-hack-sneeze

Yeesh. Having trouble shaking this one.

And I'm on vacation starting this week, so yeah, double suck.

On the plus side, made a bolster so that I can do my internet surfing comfortably from bed.

Posted by JAY at 03:51 PM | Comments (0)

May 10, 2006

Phone Jacks

The builder cheaped out and didn't install phone jacks (only roughed in phone wiring was specified in the contract). I needed to test my wires because my deficiency report is due tomorrow. I'm not much of a handyman, but anything is easy with the right tools!

The yellow wire stripper was a cheap one that gave some trouble, but the orange tone generator and induction probe were awesome, letting me easily test wire continuity and follow the single loop of phone wire through to each roughed-in box. $12 of Home Depot supplies and a couple of hours later, and all the phone jacks have been installed. Yay! Bell charges an arm and a leg per jack - even the contractor flyer wanted $10 per jack.

Posted by JAY at 03:12 PM | Comments (0)

May 11, 2006

Restaurant: Sapphire Restaurant

I've been to my share of Dim Sum restaurants, and this one is my favorite. The food is good - not too salty or greasy - and the prices are really really low. For $10, you can easily feed 2 people. For $20, you'll have a better variety and leftovers (or be really really full). Each dish costs about $2 for about 3 pieces. Service, like Swatow, is pretty brusque but ultra fast.

I tend to only do Dim Sum with people willing to cater to my neuroses about spit swapping - Chinese custom is that everyone just goes into the main dish with their chopsticks. Not something I can handle. Predictably, the only words I can speak in Chinese have to do with food. In the picture are some of my favorite Dim Sum dishes. From top right: wu gok is a taro/pork/shrimp fried dumpling in light pastry, har gow is a steamed shrimp dumpling wrapped in glutinous rice wrapping, cha sui bao is a steamed bun filled with bbq pork, sui mai is steamed pork dumpling in a bean curd wrapper - this one has a shrimp tucked inside the pork and orange fish eggs for garnish, the big pork meatball in bean curd wrapper I have no idea - sui mai is better!, in the bottom left is har cheong and char sui cheong fan - shrimp and bbq pork rolled in a white flat rice noodle and usually topped with sweetened soy sauce.

I do eat with chopsticks in the restaurant, but these are leftovers at home, hence the forks!
Uh, contact details when I remember them.

Posted by JAY at 12:00 AM | Comments (0)

Restaurant: Lola Steak Bistro


We visited Lola's Steak Bistro[warning: annoying Flash] for Trevor's bachelor party. I delayed the review for a bit because I wanted to focus more on the party than the restaurant. (There's a time to critique and a time to enjoy!) I sampled the Lobster Bisque ($5), Filet Mignon ($26) and Maple Cake. The service and company were great and I had a lot of fun. The food, unfortunately, was slightly sub-par.

The lobster bisque was tasty but slightly salty. More offensively, it was barely tepid, which gave it a slightly greasy feel in the mouth. Ordinarily, if something arrives too cold, it's the fault of the server, not the kitchen. But in this case it tasted like the soup had been chilled and insufficiently rewarmed. It did have some nice chunks of lobster in it, though.

The filet mignon was fine, but nothing all that special and very slgihtly overdone and underseared. In fact, I'd cooked one earlier that day that was better. That being said, it was very reasonably priced. It was served with some anemic pretty vegetables (baby carrots, a couple of pieces of squash and zucchini) and a drastically over-salted garlic-truffle mashed potato. Seriously, there had to be a mistake with the potatos - I'd ordered it hoping to taste the truffle oil but nothing, not even the garlic, made it through the brine. It was bad enough that I didn't eat it.

The maple cake, which I only tasted, was very sweet, but very nice.
The wine list was extensive, but I only tasted a couple of wines and champagne, and I'm not an expert. They tasted fine.

Overall, the atmosphere and service would make this a great date spot. To keep things in perspective, the prices are impressively low - cheaper than The Keg, even. But honestly, I've had better food at The Keg, too - and that's just a big franchised steak house! I sort of wanted to try the deluxe burger that was on the menu featuring foie gras ($60) but I'm not sure I'd trust them with the premium ingredients anymore. I'm in no hurry to return.

Lola Steak Bistro[flash]
2070 Yonge St.
Toronto, ON
M4S 2A3
Tel: (416) 932-0290

Posted by JAY at 01:19 PM | Comments (0)

May 12, 2006

Recipe: Beef Tenderloin and Fried Rice


It's been a while since I"ve posted any of my current meals. I've been cooking, but I've just been too lazy to post. One of the quirks of my kitchen is that we're not really well-stocked with ingredients, but we tend to have some odd things on-hand - like homemade roast garlic and roasted red peppers, for instance. Beef filet is really worth cooking at home - sooo tender. Buying my parents some filet was the best thing I ever did - they're buying it themselves now and stocking the fridge with it. Like high quality sashimi grade tuna, it should be well seared on the outside and warm but very rare on the inside. Don't even bother if you're cooking past medium rare - this cut of meat has no fat and will toughen immediately. Wrapping with bacon will help a bit, but not enough... I prefer it without, as the flavor of this cut is pretty mild and shouldn't have to compete with bacon.

I love fried rice - this is a non-asian version, even though I cooked it up in the wok. The recipe below will be kind of generalized to take advantage of what you have on hand. It's pretty fattening, though. Restaurant fried rice has more fat than french fries. This has somewhat less, but it's still not low fat.

Seared Beef Tenderloin

Beef tenderloin steaks, about 1 to 1.5 inches in width
salt (kosher preferable), black pepper
high heat oil (canola, veg, but not peanut)
garlic (optional)
extra virgin olive oil (optional)

Leave the steaks out at room temperature for about a 1/2 hour.
Put a cast iron skillet to heat on medium heat while prepping the steaks.
Dry the steak surface with paper towels to encourage browning.
Cut a large clove of garlic in half and rub cut surface all over the steaks (optional)
Season well with salt and black pepper (if you're really picky - and I am - don't salt one side of the steak - that side will be place face up on the pan and we don't want to draw water out of the meat while the other side sears)

Put a tiny bit of canola oil in the pan.
It should be hot enough to start smoking (wait if it's not).
Place the steak(s), salted side down on the smoking pan.
Do not play with the steaks (don't lift them), that'll interfere with searing.
Cook for about 4 minutes, then salt the top and flip with tongs.
Drizzle the seared surface (now top) wtih good quality extra virgin olive oil. (sorta optional)
Cook for another 6 minutes, lowering the heat to medium low.
Let rest in a plate for 1 minute before serving.

Fried Rice
Day old long grain rice - 3 cups
Sliced Mushrooms
1 large diced onion
Garlic
Sliced roasted red pepper
1 package of spinach, washed and wilted in the microwave, then chopped coarsely
oil
salt, pepper, thyme

Fresh rice won't work in this recipe. The starch coating the rice has to harden a bit. You'll end up with burned rice sticking to the pan otherwise.

Heat about 1/4 cup of oil in a wok over high heat until very hot. (Olive oil for this, regular oil for chinese)
Toss in mushrooms (white for this, shitake for chinese)
Add sliced ginger for chinese fried rice and remove when it starts to brown (omit for this)
Cook the mushrooms until nicely golden and then add onions
(optional and for chinese: toss in sliced celery, finely chopped carrots, lightly steamed brocolli etc)
(for chinese/non vegetarian meat, you can add sliced raw meats, or roasted meats like bbq pork)
Cook until softened/browned and then add chopped garlic.
Cook for only 30 seconds (don't burn garlic!), then add rice, tossing briskly over high heat unil rice is hot.
Add red peppers and spinach and thyme.
(for chinese: add soy sauce, oyster sauce, sesame oil)

Posted by JAY at 01:54 PM | Comments (0)

May 15, 2006

Recipe: Caramel Popcorn

Ok, this tastes good, but not fantastically better than caramel corn that you can buy from a popcorn store (I can't remember the name of the franchise). If you don't have a heavy, well-seasoned cast iron pot to cook the popcorn in, you'll need to transfer it into a greased large bowl before pouring in the caramel. I didn't actually get too much of this, my sister and mother ate it pretty quickly.

Caramel Popcorn

Approx 8 cups of popped popcorn, still in warm cast iron pot they were cooked in.
(alternatively, transfer into oiled metal bowl, or a silicone bowl)

2 cups sugar
1 cup water
1 tsp salt
1.25 tsp baking soda, premeasured in a bowl
2 tbs butter, cut into small pieces
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (optional, more to taste)

Grease (brush with oil) a tall pot that can hold about 5 cups right to the top.
Pour the water into the pot.
Pour the sugar and salt into the center of the pot in a mound (don't stir).
Add the butter.
Heat on medium high, without stirring.

This is the tricky part, be careful.
Watch the sugar bubbling.
Watch for it to turn just past a pale straw color OR when any part of it starts to darken past that to a brown or golden color.
Then, toss in all the baking soda (mixed with optional cayenne) and whisk with an oiled balloon whisk (again, brush with oil).
The mixture will darken and bubble, increasing in volume tremendously. This is why you need to use a large pot - it can more than quadruple in volume. Don't touch the mixture, it is VERY hot and sticky.

Pour the frothy mixture into the popcorn and toss gently to coat. (Still VERY hot!)
Do not scrape out the pan, if you oiled it properly, most should pour out easily. You risk crystalization of the entire batch of popcorn if you scrape the pan. (This has never happened to me so...)
I like to have a large oiled spoon at the bottom of the popcorn ready to stir up the bottom.
Pat the coated caramel popcorn into a single layer on parchment paper (or greased cookie sheets, if you don't have that).

The caramel recipe can be halved or tripled.

Posted by JAY at 09:34 PM | Comments (0)

May 16, 2006

Shopping at The Brick

When I got my mortgage, I was also given (eventually) a gift certificate for $2000 at The Brick. Today I went to choose what I wanted. I had done some online research about what I wanted, but when I got in I was persuaded by the helpful rep, Laura, to get slightly different stuff. That makes it sound like she upsold me, but that's not really the case.

Instead of the $800 Maytag fridge that I intended to get, I ended up with a $900 Whirlpool that's sized more appropriately (it's much larger). The low-end Maytag washer had a plastic tub and the one that was about $100 more, by Inglis (also part of Whirlpool) had a porcelain/steel tub instead of plastic. Not sure if that's good or not - apparently, the steel under the porcelain can rust. But it also had a better agitator and a direct drive transmission instead of belt... so I guess we'll see.

Finally, I also picked up an inexpensive but nice-looking couch (about $400) and the expensive Kitchenaid range that I've mentioned before. They beat Sears' price by $360, so yay for that.

Posted by JAY at 10:14 PM | Comments (0)

May 17, 2006

Soapy Memories

... aka "How I Almost Killed My Boss' Kid!"

I've always loved playing with young children. So when the boss brought his young son Mikey into the office one day, Mikey and I wandered off to the kitchen sink to play after a lunch of McDonald's. Using a leftover straw and a cup with detergent and water, I blew air into the soap solution to overflow bubbles out of the cup.

Mikey thought playing with the bubbles was great fun. After a while he wanted to make some bubbles himself. I wasn't sure he was up to the task. Taking the straw out of the cup, I blew air through the straw into his face to demonstrate the required technique. I then gave Mikey the straw to practice with and (after some confusion), he was able to copy the straw blowing. Great, right?

So I give the guy the cup of detergent solution and yay! he's doing it! Having a great time! Running out of breath! Doesn't want to stop! Rather than take his mouth of the straw like before, he starts inhaling the soapy water! I yank the straw and cup away, but not before Mikey has a mouthful of suds which, judging by his expression, taste horrible.

"Mikey! Spit it out! Into the sink! Spit!! Noo!"
Mikey, well trained by Dad not to spit things out, swallows the large mouthful of soap.

He proceeds to make grimacing faces as his stomach cramps up. I'm thinking, "Hell, I just killed the boss' kid!" Moments later, a small pile of pale, partially digested french fries is in the sink. Unfazed, Mikey keeps playing in the running water.

I don't give back the straw and soap, though.

Posted by JAY at 10:27 PM | Comments (0)

May 19, 2006

Gems


The gems are here, finally! They seem a bit smaller than anticipated, but they're very nice looking. The cubic zirconias are dazzling, as you can see in the picture (click for larger view). The large teardrop rubies are my favorite. This lot will be divided by 5 and parcelled out. Yay!

Posted by JAY at 10:27 PM | Comments (1)

May 21, 2006

Chocolate Pain In The Butt Cake

This cake is very very moist and yummy. The ingredients are commonly stocked in my pantry and fridge. It can be made in just one mixing bowl. So why is this cake such a pain in the ass?

Well, quite simply, the measurements are crazy. I did everything by weight because you can either add 5 ounces of butter, or 10 tablespoons. How the heck are you going to measure solid butter with a tablespoon, much less 10 of them? It's the same with the flour and the cocoa: 1 1/2 cups + 2 TBS and 1/2 cup + 1/3 cup respectively.

Ordinarily, I'd abandon the recipe because of this, but it did taste good and I do have a kitchen scale... so...

Coffee-Cocoa Snack Cake
Nicole Rees, Fine Cooking Magazine

5 ounces very soft unsalted butter (more for pan)
1 1/2 c sugar
2 large eggs at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt
7.25 (!) ounces flour, more for pan
2.5 ounces unsweetened natural cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 c coffee, cooled to warm

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Butter a 9x9" baking pan. Line the bottom with parchment. Butter the whole thing and flour it.

Cream the butter and sugar together well.
Mix in the eggs, one at a time, until smooth.
Mix in the vanilla and salt.

Sift the flour, cocoa, baking soda and baking powder onto the batter.
Pour in the coffee and gently whisk by hand until the mix is smooth and mostly free of lumps.
Pour the batter into the pan, spreading with spatula.

Bake for 40-43 minutes (mine was longer...) until a skewer in the center comes out with a few crumbs on it.
Cool for 20 minutes.
Knife the edges and invert/remove the cake onto a rack.
Invert again onto another rack.

Cool until just warm and serve or wrap in plastic.

Posted by JAY at 07:13 PM | Comments (0)