Mung Bean Sprouts: Love that Crunch! June 27, 2009

Filed under: Meals — sotsil @ 4:12 pm
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You may have ordered soup in a Chinese restaurant and when it was served, it had a generous scattering of bean sprouts on top.  What’s special about bean sprouts is that they’re good for you and they add crunch to anything you mix them with.  The only trouble is they don’t last very long – even when stored in the fridge in an air-tight plastic bag.  When I buy them, I cook them within 48 hours max; otherwise, they wilt and then get watery.

Most of my cooking is copied from other people’s recipes, but on the odd occasion, I like to improvise and create my own like this vegetarian recipe below.  My main purpose was to come up with an attractive dish rich in colors, not necessarily one that would be a shaker and mover in the gourmet world.  To make up for the 100% vegetarian content and to “wake up” this recipe a little, I looked for a recipe for tangy peanut sauce to drizzle on. Even without the peanut sauce, however, this dish can stand on its own – the colors are enough to tease the palate.  The peanut sauce is a bonus, and it does enhance the taste of the veggies.   

You’ll need:  1 cup each of bean sprouts (thoroughly washed), green beans (diagonally slivered), purple cabbage (sliced into long strips), sweet roasted red peppers (I used the ones from a can) and carrots (cut into julienne strips).  You’ll also need 2-4 tablespoons each of canola oil (you can use any oil you want – peanut oil would be great if you have it), fresh garlic (minced) and onions (diced):

brussel sprouts 1

To make the dish:

  1. Sauté onions and garlic in oil on high for one to two minutes.  The first vegetable you add is the one that takes the longest to cook, in this case the green beans (it should take about 7-10 minutes before they become tender).  bean sprouts2
  2. Next add your carrots.  Continue to sauté for 3-5 minutes on medium heat.

bean sprouts 3 

3.  You can now add the red peppers.  After 1-2 minutes, add your purple cabbage strips.  Continue to sauté, but reduce heat to low.  This is a good time to add your bean sprouts.  Do not overcook.  If you do, your dish will be too wet.  Turn off heat.

bean sprouts 4

4.  Serve with peanut sauce.  Recipe for peanut sauce follows (taken from the Cooks com  web site at,1655,133180-251192,00.html.  Recipe was from a Laura W.) 

PEANUT SAUCE (to this recipe I added about 1/3 cup of coconut milk and a few drops of red hot chili sauce).

2 tablespoons smooth peanut butter
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1-2 cloves garlic, minced or chopped
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon brown sugar
juice from half a lemon (can be less, depending on your tastes)

In a non-stick pan, combine all ingredients, stirring constantly over medium heat until peanut butter has melted. You can do this in the microwave too, for about 30-40 seconds.

(Note:  be careful when you cook the sauce.  Don’t let it become too thick because you can use any leftover the next day.  It tends to thicken with time).


Mango Drink and Chocolate Cake: Why this Combo Craving? June 24, 2009


combo choc cake

Heart of hearts, why do I get these funny cravings?  It’s a strange combo, but on the 21st of June – the official start of summer – I felt like celebrating.  Last month the weather experts warned it wouldn’t warm up until July this year,  totally depleting my  enthusiasm after a trying winter.  That’s what Montreal winters are all about, they test your mettle.  Some years they linger for six months!

A wettish June didn’t stop me from thinking about summer treats like mangoes and cake – any cake!  I had plenty of fresh mangoes as the Asian stores here begin to pile them up as early as April-May.  I wanted to try mangoes in a different “medium.”

One of my favorite supermarkets – Mourelatos – had mango pulp in cans on display the other day and I grabbed a couple of them, in case their stock would disappear quickly.

What I had in mind was mango pudding, but in between searches, found this Mango Lassi recipe by Aayi.  It’s a simple, straightforward recipe which fetched several rave comments.  I forgot the mango pudding momentarily.

The secret of Mango Lassi is in the chilling.  After I mixed the ingredients in the blender, I poured them into coffee mugs like the one you see above and put them in the fridge.  After six hours, they’re good to go. 

If you like mangoes, you’ll enjoy this drink.  Drink it in slow, stretched-out sips by using a straw. You’ll find the recipe here:  Thank you Aayi!  Your fans are right.  This drink is delicious.  I’ve tucked your recipe in my binder – a keeper!  I will make this drink again when my sister and her hubby drop by Montreal on their way to the west coast.  They live in hot, hot, hot Florida so I’m almost sure they’ll welcome this drink.

As for the cake, I got it from the Montreal Gazette’s Food Section which is edited and managed by Lesley Chesterman.  Ms. Chesterman has been the dining critic for the paper since 1999.  She has written three books and is a graduate of Quebec’s Tourism and Hotel Institute.  Her articles and recipes appear in reputable publications.  I checked her web site but didn’t find the recipe for this chocolate-mayonnaise cake, so I’m assuming it was contributed by a reader of the Gazette.

Here’s the recipe – verbatim (get this:  this cake needs only 9 ingredients, most of which are probably already sitting in your cupboard so…go for it!).  Source:  Montreal Gazette.

(serves 12)


  • 2 cups flour (I used 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour and 1 cup cake /pastry flour by Robin Hood)
  • 2/3 cup cocoa (I used the no-name supermarket brand)
  • 1-1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 3 eggs
  • 1-2/3 cups sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup Hellman’s mayonnaise (I didn’t have Hellman’s so I used the no-name supermarket brand)
  • 1-1/3 cups water


  • Preheat oven to 350 F.  Grease and flour two 9-inch round cake pans (note:  I used my new flute pan to give the cake the “swirl” look).
  • Combine flour, cocoa, baking soda and baking powder.  Mix well and set aside.
  • Beat eggs, sugar and vanilla in a large bowl for 3 minutes, using the high speed of an electric mixer.  Mixture should be smooth and creamy.  Reduce speed to low and beat in mayonnaise until blended.
  • Add flour mixture in batches, alternating with water, in 4 equal additions (1/4 of the flour, then 1/4 of the water, etc).
  • Pour the batter into the prepared bake pans (in my case, the flute pan).
  • Bake for 30-35 minutes or until the centre of the cake spring back when lightly touched or until a toothpick inserted into the center is clean when removed.
  • Cool in pans on a wire rack for 10 minutes.  Remove from pans and allow to cool completely before frosting with your favorite frosting.

Note:  I didn’t have any frosting so I took 1 cup of confectioner’s sugar (a.k.a. icing sugar), and put about 1 to 3 tbsp of milk with a few drops of fresh lemon, drizzled it over the cake.  Don’t put the 3 tbsp of milk all at once.  Do it gradually until you reach the desired consistency.

Final note:  my craving doesn’t have to be your craving.  Take Mango Lassi with a rhubarb pie if you like, or eat the chocolate cake with Thailand’s Bubble Tea!




George Greenstein, Do You Give Classes? June 22, 2009

greenstein2 In a bread discussion forum that I joined in early winter when I was struggling not to be such a greenhorn with breads, the book Secrets of a Jewish Baker kept popping up.  Members would praise it to high heavens and some thought it was the bread bible of the 21st century.  The author, George Greenstein, seems to be a favorite of many bakers and bread fanatics.

Lingering in the food section of my local library this afternoon looking for herbs and spices to write about for my other blog on translation, something caught my eye.  At first I saw the word “Jewish”, and then the other word “baker.”  That’s when it clicked.  I bent over and eureka – it was THE book that forum members have been treating with unusual reverence!  Others were proudly announcing that they had put an order on the book and couldn’t wait to start trying the recipes.

Secrets of a Jewish Baker must be in everyone’s kitchen.  At first I thought that Peter Reinhart’s Bread Baker’s Apprentice would suffice.  No.  You ought to add Mr. Greenstein’s book if you like creating bread – yeast or non-yeast.  greenstein The Reinhart and Greenstein combo will help increase your baking confidence.  Keep them within reach! 

What rare gems did I find in Mr. Greenstein’s book, you ask.  Plenty.

The first chapter deals with basic materials.  In chapter 2, he discusses bread making from A to Z.  The subsequent chapters cover all kinds of bread:  from different countries, from corn and potato breads of the Americas, from sourdough to rolls, biscuits and muffins.  He includes a menu program for what he calls a “Morning of Baking.”

What I enjoyed reading were the baker’s secrets that the book is generously sprinkled with.  I gained valuable tips and I don’t want to offend Mr. Greenstein by putting them all here.  Besides I do encourage you to purchase the book.  It’s available on Amazon for about $20.00 (ISBN:  13:978-1-58008-844-2 and ISBN-10:1-58008-844-9).  As I’m scrolling down the Amazon site, I see that Mr. Greenstein has also published Jewish Baker’s Pastry Secrets:  The Art of Baking your Own Babka, Danish, Sticky Buns, Strudels and More (April 2009).  Amazon does not have it yet on stock but will inform customers once the book arrives.

A few tips from Mr. Greenstein:

  • If you leave fresh bread flour to age for 5 to 6 weeks, its flavor and color are enhanced.
  • Before sprinkling seeds on challah, allow egg wash to air dry.  Brush bread with egg wash the second time.  This gives it more shine.
  • When you have empty muffin cups in the muffin tray (because you ran out of batter), put 1-2 tablespoons of water on the empty cups to keep them from burning.
  • “Irish soda bread made with whole wheat flour is nutritious and has a sweet, nutty flavor.”

When it’s time to return this book, I’ll have to order my own copy and maybe treat myself to his pastry book. 

A very minor disappointment with Secrets of a Jewish Baker: there are no color photos of Mr. Greenstein’s masterpieces.  But the absence of color photos does not in any way diminish the quality of the book.  It reeks of wholesome flavor…and expertise you don’t come across everyday!

So Mr. Greenstein, do you give classes?


Little Miss Muffin June 18, 2009

Filed under: Breads — sotsil @ 10:51 am
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muffin 1

“Honestly and truly” was how a friend from long ago used to start her sentences.  I found it amusing.  At least she didn’t end her sentences with “ya know…” I said to myself.

But I’ll give in to the temptation and imitate her speech. 

Honestly and truly, when these muffins came out of the oven, I couldn’t get over their near-perfect shape.  And you couldn’t find fault with the dome either.  Yesterday, the gods must have egged me to bake muffins because they looked like they came out of a professional baker’s oven  – I could have sold some to Gordon Ramsay!  Of course, he’d probably say I need to go back to the kitchen and log in another 2,500 baking hours. 

You can make these banana and date muffins in less than an hour.  I didn’t even use an electric mixer.  All I had was a wooden spoon plus a knife to cut up dates and bananas.  A culinary school out in the west island shared a banana and date squares recipe which I did 10 days ago, devouring it with gusto (and guilt).  The combination of bananas and dates – both mashed to make the squares – was excellent.  I decided I would take that combo and create muffins.

Here’s the recipe for the muffins:


Dry ingredients:

2 cups all purpose flour (preferably unbleached)

2/3 cup brown sugar

2 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

pinch of salt

handful of walnuts (optional)

Wet ingredients:

2 large eggs

1/2 cup Five Alive (or any orange juice)

1/2 cup milk (see note below)

1/3 cup canola oil

1 tbsp pure vanilla

For the banana/date paste:

1 cup dates (or about 25 dates) chopped

2 bananas


1.  Chop each of your dates in two to three pieces and heat them in a small pot with the orange juice.  Reduce heat when mixture begins to boil.  Keep stirring the dates in the orange juice until it forms a paste (about 5-10 minutes – long enough for the dates to be soft and pliable).  Set aside and let cool.

2.  When dates cool, slice your 2 bananas and mix them in with the dates, mashing them. Ensure you blend both well.  Set aside.

3.  In a bowl, combine all your dry ingredients using a spoon.

4.  In another bowl, combine your wet ingredients, making sure the eggs have been beaten and incorporated into the mixture.  Pour into dry ingredients (or pour dry ingredients into wet ingredients,  whichever bowl is bigger).

5.  At this point, pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees F.  In the meantime, add the milk to the mixture.  The recipe calls for half a cup of milk, but I used more so I could come up with a “wetter” batter instead of a dry, stiff one.  The idea is to be able to mix both wet and dry ingredients with a spoon without much effort.  More milk also makes them more moist.

6.  When thoroughly blended, pour batter into large muffin cups (I did not use muffin liners).  The batter is good for half a dozen.

7.  Decorate with a walnut or two (next time I’ll skip the walnuts because the ones I had were salty so it clashed with the taste.  Perhaps pecans are a better alternative).

8.  Five minutes after placing the muffins in the oven, reduce heat to 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes (or until knife inserted in center comes out clean).

Tip:  I’m not sure where I read it – Betty Crocker or King Arthur Flour – but the  dome shape can be achieved by subjecting muffins to high heat (in my case it was 400 degrees) for the first few minutes of baking and then lowering the heat to 350 degrees.  This will depend on your type of oven.

I was…honestly and truly…delighted with the texture and shape of these muffins!

muffin 3


Sambal Oelek: Flavor of the Orient June 14, 2009

Filed under: Meals — sotsil @ 8:30 am
Tags: , , ,

Frozen fish is a regular item on my weekly grocery list.  Sometimes, I’ll switch to shrimp or giant scallops.  I’ve been making scallops in the last few weeks because I wanted to practice how NOT to overcook them.  Just like vegetables, seafood is a must-have item and I don’t mind if they’re frozen.  With the right herbs and spices, they can be transformed into appetizing and delicious meals.  My taste buds are a little uncivilized; they can’t distinguish between fresh and frozen especially when it comes to fish. 

I had a pack of frozen cod and was wondering what to do with it.  I had cooked fish in a variety of ways but wanted to try a different dish this time.  Then I remembered. More than a decade ago, during a visit to my sister, she served  fish with chopped fresh basil.  I love basil, but the sauce gave me a jolt.  My mouth came alive with the subtle sugary taste combined with hot and spice.  

“What sauce is this?  It’s very good.”

“Sambal”, she said.  “It’s a very hot sauce, so you need to add plenty of sugar to minimize the hot and spicy flavor.”

When I returned to Montreal, I checked if our Oriental store had Sambal so I could make the recipe.  I found it and was surprised that there isn’t just one Sambal, but many.  Curious,  I googled Sambal.

I learned that it’s a flavoring (or condiment) that is used in countries like South India, Singapore, Malaysia and Southern Philippines.  Red hot chili peppers are the main ingredient.  I understand from Wikipedia that in Indonesia alone, there are at least a dozen varieties of Sambal. 

I used Sambal Oelek (sometimes spelled Ulek) for this recipe:  sambal

Some tips:

  • Frequent tasting of the sauce is important once you’ve added the Sambal.
  • The oyster sauce needs to be combined with some water; otherwise you’ll end up with a very strong taste.  I used to buy  cheap oyster sauce ($3.00), thinking that oyster sauce is oyster sauce no matter how much it costs.  I’ve changed my mind since.  Now I know that a good quality oyster sauce makes a world of difference in taste.   I bought this one from the LKK company (almost $6.00).  It is made in the US (note:  I wasn’t asked to endorse this product by the company, by the way. I just think it’s one of the better ones in the market).  oyster sauce
  • Choose thick slices of frozen fish.  Thin slices could break during the cooking process.  You can always use fresh if you want.
  • Adjust the spiciness by adding more sugar or water.  I like my sauce to be hot and spicy; my brother-in-law likes them very hot and very spicy.  To him, it isn’t spicy enough if he doesn’t break out into a sweat (I think he spent too much time in Thailand)!


A pack of frozen fish (I like cod because the ones sold in my supermarket are thick slices)

2 tbsp of Sambal Oelek

10 tbsp of sugar (adding less sugar or more sugar is entirely up to you.  See my tip above. You need to keep tasting the sauce to decide how spicy you want it.  If it’s too spicy, add more sugar gradually by tablespoons).

2-3 tbsp of fresh basil (chopped finely)

1/2 of a large green pepper (cubed)

5-7 tbsp of oyster sauce (diluted in water)

Vegetable or Canola oil


  1. Heat the oil in your frying pan and then sauté the green pepper for about a minute.
  2. Add your oyster sauce that you diluted with water (the idea is not to end up with a very thick consistency.  The water removes the sauce’s thickness and also neutralizes the strong taste of oyster sauce).  Reduce heat to medium.
  3. Add your fish slices.  Let the fish and sauce boil gently. 
  4. Put the 2 tbsp of Sambal Oelek at this point.  After 2-3 minutes, turn the fish slices to cook the other side.
  5. This is where you need to start tasting the sauce so you can decide how much sugar you need to add after putting in the 10 tbsp.  I’ll repeat myself:  the degree of spiciness is an entirely personal choice.  If you don’t like the idea of putting too much sugar, you can also add more water to eliminate some of the hot taste.
  6. Right before serving, sprinkle with basil.
  7. Serve with steamed rice and a green salad (or grated celery root in mayonnaise and mustard would make a perfect combination).

After the pieces of fish disappeared from the serving platter, my brother asked, “could we save this sauce?  I’d like to have it again over rice.”

cod in sambal and oyster sauce



Eat Your Heart Out: What a Birthday! June 11, 2009

birthday gifts


It  pays to brag about your kitchen “victories.” 

I’ve been talking ad nauseam to my sister and close friends about how I made this bread or how successful a recipe turned out.  Now they’re convinced it isn’t just a passing fancy.  For once, they’re taking me seriously; last week they decided to celebrate my birthday by giving me gifts to adorn my kitchen.

From my sister Sheila I received a generous gift certificate to City Chef, an online retailer based in British Columbia.  I had fun browsing their product line – a nifty assortment of cookware, bake ware, small  gadgets, major appliances, world cuisine accessories, birthday ideas and their most recent arrivals.

City Chef’s staff are courteous and they processed my order efficiently.  My online shopping experience with them was as smooth as the texture of my chocolate roll.  They said it would take five business days for my package to arrive so that meant the Friday of the following week.  My package arrived on Tuesday morning (three days early).

So you’re asking, what did I order? 

  • hand-held immersion blender by Cuisinart
  • fluted cake pan
  • brioche pans (large size)
  • zester
  • dough/cookie cutters (one side with straight lines and the other side with grooves)

The box was packed well.  The best surprise was that each of the items I ordered was  excellent quality.  The fluted cake pan was heavy and thick, not the kind that feels like it would break or disfigure when dropped.  The Cuisinart immersion blender was solid to the touch – it feels like driving a Porsche compared to other cars.  The cookie cutters will of course replace my cheapo collection from the dollar store.

 williams From my friend Anne, I received a Williams-Sonoma book of Asian recipes.  I told her I was familiar with the fine reputation of Williams-Sonoma.  She never heard of them actually; she was delighted when I told her that anything bought at Williams-Sonoma was sure to please any kitchen diehard.  I bet she Googled them as soon as she got home because Anne is one person who loves to shop – whether it’s for lawn fertilizer, toilet vanity sets, sunglasses (of which she has hundreds) or cooking ware (she’s also a much more refined cook than I am, having learned some of her kitchen skills from her mother).

I’ve prepared a slide of my sister’s gifts, my way of thanking her for the generous gift certificate that allowed me to shop till I dropped!  Here it is.

For those who live in Canada, City Chef won’t break your heart…or your purse!  Give them a try the next time you’re looking for a new pan or a “treat myself” gadget.





Chocolate Roll (with a hint of Tia Maria) June 8, 2009

Filed under: Desserts — sotsil @ 7:30 am
Tags: , ,

Before stumbling upon this recipe from Betty Crocker, I wasn’t fond of rolls.  I’d walk along the pastry aisle of the supermarket and snub them, not really enamoured with the thread of jelly swirling inside.  This recipe called for a few drops of  coffee liqueur. That was the only reason I decided to try it out.  Others would think of coffee liqueur as no big deal; if people add a slurp of wine or brandy into their food, coffee liqueur isn’t that radically different, is it?

Despite being a first timer in roll making, the recipe came together beautifully – no mishaps, no overruns, not even a tear when I rolled it up.  That’s because the instructions were well written; in fact so well-written that there was no need for pictures.  What can go wrong with a Betty Crocker recipe?  The advice of “sticking with the pros” was validated with this kitchen experiment.  When it comes to cakes and rolls, my confidence takes a nose dive. 

When the roll was baked, laid out and tasted, I decided, “this one’s a keeper.”  I was delighted that I took pictures.  I’ll insert them where appropriate…just for fun.  Let me assure you, though, that even without my pictures, you can’t ever go wrong with this one!

The recipe came from the Betty Crocker web site,, but I’ll reproduce it here for you (the comments in red are mine, and so are the pictures :):


3 eggs

1 cup granulated sugar

1/3 cup water

1 teaspoon coffee-flavored liqueur (I used Tia Maria, but you can use any liqueur you have)

3/4 cup Gold Medal® all-purpose flour (we don’t have Gold Medal in Montreal so I used the supermarket brand)

1/4 cup unsweetened baking cocoa

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

Unsweetened baking cocoa (no, this isn’t a typo.  The first unsweetened baking cocoa above is for the cake; this one’s for sprinkling on the kitchen towel)

2 tablespoons coffee-flavored liqueur

Cinnamon Whipped Cream (this is the filling)

1 cup whipping cream

3 tablespoons powdered sugar

1 tablespoon coffee-flavored liqueur

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon


1. Heat oven to 375°F. Line 15x10x1-inch pan with foil; generously grease. In large bowl, beat eggs with electric mixer on high speed about 5 minutes until thick and lemon colored. Gradually beat in granulated sugar. Beat in water and 1 teaspoon liqueur on low speed. Gradually add flour, 1/4 cup cocoa, the baking powder and salt, beating just until batter is smooth. Pour into pan.

2. Bake 12 to 15 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Run knife around edge of pan to loosen cake; turn upside down onto towel sprinkled generously with cocoa.

choco roll1 Carefully remove foil. Trim off stiff edges of cake if necessary. choco_roll2

While hot, carefully roll cake and towel from narrow end. Cool on cooling rack at least 30 minutes.

choco roll3

3. Unroll cake carefully and remove towel. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons liqueur over cake.

4. In chilled small bowl, beat all whipped cream ingredients with electric mixer on high speed until stiff peaks form. Spread over cake; roll up. Sprinkle with cocoa if desired. Refrigerate until serving time. Store in refrigerator.

choco roll4                     choco roll5