I’m back, with banana bread…

I just finished my one and only exam today!  Unfortunately, I still have some papers to finish, but I’m not going to worry about that just yet.  I went back into the kitchen and cooked and baked up a storm.  I made some banana bread as a treat for myself for finishing off the semester, and also to keep a couple of friends sane over the next few days while they study for their next exam.

I’ve been making banana bread for several years, and it’s my mom’s recipe.  She has been making it for as long as I can remember, and it’s one of my favourite things to bake.  Just make sure your bananas are actually ready to be used for baking; I once got very impatient and used bananas that were not quite ripe yet, and the bread did not taste good.  Your bananas should be quite brown and soft, almost on the verge of rotting.   This will ensure your bread is moist and sweet.

Banana Bread 

  • 1 3/4 cup flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup shortening (I use Crisco vegetable shortening)
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup mashed bananas (3-4 medium-sized bananas)
  • 1/2 cup walnuts (optional, but I add them when I have them around.  I think it’s tastier with them.)

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl and set aside.

In a separate bowl, place shortening and sugar together, and work with a spoon until soft.  Add 2 eggs and beat.  Add flour mixture and mix.  Add bananas and walnuts, if using.

Bake in a loaf pan for about 45 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

I would recommend greasing the pan.  It’s not necessary, but it just makes clean up easier.

Hope everyone is surviving exams!  Good luck for those who are still writing exams or papers!



Dreaming of Christmas…eating, partying, fun

I am still going through end-of-semester madness, but with the thought of the holidays coming up, I have something to look forward to.  I was browsing through some old photos, and dug these two up from last year’s family Christmas party.

Christmas baking!  I can’t wait for the holiday partying to start (and it starts this weekend, I’ve got a staff brunch coming up!)

I do apologize for the photos; they are clearly not my best shots.  I guess I’m improving.  🙂

Happy Studying!


Blog Break

With end-of-semester madness approaching, I will be taking a break from blogging.  I have a lot of photos and recipes that I would like to post up, but I am unable to do so at the moment.  I will be back in early December, as my semester finishes December 9th.

Happy Studying!


Vietnamese Pho: More Asian Comfort Food

I have to tell you, I’m really excited to share my story about pho.  I have LOVED pho for YEARS.  I first had pho over ten years ago at a local restaurant back home, and I’ve been going to the restaurant ever since.  The server that used to work there always knew that I ordered the same dish (sate beef pho) and it was always nice to go in, have some good food, and chat with her.  Every time I go home, I have to make it out to the restaurant to get my fill of pho.  Whenever I’m in Toronto, I like to go to Anh Dao (you can read about it here.)

So what is pho?  Well, it’s one of my Asian comfort foods.  It’s generally an inexpensive dish to order, is filling, and is very tasty (if done properly.)  It’s a rice noodle dish that is served in broth; it can be beef or chicken.  Pho is usually served with bean sprouts, lime, chili peppers, cilantro, and Thai basil.  Hot sauce, such as sriracha, and hoisin sauce are common accompaniments as well.

I have always wanted to learn how to make pho, but I never knew what recipe to use-there are so many on the web.  A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine, Thanh,  gave me his recipe to try-for which I am very thankful!

I was actually quite pleased with the result.  The trickiest things about making pho are tinkering with the spices and making sure you have patience.  Pho needs to simmer for at least 8 hours.  It’s definitely worth the wait.

Beef Pho-Ingredients

  • 2 lb beef soup bones (joints preferred; I doubled this and used 4 lbs)
  • 2 lb beef short ribs
  • 1 medium (1/4 lb) ginger root, sliced into 1 cm thick slices
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 1/2 lb Chinese daikon radish, peeled and sliced
  • 1 cube pho soup base*
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 6 whole star anise pods
  • 1 tbsp whole anise seeds
  • 1 cinnamon stick, pinky finger sized
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 1 black cardamom, split
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • rice noodles
  • thinly sliced raw beef sirloin
  • thinly sliced green onion
  • thinly sliced onion
  • chopped fresh cilantro
  • ground black pepper
  • hoisin sauce
  • sriracha hot chili sauce
  • bean sprouts
  • fresh Thai basil leaves
  • lime juice

*You can find these at Asian grocery stores in Chinatown.  I couldn’t find cubes of pho soup base (which do contain MSG,) but I found these pho spice bags, and used that instead.  Turned out just fine for me (plus there was no MSG in it.)

First, soak the soup bones and short ribs in warm water for 1 hour to leech the blood out.  Discard all the water.  Prepare 2 large pots of boiling water (about 5 L each.)  Add the soup bones and short ribs to the first pot and boil on high heat for 5 minutes.  Transfer the soup bones and short ribs to the 2nd pot and add enough boiling water to cover the meat.  Boil gently on medium heat for 30 minutes while skimming the froth from the soup every 10 minutes.  Reduce to medium heat.  I used a HUGE pot for this.  I had 4 lbs of soup bones plus 2 lbs of short ribs, so you can imagine that I needed a lot of water too.

Next, wash and peel the ginger.  I just eyed it: I used 2 big chunks of ginger that I had in the fridge.  When you slice it, slice it thick and slice it so you get a large surface area-this will enable release of more flavour.    I sliced my onions into slices.  Grill the ginger and onion slices directly on a stove element on high heat.  You want them slightly charred.  Put the ginger, onions, and daikon radish in the broth.  Season the broth with your pho soup base or pho spice bag.

Using tightly woven cheesecloth, wrap and tie up the star anise, anise seeds, cinnamon stick, cloves, and black cardamom to form a teabag.  Drop this into the broth.

Simmer the broth with the lid on for 6 hours.  You’ll want to skim off the fat every couple of hours.  After the fourth hour, you can discard your spice bag (I just left mine in for the full 6.)

After simmering for 6 hours, remove the short ribs and set aside to cool.  You can discard the bones at this point (I was lazy and left them in there.)  You can also discard the ginger, onion, and daikon radish with a strainer at this point.  Again, I was lazy and left it in there-plus I like daikon so I was intent on eating it.  You’ll want to add the fish sauce here and taste.  When I tasted the broth, it tasted bland at this point.  Just add some salt-this can really help bring out the flavour of the spices.  If you find that your broth is too salty, add some water.

Continue simmering the broth for another hour (I told patience is needed!)  In the meantime, take the meat from the short ribs and slice them thinly across the grain.  Again, I was lazy and just left it as is and just used chopsticks to separate the meat from the bones.  You’ll also want to prepare the beef sirloin at this point.  You need to slice this paper-thin so that it cooks on contact with the hot broth.  This is actually not that hard to do.  Freeze the beef for a couple of hours and then slice when it’s partially frozen (so think about when you’re serving this meal so you can time it all properly.)  You can prepare the rest of the ingredients for toppings.  Soak the rice noodles for 20 minutes, and then bring a pot of water to a gentle boil.  Boil the noodles briefly until cooked and then put them into individual bowls for serving.  Layer on the cooked beef and then the raw beef.  Ladle boiling broth over everything.  Top with whatever you prefer.

Note: After having some taste-tasters try my pho, I have concluded that doubling the spices wouldn’t hurt (and Thanh told me he does the same thing.)  I prefer my broth to have a stronger flavour, so next time I’ll double the spices.

This recipe makes A LOT of broth-I think enough for a good 6-8 servings, if not more (depending how big you make a serving.)

It’s fairly straightforward to make, but again, don’t be afraid to adjust the spices to your taste.  Thanh also told me it’s important to add the fish sauce near the end, so you can adjust the amount to your taste.

Enjoy!  Thanks again Thanh!  This will now be a staple in my cooking repertoire!


Lunch at Le Cordon Bleu Bistro at Signatures

I had a fabulous lunch date with my friend Sylvia today.  I really needed a break from all the school madness, so I was looking forward to lunch.  We went to the Cordon Bleu Bistro and I was not disappointed.  I had a good time catching up with Sylvia over good food.

We both started with a salad: duck and green pepper rillette, frisee salad.

I had a French veal ragout with pearl onions, mushrooms, and rice pilaf as my main course.

Sylvia had a red snapper filet with a basil vegetable minestrone.

For dessert we had a creme caramel with an orange lace crisp.

I was really impressed with the dessert-I generally don’t like creme caramel, but this one was really tasty.  It wasn’t too sweet and there was just a hint of orange in the sauce and sugar crisp.

I really like this restaurant and look forward to another meal there.


Asian comfort food and a student’s way of survival

Time to blog about something I love to eat-instant noodles.  I know it’s not healthy and that it’s junk food, but I can’t help it.  It’s comfort food to me, not to mention a quick and easy meal when I don’t have time to cook.  I’m a student, cut me some slack.

The thing I love about instant noodles is the sheer variety that’s available.  Japanese, Chinese, Korean noodles; spicy, not spicy; beef, shrimp, chicken.  It’s all very yummy.  Just don’t look at the nutritional content.

When I make instant noodles, I try to make it a better meal by adding extras to it.  Generally, I’ll throw in some veggies and an egg.  Sometimes, I’ll throw in a hot dog if I have it on hand (this is a very Hong Kong cafe-style way of eating instant noodles.)  Of course, you can add in whatever you like, but I favour lots of veggies and an egg.  But you have to be careful if you’re going to use an egg-it can end up breaking in the pot and then you just have egg pieces floating around, and that is not as tasty.  I’m telling you, cooking instant noodles is an art form.

I start by putting the flavour and oil packets in the water.  Bring the water to a boil.  Toss the noodles in.  Let the noodles soften for a bit, but don’t pull them apart.  Let it stay in a square form.  Carefully crack an egg on top of the noodles.  This way the egg will cook on top of the noodles.  Sometimes it’ll slip off the noodles, but if you haven’t broken the yolk, the egg should cook properly in one piece (which is what I aim for.)  I let the egg cook for a few minutes and then toss in my veggies.  You can cook the noodles as long as you like; this just depends on how soft you like them.  Also think about how well done you like the egg.  I always add a bit of hot sauce to my noodles too!

One of my favourite brands and flavour of instant noodles: beef!

Cooking away.

My meal.



Hot Pot at Jen’s

I’ve mentioned hot pot before-it’s something I highly enjoy and I have some photos from the last hot pot party that Jen hosted.  She really knows how to throw a hot pot party!  (Jen, are you reading this?  Come back here and throw another one!)  It was a small group of people, but she went all out: shrimp, different meats (including my favourite: beef!), assorted veggies, mushrooms, tofu, meatballs, fish balls: it was a feast!  I also loved all the little sauce bar she had set up: onions, garlic, peanut sauce, hot sauce, soy sauce-all laid out nicely so we could make our own custom dipping sauce.


Dipping-sauce ingredients.

Assorted veggies.

Meatballs and crabsticks.



What a fun and delicious night of eating!


Thinking of summer BBQs…

It’s dreary outside today and I’m dreaming of sunnier days.  That led me to think about what I did in summer, and that led to summer BBQs.  I have a whole whack of photos from a particular crazy weekend of eating.  Why was it a crazy weekend?  Well, my friends and I held another BBQ/hotpot/sleepover, which meant a straight 18 hours or so of eating.  The next day I had brunch at a friend’s and it was my birthday potluck.  Needless to say, all I did was eat (and snap a few photos between bites.)

On the menu for the BBQ: strawberry citrus salad, veggie skewers, burgers, hummus and chips, sangria, and wings (I probably missed an item or two.)

Simple Veggie Skewers

  • peppers, sliced
  • zucchini, sliced
  • mushrooms, halved
  • Montreal steak spice

Take whatever veggies you fancy and toss them with some steak spice.  Thread them onto some skewers and toss on the grill until cooked through.  Easy and delicious!

Veggie skewers.



Strawberry citrus salad.



Lunch with Gretchen (again)

I have had so many meals with Gretchen that I am very backlogged with posting, so here goes one out of about eight.

Gretchen’s parents redid their kitchen this summer, and it was GORGEOUS.  It looks like a show kitchen-I’ll have to take some pictures next time I’m there.  One day, CK and I went to visit and we had lunch.  On the menu: meatball subs and vichyssoise, a French potato and leek soup.  Gretchen was kind enough to share her recipe for the soup.

Vichyssoise (VI-shee-swaz)-makes about 5 cups

This is a French soup that is traditionally served chilled, but we had it warm.  I loved it, and I’m sure it would taste good chilled too.

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 1/2 cups sliced leek (white part only)
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1/4 tsp dried thyme
  • 3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 3 cups chopped and peeled potato (about 3 medium-sized potatoes)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • salt and cayenne pepper to taste
  • dash of nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup half and half cream
  • chopped fresh chives for garnish

To prepare the leeks, trim off the root end and the tough green leaves.  Cut it in half lengthwise.  Hold under a stream of cold running water and separate the lawyers with your fingers to rinse out any grit trapped inside.

Melt butter and olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat.  Add potato and onion.  Crush or roll dried thyme between your fingers to release the herb’s flavours, and add to the pan.  Cook for 5-10 minutes, stirring often, until leek and onion are softened.  Add the next 6 ingredients and stir.  Bring to a boil and reduce heat to medium.  Boil gently, uncovered, for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until potato is tender.  Discard bay leaf.  Let soup cool and process with hand blender or use standard blender.

Add cream.  Stir well.  If you choose to serve it cold, transfer soup to a large bowl, and cool at room temperature before covering, and chill for at least 2 hours.  Garnish with chives before serving.

Other notes: Gretchen has omitted the onions in the past and used 2 cups of leeks instead.  Shallots would also work.


Shot of soup and marinara sauce on the stovetop.

Meatball sub.



Thanks for another delicious meal Gretchen!  I can’t wait for the next one!


Ramen Lunch

I had lunch with my friend Jen the other day.  She took me to a place called Kenzo Ramen.  Ramen is a noodle dish that is served in a broth and can be topped with various things, such as seaweed, pork or beef, and eggs.  Kenzo Ramen makes their own noodles, and it was quite tasty!  I had a bowl of ramen with pork and Jen got yakisoba, stir-fried noodles, which was served on a hot iron plate.  I enjoyed the ramen, but the best ramen I’ve had comes from a little restaurant in Vancouver off Robson Street.  Kenzo was still pretty good though, and wasn’t too expensive, so it made for a great lunch.

Pork ramen.