edible adventures from the centre of the universe

30 July 2006

Review: Mother's Dumplings

Dumplings are one of those ubiquitous comfort foods: pretty much every culture on earth has some version of dough wrapped around a filling and then steamed, boiled, or fried. On Friday, Dave, Paul, Alex, and I indulged in dumplings of the Northern Chinese variety at Mother's Dumplings, which is located down a flight of stairs at 79 Huron Street. This restaurant is tiny, with only four eat-in tables, and the decor is nonexistent, yet oddly charming: plastic tablecloths, white walls with minimal adornement, and a TV playing a slideshow of random "serene" scenes (landscapes, mostly).

We sat down and waited a short while for the menus - service at Mother's Dumplings is slow and somewhat distracted, but very friendly. Dave and I were ecstatic to find green onion cakes on the menu: a treat that is very common in Edmonton, but not prevalent in Toronto. We ordered four (one each), which would be our undoing by the end of the meal. Along with the green onion cakes, we ordered five kinds of dumplings, which are served by the dozen, an "assorted salad," and a bowl of steamed rice. Green tea was complimentary.

The chive and noodle dumplings were the first to arrive, followed shortly by the pork and dill (both types of dumplings came boiled). We each combined some soy sauce and red chiles in our dipping bowls and dug in. The chive dumplings were fantastic, with a delicate wrapper and strong chive flavour - I think they were my favorite of the evening. Dave and Paul thoroughly enjoyed the pork dumplings as well.

Our steamed dumplings came next. The shrimp, egg, and chive variety contained a succulent piece of shrimp each, with some fluffy scrambled eggs and light chive aroma accompanying. They were absolutely heavenly. The other steamed dumplings - tofu, mushroom, and bok choy - had a strong savoury flavour that was unusual, but delicious.

The assorted salad came along at this point, which included kim chee, some sort of (Korean?) potato salad, marinated cucumber and bean sprouts, and beans in a light dressing. The entire concoction had a few slices of beef on top. I was a big fan of the cucumber/bean sprout salad, which was extremely refreshing and nicely tangy. The potatoes had some spice to them, and were also tasty, while the kim chee was fairly standard. The beans were relatively bland. I think on future visits I will just order the potato and bean sprout salads individually.

The final dumplings to arrive were fried and stuffed with pork and chives. Dave and Paul finished them off in a hurry. In a bit of odd timing, our steamed rice and green onion cakes came after we had finished all of our dumplings. The onion cakes were much bigger than we expected, cut into 8 pieces each. They were very similar to the cakes served at Sam Wok in Edmonton - somewhat dense, with lots of delicious green onion flavour. Dave and I were in heaven - we had not been able to indulge in this treat since moving out East, and Mother's Dumplings makes a damn good green onion cake.

We were only able to finish two of the cakes, and had to pack the other two to go - all four of us were completely stuffed. A huge dinner for four came to a ridiculously cheap $50, including tax and tip. As we left the restaurant, our server (who I presume to also be the owner) asked how we had heard of the place. When I mentioned that I had read a review online, she got this amazed look on her face and said, "On the computer?!" It was an adorable way to end an amazing meal.

8 hay bales out of 10


25 July 2006

A Fishetarian in Burgerville

As any vegetarian can attest, it's hard to curb a burger craving when you don't eat meat. In most cases, restaurants seem to add the "veggie burger" to their menus as a complete afterthought, serving half-assed over-cooked veggie patties that contain visible chunks of peas and carrots in the hopes of appeasing any vegetarians that want to be fed something other than salad. At the other end of the spectrum, you have restaurants that are blown away by the concept of a veggie burger entirely, and are completely clueless as to what should go between the buns - I came across this in Mexico where, upon ordering a veggie burger, I was served a slab of grilled pineapple on a bun. With mustard. It wasn't half bad!

Really good veggie burgers are few and far between. When I'm in the mood for a burger, I want something that simulates meat resonably well in texture and taste, and is juicy and delicious. I despise the aforementioned "pea and carrot" burgers only slightly more than the dry and crumbly granola "grain" patties that are basically a small loaf of bread, tucked into a bun. How much starch do these restaurants think that vegetarians need?

Here's my current top 5 veggie burgers:

5. Harvey's (various locations) - By far the best large-scale chain veggie burger out there.

4. Blue Plate Diner (10145 104 Street, Edmonton) - These guys make a damn tasty homemade veggie patty. They include beets in the veggie mixture, so it looks like you're eating raw ground beef! It falls apart when you eat it, but this is definitely the best non-soy-based veggie burger I've tried.

3. Magoo's (4242 Dundas W, Toronto) - Although Magoo's veggie burger is a little dry, it is huge and near impossible to distinguish from a "real" hamburger. They also have a large selection of fresh toppings to choose from, and the service is always friendly.

2. Lick's (various locations, GTA) - Licks makes a yummy "natureburger." Their patties stay juicy, and have a tasty flavouring that is unusual from most others I've tried. Bonus points for selling their burgers frozen at Dominion grocery stores so I can make them at home.

1. Jumbo Burgers (685 Runnymede Road, Toronto) - Although not a veggie burger per se, I love the "fish sandwich" at Jumbo Burgers. 3 slabs of deep fried (but not too oily) white fish, served on a soft kaiser bun with tartar sauce. I'm drooling just thinking about it. The decor at this place is hilarious, too.

So, yeah. Burgers!

16 July 2006

Pineapple Buns (Bor Lor Bao)

Lately, I have had a mad craving for Hong Kong Pineapple Buns, aka Bor Lor Bao. Instead of heading down to Chinatown to buy some, I decided to try my hand at making this treat from scratch. Bor Lor Bao are basically sweet yeast-leavened buns with a buttery, sugary "cap." They're called "pineapple buns" because of the criss-cross pattern on top, which looks like the surface of a pineapple.

Sometimes these buns have a sweet filling, but I wanted mine to be plain. After a long Internet search, I finally came across a recipe and got to it. I rarely bake and hardly ever make yeast-leavened bread, so this project was a challenge. I think my Bor Lor Bao turned out okay - they certainly weren't Chinese bakery awesome, but they curbed my craving. If you decide to make this recipe and have a reliable sweet yeast bun recipe, please feel free to use it in place of the one below. Just make enough dough for 12 buns, then add the pineapple caps.

Pineapple Buns
31/2 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 tbsp active dry yeast
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 cup milk
2 eggs, slightly beaten

1. In a large mixing bow, combine 1/2 cup flour, sugar, yeast, and salt.
2. In a separate bowl, melt the butter in the microwave. Add oil and milk to the butter and warm to body temperature.
3. Pour butter mixture into the flour mixture, add egges (reserve 1 tbsp for egg wash), and stir well to combine. Beat the mixture for 3 minutes.
4. Add remaining flour, a little at a time, until a soft dough is formed. Turn dough out to a floured surface and knead for 8 minutes, adding small amounts of flour if the dough gets too sticky.
5. Place dough in a large bowl and cover with a clean towel. Let rise until doubled in size, about 1.5 hours. During this time, make the "pineapple topping" (recipe below). After the first rising, punch down dough and let rise again until doubled (about 1.5 hours).
6. Divide dough into 12 equal pieces, and shape into flat buns. Place on lightly greased baking sheets, cover with a slightly damp towel, and let rise until doubled (about 45 minutes).
7. At this point, roll out your refrigerated pineapple topping to a 1/2 cm thickness, manipulating the "dough" as little as possible. If too dry, add a small amount of oil. Use a cookie cutter or a glass to cut out circles (12 total) that are slightly less wide than your buns.
8. Brush the buns with a small amount of water, and place your pineapple rounds on top. Lightly score the toppings with a criss-cross patern, and brush buns with reserved egg.
9. Bake buns at 375 degrees for 10 to 13 minutes on middle rack.

Enjoy these buns plain, or with a little butter. Yum!

Pineapple Topping
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter
1 egg yolk
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 tbsp milk
1 cup flour
2 tsp baking powder

1. Beat butter and sugar until creamy and fluffy.
2. Add egg yolk, soda, and milk. Mix well.
3. Sift flour and baking powder into the butter mixture. Mix by hand until smooth and not sticky, being careful not to form gluten.
4. Chill topping, wrapped in plastic, in refrigerator for 1 hour or more.


09 July 2006

Kitchen Music

I love listening to music while I cook - making everyday meals can become mundane, but adding great tunes turns it into an "experience." This is especially true if the songs played are food-themed. Throwing on "Mambo Italiano " can make you feel like you're channeling Primo and Secondo, assembling an elaborate timpano, even if you're just boiling water for Kraft Dinner.

I just came across this massive list of food songs on Wikipedia. I havn't heard of a lot of these, but it's cool to know that so many artists have turned to food for inspiration.When I want to add an aural component to my time in the kitchen, here are some of my favourites:

  • The aforementioned "Mambo Italiano" (Rosemary Clooney) is a classic. In the same vein falls "Tic Ti, Tic Ta" (Claudio Villa). Both of these songs are on the Big Night soundtrack, which is a great disc to throw on anytime you're making anything remotely Italian.
  • "Eggs and Sausage" (Tom Waits) is a fantastic Sunday brunch song. Hearing Tom Waits serenade "burgers and fries" is worth the price of admission.
  • The "Coffee Song" (Frank Sinatra) is an oddity. This entire song was written around the fact that "they've got an awful lot of coffee in Brazil." The hell?
  • "Chop Suey, Chow Mein" (Louis Prima) is one of my favorites - it's so cute! "Chop suey, chow mein, tofu, and you..." Is that romantic, or what? Listen to this one eating Chinese out of takeout containers with your main squeeze.
  • "Beans and Cornbread" (Louis Jordan) is that song that Dinner and a Movie on TBS used to use as its theme. This song reminds me of New Orleans, and I love listening to it anytime I'm making Cajun or Southern food. See also: "Jambalaya" (Hank Williams) and "Saturday Night Fish Fry" (Loius Jordan, again).
  • Hearing Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong sing "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off" together is a beautiful thing. Do some people really pronounce oysters, "ersters?"
  • "Green Onions" (Booker T and the MGs) has been a favorite of mine since I was small. I first came across this song on the American Graffiti soundtrack LP that my parents had, and I would play it over and over. It's still a great tune for cooking to.
  • I find that the soundtrack to Amelie (Yann Tiersen) is an especially great accompaniment for baking, or fussy French cooking. Don't forget your beret and striped shirt.
This is just a short list of some great music that I like to cook to. Like "beans and cornbread," music and food go hand in hand - adding tunes to any culinary occasion tends to make it a thousand times more satisfying.

02 July 2006

Technical Difficulties

To those who subscribe to this blog - Due to some technical issues, I had to delete my FeedBurner feed and start over. I think this means that subscribers will have to re-subscribe using the link on the sidebar to the right. Sorry for any inconvenience! Hopefully I have fixed everything and the feed will be updated regularly going forward.

EDIT: Looks like re-subscribing may not be necessary after all. Please leave a note in the comments if you have any problems.