Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Forget the pepperoni and cheese. Try pizza, Japanese style.

I've been taking a break from traditional western pizza. The thin, crisp crust loaded with bacon and gooey cheese. I've discovered a healthier version. Japanese style.

Okonomiyaki is a popular dish in Japanese.  Okonomi means your choice. Yaki means fried or grilled.
Okonomiyaki, or the Japanese version of pizza 
I've gained a greater appreciation for Japanese cuisine thanks to our new international student, Aimi. She is 17 years old, and loves to cook and bake. She won a scholarship to study English in Canada for a year. Okonomiyaki is one of Aimi's favourite dishes.

Okonomiyaki batter 
The recipe is easy peasy.  The cabbage in the batter makes it filling and nourishing. If seafood isn't your thing, use shredded pork, chicken or beef. The pancake itself  has a mild taste, like many other Japanese dishes. The punch of flavour comes from the condiments and garnish, such as green onion, spicy mayonnaise or oyster sauce.

(makes one large pancake for 4-6)
1 cup all purpose flour or rice flour
1/2 cup fish stock (see note below for quick fish stock)
1 egg
2 cups shredded cabbage or roughly 1/4 of a head of cabbage
1 cup of seafood (I use frozen assorted shrimp, scallops, mussels, octopus thawed in warm water)

Chopped green onion
Oyster sauce

1. Combine the flour, stock and egg in a medium bowl. 
2. Fold in the cabbage. 
2. Heat a lightly greased frying pan over medium heat.
3. Scoop the batter into the hot pan.
4. Arrange the thawed seafood into the batter.
5. When bubbles appear on the surface, carefully flip the pancake.

Enjoy your okonomiyaki warm, topped with chopped scallions, mayonnaise and oyster sauce.

Note: For a quick stock, add 2 teaspoons of Hondashi (powdered Japanese fish stock) to 1/2 cup of warm water. If you're using meat instead of seafood, substitute the fish stock with vegetable or meat broth.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Help me resuscitate my blog

I nearly pulled the plug on AK's Kitchen. I wasn't doing much blog-worthy cooking (the routine protein + starch = quick family meal). I was about to let my blog fizzle out in cyberspace and join countless others in the big blog graveyard. 

A few readers told me that they miss my posts, the recipes and the people behind the recipes. So AK's Kitchen is back. 

My list of recipes is on the thin side. This is why I need your help. ("Send them now," implore my kids. "We need new flavours!")

One thing that hasn't changed is the constant flow of fascinating and inspiring people who stop by AK's Kitchen.

One of our visitors is here from Taipei. She asked me,"Why is cabbage so important to you Canadians?" 


"Cabbage day. Why do you have cabbage day every week?    

She had misheard us when we were talking about GARBAGE day. She also thought that our curb side bins were filled with cabbage. 

I hope you can help start a new chapter in AK's Kitchen by sharing your recipes and meals with me. 

With your input, I can add more umph to my cooking repertoire. And win brownie points with my bottomless bellies.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Siestas in Spain: Savouring Every Morsel in the Moment

I have a fondness for all things Spanish. Tinto de verano, summer red wine. Gaudi and the Sagrada Família Basilica. Iberian cured ham. Antonio Banderas. Siestas.
Esperanza takes in the view from the 14th century San Martin bridge in Toldeo, Spain. 

Ah, siesta. That precious time after a big family lunch. The sun is at its hottest. The locals  stay indoors to keep cool. Shops close their doors. Everything shuts down for a collective nap. 

I enjoyed plenty of restorative siestas in Toledo, just south of Madrid. Hubby and I were there during the city's biggest religious festival, the Corpus Christi

Corpus Christi Procession in Old Toledo
The canopied procession route at night.
We fell in love with the historic city and the family who opened their home and hearts to us.

Back to front: Armando, Esperanza, Alicia, Espe, Sagrario, Guille, Javier
Grandma Garcia shows her latest art project.
Every afternoon, around 2 P.M. was family time. Time to talk, laugh and eat. We gathered  around the dining table for a BIG leisurely lunch, usually four or five courses of traditional Spanish dishes.
Seafood paella.
Empanada with tuna, olives, tomatoes and peppers.
The hearty lunch was the perfect sleeping pill before siesta. After a two to three hour break, we recharged with iced espresso. We needed the caffeinated fuel to take us through round two of socializing and munching, which usually lasted into the wee hours of the morning. I think the last time I stayed up that late was in my university years.
Grilled octopus with fried potatoes.

This churros stand is bustling from early morning to early morning.
My new amigo, Pepe at a wine cooperative, Viñedos Camarena   

Back home, the kids and I seem to rush through everything. During meal time, we get ahead of ourselves. Planning. Worrying. Losing sight of today.  

My Spanish friend, Armando taught me a new expression. It reminds that there is plenty of time to worry. And thoughts of the future are for tomorrow.

"Hoy no. Mañana." Translation: Not today. Tomorrow.  A little Spanish wisdom to savour every morsel in the moment. 

Muchas gracias amigos de Toledo. Espero verte pronto en la cocina de AK.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Brazilian Pasta?

Days before the World Cup kick off in Brazil, a trio of Brazilian students took over AK's Kitchen, kicking off a new tradition right here. Pasta Sunday!

Bella, Bruno, Vittoria all in red.

Pasta is not the first thing I think of when I hear Brazil. But the South American country is home to millions of Brazilians of Italian ancestry, including the two young ladies in red. 

Bella, Vittoria and their fellow Brazilian Bruno are winding down a semester in Ottawa learning English, soaking in all things Canadian. I introduced you to Bella a few weeks back in this post. The youngest of the teen trio is Vittoria. She's travelled the world. She speaks, reads and writes Portugese, English, Spanish, Italian. She's all of 14 years old. Back home in Curitiba, one of the host cities to the World Cup, she and her mom make pasta every Sunday. Here's her family's recipe and pasta-making technique.

Vittoria's Pasta 
For 1 person: 1 egg + 50 grams durum semolina + 50 grams flour.
Fifty grams is the equivalent of one third cup. 
For 6 people: 6 eggs + 2 cups durum semolina + 2 cups flour

Preparing the dough
In a large bowl, combine the flours.
On a smooth, clean surface, pour the flours in a mound.
Dig a well in the centre. It will resemble a big donut.  
Add the eggs into the well.
With your fingers, stir the flour into the eggs. 
In a few minutes, the mixture will form a blob.
Knead for a few minutes until the dough is smooth. 
It was a humid day and the dough was sticky, so Vittoria sprinkled more flour to loosen the dough.
Divide the dough into portions, somewhere between the size of a soccer ball and a softball.
Let the dough sit for about half an hour.

Using the Pasta Maker
Flatten the dough with your hand and pass it through the pasta machine on its widest setting. 
Fold the dough in half or in thirds and pass it through again. 
Vittoria fed each batch into the rollers of the machine four times to achieve the right thinness and smoothness. Each pass through made the dough longer, thinner and smoother.
For the final pass through, she cut the dough into noodles.   
Separate each piece of pasta and let dry for a few minutes. 

Separating and drying the cut pasta to prevent sticking. 
No pasta machine, no worries
If you don't have a pasta machine, flatten the dough with a rolling pin that's been well-dusted with flour. Let the dough dry out for a few minutes, to make it easier to cut.
Slice into thin strips with a sharp knife. Don't worry if the strips aren't perfect. Vittoria and her mom do this often, making what's called "Maltagliati," or bad cut. (Everything sounds so much better in Italian.)

Cooking the pasta
Boil a pot of water in a large saucepan.
Place the dry pasta, making sure there is plenty of water and space in the pot, or else the pasta will stick together.
The fresh pasta will be cooked in two minutes.  
Drain and toss with a generous splash of olive oil and a simple tomato sauce.
We had our pasta with tomatoes, fresh basil and smoked mozzarella. 
Buon appetito. Bom apetite.


Monday, June 2, 2014

Refreshing Spanish Soup: Andalucian Gazpacho

Friends of ours recently packed up their lives in the northern corner of Spain for greener employment pastures in Ottawa. She is doing post doctoral work in stem cell research. He is looking to apply his masters degree in human resources.  
It was with mixed emotions they left their friends, families and their centuries-old apartment in Santiago de Compostela, along the famous Camino de Santiago route. I assured them Ottawa too has its own UNESCO world heritage site, the Rideau Canal. 
Still,  they miss the vibrant colours and smells of their hometown. The fresh seafood, flowers, chestnuts and wine.  

Spanish tortilla and gazpacho

They arrived during a snow storm, in below 30 degree cold. For all the reading they had done about Canada's capital, nothing could prepare them for our winter. Their fashionable leather shoes and tailored jackets were no match for our deep freeze.   
We gave them the newscomer's initiation: how to dress in layers; where to buy groceries; how to take public transit; where to buy local beer and beef.
Grateful for our tips, they gave us a very special thank you by cooking a traditional Spanish meal.

Call it a Spanadian meal. They had to substitute a few traditional Spanish ingredients, like fresh fish and seafood, with local Canadian beef and chicken.  Also on the menu, tortilla a traditional omelette with potatoes and red peppers. Between courses, we sipped a refreshing tomato soup, a staple in the Andalucia region of southern Spain.

Gazpacho is quick and easy to make. This cold soup is also very forgiving. You can easily adjust the taste and texture by adding water, olive oil or more vegetable. It's a refreshing savoury soup on a hot day

Our friends may not have had all the ingredients they're used to, but they made every dish with loadsof love and appreciation. Those are my favourite meals.

 7 tomatoes + 1 red pepper + 1 green pepper + 2 cucumbers + 1 large clove garlic + 1/2 cup olive oil  + 1 Tablespoon balsam vinegar + salt & pepper to taste
Peel and quarter the tomatoes. (Tip: Place the tomatoes in a pot of boiling water for about 2 minutes to loosen the skin.)
Chop remaining vegetables and place all in a large bowl. Using a hand blender, combine until smooth. Slowly add olive oil and balsamic while blending. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Serve chilled. Enjoy!
Note: My friend cooks like I do, by eye-balling and tasting. Not a lot of measuring goes on in our kitchens. These are her best estimation of quantities for four servings. 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Winter Blues & Brazilian Bonbons

This winter's exit has been as slow as molasses. It has me feeling worn down, fed up and itching for spring. Flowers and sunshine, I'm waiting.

These little treats remind me of sunflowers. They're actually brigadeiros, Brazilian chocolate truffles. They're made with these two key ingredients:

Sweetened condensed milk and powdered chocolate. Brigadeiros are a staple at children's parties, and you can buy them at any bakery or corner store. Brigadeiros are like the Timbits of Brazil. They taste like a gooey combination of caramel and chocolate.

This is what I'm told by the newest addition to our family, Isabella, a 17-year-old exchange student who is staying with us for one semester while she practises her English. She was craving her favourite sweet and whipped up a batch with the kids.

1 can sweetened condensed milk
2-3 Tablespoons powdered cocoa (I prefer unsweetened cocoa)
1 teaspoon butter
1 cup sprinkles for decoration

In a medium saucepan, heat condensed milk and butter over low heat for 10 minutes, or until the mixture bubbles gently. Add cocoa and stir until fully dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool completely. (We refrigerated our batch for 30 minutes.)
When the mixture is cold, form into balls. 
Tip: Rub the palm of your hands with butter so the chocolate doesn't stick.
Coat the chocolate balls with sprinkles and place in mini muffin cups.
Yields about three dozen small brigadeiros.  

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Chinese Tomato Egg Soup

I had to see it to believe it. Out of my nearly-empty refrigerator, my friend pulled out two eggs and two tomatoes.  Presto! Soup for six.

Tomato Egg Soup with Cilantro

Within the time it took to boil a pot of water, my friend Yingjie diced the tomatoes, beat the eggs, and concocted the traditional Chinese soup. She added salt and pepper, a few drops of sesame oil. She topped it off with chopped cilantro.

Yingjie is a visiting scientist, working in Ottawa to research  indoor air pollutants. She was my houseguest for a few weeks as she got settled in this foreign land.

Everyday, she shared with me observations of Canadian people and customs.  "Why are so many people here so fat? I've never seen such fat people. In China, I am fat."  All 115 pounds of her.
"Why do you put ice in your drinks? The body is 37 degrees. The body likes same temperature. In China, we warm our Coca Cola." 
Odd habits asides, Yingjie is in awe at all of our freedoms and luxuries. "I can't believe you can buy anything you like, so much food from anywhere in the world." 
She often told me how blessed I am to be able to cook for three children and all their friends. "You are very lucky here. You can have many children. I have only one girl. If I get pregnant, I will lose my government job." 

She said that China's one-child policy is difficult for many of her female colleagues. "One of my friends, she had to kill her babies. Four times." She told about another friend who had to abandon her newborn. Her stories broke my heart.
She recounted these stories as she made her tomato egg soup.
In the background, my own children were squabbling, as siblings do. And Yingjie listened with a smile. She reminded me, "You are so lucky."