Sunday, August 31, 2008

Daring Bakers: Cream Puffs!

I'm not quite sure what I was thinking with this month's Daring Baker's challenge. I think that I was high and believed myself to be Miss Creative :P ... because I decided to try my hand at fiddling with the recipe A LOT (see my modifications in red)! Instead of the traditional chocolate pastry cream, as called for in the original recipe, I opted for an adzuki bean pastry cream. This was actually a tasty swap! I loved the richness of the adzuki flavor and the use of beans added a unique texture to the cream which was a delightful surprise. And I followed the DB guideline for this Blog Event by using chocolate in at least one of my components... white chocolate that is! Smarty-pants me :P I used white chocolate and matcha to flavor the ganache. With the Matcha-chocolate glaze being just as tasty as the Adzuki Pastry cream I thought that this was going to be one easy challenge... as long as I didn't screw up the Choux Dough. Surprisingly, I didn't burn/char the dough and they rose and filled beautifully with my cream. So, you may be asking what's the big problem?! and Why don't my cream puffs look enticing?! Well, I just don't have an answer for you! I really think I did my best and still, my best didn't turn up a beautiful looking cream puff... sorry guys. Instead of a lucious, drool-producing opening photo, I have only the sad Pinocchio-nose like dinky looking ug-puff to show you :(... oh well, at least they tasty good.

Look at the beautiful pastry cream piped into the shells.

Look at the lovely pastry shells

Pierre Hermé’s Chocolate Éclairs
(Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé)
Yields: 20-24 Éclairs)

• Cream Puff Dough (see below for recipe), fresh and still warm
1) Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Divide the oven into thirds bypositioning the racks in the upper and lower half of the oven. Line two baking sheets withwaxed or parchment paper.
2) Fill a large pastry bag fitted with a 2/3 (2cm) plain tip nozzle with the warm cream puff dough.Pipe the dough onto the baking sheets in long, 4 to 41/2 inches (about 11 cm) chubby fingers.Leave about 2 inches (5 cm) space in between each dough strip to allow them room to puff.The dough should give you enough to pipe 20-24 éclairs.
3) Slide both the baking sheets into the oven and bake for 7 minutes. After the 7 minutes, slip thehandle of a wooden spoon into the door to keep in ajar. When the éclairs have been in theoven for a total of 12 minutes, rotate the sheets top to bottom and front to back. Continuebaking for a further 8 minutes or until the éclairs are puffed, golden and firm. The total bakingtime should be approximately 20 minutes.Notes:1) The éclairs can be kept in a cool, dry place for several hours before filling.

Assembling the éclairs:
• Chocolate glaze (see below for recipe)
• Chocolate pastry cream (see below for recipe)
1) Slice the éclairs horizontally, using a serrated knife and a gently sawing motion. Set aside thebottoms and place the tops on a rack over a piece of parchment paper.
2) The glaze should be barely warm to the touch (between 95 – 104 degrees F or 35 – 40degrees C, as measured on an instant read thermometer). Spread the glaze over the tops ofthe éclairs using a metal icing spatula. Allow the tops to set and in the meantime fill thebottoms with the pastry cream.
3) Pipe or spoon the pastry cream into the bottoms of the éclairs. Make sure you fill the bottomswith enough cream to mound above the pastry. Place the glazed tops onto the pastry creamand wriggle gently to settle them.

1) If you have chilled your chocolate glaze, reheat by placing it in a bowl over simmering water,stirring it gently with a wooden spoon. Do not stir too vigorously as you do not want to createbubbles.
2) The éclairs should be served as soon as they have been filled.

Pierre Hermé’s Cream Puff Dough
(Yield: 20-24 Éclairs)
• ½ cup (125g) whole milk
• ½ cup (125g) water
• 1 stick (4 ounces; 115g) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
• ¼ teaspoon sugar
• ¼ teaspoon salt
• 1 cup (140g) all-purpose flour
• 5 large eggs, at room temperature

1) In a heavy bottomed medium saucepan, bring the milk, water, butter, sugar and salt to theboil.
2) Once the mixture is at a rolling boil, add all of the flour at once, reduce the heat to mediumand start to stir the mixture vigorously with a wooden spoon. The dough comes together veryquickly. Do not worry if a slight crust forms at the bottom of the pan, it’s supposed to. Youneed to carry on stirring for a further 2-3 minutes to dry the dough. After this time the doughwill be very soft and smooth.
3) Transfer the dough into a bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or using yourhandmixer or if you still have the energy, continue by hand. Add the eggs one at a time,beating after each egg has been added to incorporate it into the dough.You will notice that after you have added the first egg, the dough will separate, once again donot worry. As you keep working the dough, it will come back all together again by the time youhave added the third egg. In the end the dough should be thick and shiny and when lifted itshould fall back into the bowl in a ribbon.
4) The dough should be still warm. It is now ready to be used for the éclairs as directed above.

1) Once the dough is made you need to shape it immediately.
2) You can pipe the dough and the freeze it. Simply pipe the dough onto parchment-lined bakingsheets and slide the sheets into the freezer. Once the dough is completely frozen, transfer thepiped shapes into freezer bags. They can be kept in the freezer for up to a month.

Chocolate Pastry Cream
• 2 cups (500g) whole milk
• 4 large egg yolks
• 6 tbsp (75g) sugar
• 3 tablespoons cornstarch, sifted
• 7 oz (200g) bittersweet chocolate (substitute same weight in sweetened adzuki bean paste), preferably Velrhona Guanaja, melted
• 2½ tbsp (1¼ oz: 40g) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1) In a small saucepan, bring the milk to a boil. In the meantime, combine the yolks, sugar and cornstarch together and whisk in a heavy‐bottomed saucepan.
2) Once the milk has reached a boil, temper the yolks by whisking a couple spoonfuls of the hot milk into the yolk mixture.Continue whisking and slowly pour the rest of the milk into the tempered yolk mixture.
3) Strain the mixture back into the saucepan to remove any egg that may have scrambled. Place the pan over medium heat and whisk vigorously (without stop) until the mixture returns to a boil. Keep whisking vigorously for 1 to 2 more minutes (still over medium heat).Stir in the melted chocolate and then remove the pan from the heat.
4) Scrape the pastry cream into a small bowl and set it in an ice‐water bath to stop the cooking process. Make sure to continue stirring the mixture at this point so that it remains smooth.
5) Once the cream has reached a temperature of 140 F remove from the ice‐water bath and stir in the butter in three or four installments. Return the cream to the ice‐water bath to continue cooling, stirring occasionally, until it has completely cooled. The cream is now ready to use or store in the fridge.

1) The pastry cream can be made 2‐3 days in advance and stored in the refrigerator.
2) In order to avoid a skin forming on the pastry cream, cover with plastic wrap pressed onto the cream.
3) Tempering the eggs raises the temperature of the eggs slowly so that they do not scramble.

Chocolate Glaze
(makes 1 cup or 300g)
• 1/3 cup (80g) heavy cream
• 3½ oz (100g) bittersweet chocolate (substitute white chocolate), finely chopped
• 4 tsp (20 g) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces, at room temperature
• 7 tbsp (110 g) Chocolate Sauce (recipe below), warm or at room temperature

1)In a small saucepan, bring the heavy cream to a boil. Remove from the heat and slowly begin to add the chocolate, stirring with a wooden spoon or spatula.
2) Stirring gently, stir in the butter, piece by piece followed by the chocolate sauce.

1) If the chocolate glaze is too cool (i.e. not liquid enough) you may heat it briefly
 in the microwave or over a double boiler. A double boiler is basically a bowl sitting over (not touching) simmering water.
2) It is best to glaze the eclairs after the glaze is made, but if you are pressed for time, you can make the glaze a couple days ahead of time, store it in the fridge and bring it up to the proper temperature (95 to 104 F) when ready to glaze.

Chocolate Sauce
(Yield: 1½ cups or 525 g)
• 4½ oz (130 g) bittersweet chocolate (substitute white chocolate), finely chopped
• 1 cup (250 g) water
• ½ cup (125 g) crème fraîche, or heavy cream
• 1/3 cup (70 g) sugar

1) Place all the ingredients into a heavy‐bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil, making sure to stir constantly. Then reduce the heat to low and continue stirring with a wooden spoon until the sauce thickens.
2) It may take 10‐15 minutes for the sauce to thicken, but you will know when it is done when it coats the back of your spoon.

1) You can make this sauce ahead of time and store it in the refrigerator for two weeks. Reheat the sauce in a microwave oven or a double boiler before using.
2) This sauce is also great for cakes, ice-cream and tarts.

Well, even if the puffs didn't turn out as lovely as some others out there, at least I try my hand at doing something different! Still, maybe next month I'll stick more closely to the recipe.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Congee Noodle King

Rating: *1/2 out of *****
After an afternoon at Kitsilano Beach, my family wanted to dine out at a simple noodle house for dinner. Having read decent reviews of Congee Noodle King (at we thought we'd give it a shot. We walked into the restaurant, and my first impression was that it was fairly spacious, clean and quite... empty. It was 6pm in the evening and there was only one other table being occupied with customers. I wasn't too turned off by the quite atmosphere, sometimes it's nice to not have to elbow other people or squeeze in between chairs. So, once we were seated the waitress handed us a menu. I was a bit peeved at this, because there were 7 of us and she only gave us 2 menus. I could understand if she had done this when the restaurant was busy, but seriously... there was nobody else there. Who was she saving the whole stack of menus for?! So, I helped myself to two more menus and we were ready to order. The menu had a very large selection of congee, noodles and noodle soups... so many that it was hard to choose. Eventually, when we were ready, we got the waitress' attention and she came to take our order. The service at Congee Noodle King is typical of an HK Chinese restaurant; when ordering, don't expect any friendly banter between server and customer and by all means, don't even expect eye contact or acknowledgment that your order was even heard. Maybe it was just a long day for our waitress, but at least have the decency to look us in the face and nod. Once we ordered, the food came out very quickly and the portion sizes were quite impressive. Lots of noodles, soup and meat! ... oh, and lots of fruit flies too... read the concluding review for more juicy details :s

My sister ordered their Char Siew Pork, with noodles in soup $6.95; a large portion of pork, although my sister described the pork as being "flubby"

Wat Tan Yau Hor (Beef and Egg Hor Fun), $7.95; my other sister ordered this. It tasted much like the Hor Fun we order at Hon's, but had an odd after-taste

My sister's friend ordered the Pork Balls and veggies, with noodles in soup $5.95; five large pork balls and a few pieces of kai-lan.

I wanted to try ostrich meat. Having never tried it before, I thought that I'd give it a shot. Here's my Ostrich Meat in Congee, $7.95; nothing spectacular. The congee was nice, with the peanuts and spring onions, but the ostrich simply tasted like beef (I bet it was!)

My mom loves dry egg noodles and loads of veggies; she ordered their beef slices and beef tendon with veggies on noodles $6.95; they gave plenty of tendon and kai-lan and the noodles were not over-cooked

The price of food at this restaurant is quite fair, and the portions that they provide are definitely worth the price. The quality of the food is simply so-so, you could get the same kind of food at Hon's and have the good service that goes along with a trip to Hon's. And just to let you in on an incident that occured at the Congee Noodle King, the saying "the customer is always right" is not followed here. Allow me to elaborate; this restaurant had quite a few fruit-flies floating around, landing on my side-plate and swarming 'round my head. We gave the restaurant the benifit of the doubt, because it was a hot day and they decided to keep the front doors open. But, my sister's friend had ordered the pork-balls with noodles in soup, and by the time she got half-way through the bowl, she had discovered a fruit-fly floating in her soup. So, the normal thing to do would be to request another dish that is "bug-free"... right? Well, the waitress did not think so, and all she said to us was "you have to watch out for the flies!" Well, be that as it may, we have had to deal with the constant barrage of buzzing pests for the entire meal, so we insisted that we get another Pork-ball with noodles in soup dish. Our waitress begrudgingly took the bowl back to the kitchen and returned with a full bowl, which we thought was new. But apparently, they thought it fitting to simply remove the fly from our old bowl and dump in some more soup and noodles... hmmm, not what you'd expect from a restaurant, eh? Oh well, their tip would not be gracious.

On a side-note, this restaurant is "cash only". With our bill coming to $35.95 + tax, and my mother paying in $40, the stingy cashier showed not intention of giving my mother her $3.20 change. I think she thought that the $3.20 was owed to her as a tip, but seriously... who are you to decide how much the customer tips. My mom wouldn't back-down and leave without her $3.20 (way to go mom!) and eventually, the cashier handed her the money. My mom gave them a $2 tip and we were off; with full stomaches, but by no means satisfied with their service, we left for home. The mediocre food at this small noodle/congee house could not over-ride the poor service and rude attitude of the entire restaurant. We will not be coming back anytime soon.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Sandwiching it Up

So, my father decided he'd fire up the grill, the George Foreman (aka lazy-man's) Grill that is. I'm not complaining, I love that machine... it's so easy to use a monkey could make himself a steak. Anywho, he wanted to make hamburgers for everyone... but we only had a couple left in the freezer, so I helped whip up some tasty subs to go along with them. While making the subs I thought back to the good ol' days when I use to get packed sandwiches in my lunch-bags for school. They were never really all that great; after years of getting mayo+ham+cheese+lettuce on two slices of white, it can get pretty bland. I wanted these sub sandwiches to be anything but bland, so I packed them full of flavor.

I made one very healthy and veggie-full sandwhich. I sliced up a loaf of 60% whole wheat french bread, spreading on some basil mayo and filling it with marbled-cheese, salami, tomato, romaine lettuce, onions and sliced strawberries. Way better than Subway, I must say. The taste of basil and strawberries combined is a sweet and savory delight... if you haven't tried it yet, you better do it while strawberries are still in season!
For my sisters, who aren't all that into vegetables and salami, I made them a chicken salad sub. I used the other half of the whole wheat french loaf, spread on some regular mayo, added lettuce, cheese and the chicken salad. Anyone can make chicken salad; and I find that there are no right or wrong proportions... it's all dependent upon personal taste. My chicken salad contained chopped chicken pieces, a palm full each of chopped onions, celery and waterchestnuts, and then a slathering of mayonnaise.
After making such fanciful sandwiches, I couldn't just leave my dad's hamburgers in the lurch. So, I decided to make some tropical relish to top the burgers with. The tropical relish added a wonderful sweetness to the burger. With all that sweetness going on, I thought I would make some tangy toppings for the burgers as well, so I made some asian carrot-slaw.

Jo's Tropical Relish:

Toss together 1 cup diced mangoes, 1 cup diced cucumber, 1 tsp minced parsley and 1 tbsp lime juice.

Quick Asian Carrot-slaw Relish:

Simply grate enough carrot to make 1 cup, toss in 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes, 1 tsp minced parsley, 1 tbsp vinegar and let marinate for 1 hr.

I love experimenting with new flavors, and luckily this time it worked out. All the burgers were eaten and the subs were gone without a trace of them left behind... well, maybe a few crumbs, but you get my drift. Whenever you're planning a meal, try and get creative with it; no matter how traditional the meal there's always a way to jazz it up or at least try something new! Cheers :)

Sunday, August 17, 2008

My Mad Monkey

Hmmm... you may be asking "What's with all that alcohol?!" No, I have not become an alcoholic and no, I'm not going through a depression... but, while up in Whistler for some quite intriguing dining experiences, I was introduced to this lovely drink... The Mad Monkey. I remembered that the description of the drink was that it contained Kahlua, Baileys Irish Cream and Banana liquer. Unfortunately, we were out of Kahlua and I had never bought banana liquer before... but thankfully, being a coffee-holic, I just so happened to have some Torani Creme de Banane hanging out in my pantry. I also had a small bottle of Malibu Coconut-flavored Rum, which I had purchased on a recent trip to California. I thought through how I was going to mimic the Mad Monkey, with my very different resources and this is the recipe I came up with...

Jo's Mad Monkey
(Yield: enough drink for 3 Rock Glasses)

- 1 oz Baileys Irish Cream
- 1 oz Malibu, Coconut-flavored Rum
- 1 oz Torani Creme de Banane
- 4 oz 2% milk
- Ice
- 1 tbsp Chocolate Malt Powder (optional)

1. Combine all ingredients in a martini shaker and shake until drink is thoroughly cold.
2. Pour into drink glasses (I used my Kahlua rock glasses) and serve.

Oh my goodness, was this drink delicious. I couldn't remember if it tasted exactly like the one at the restaurant, but that didn't matter... this was better. Not too strong and not too sweet, my parents and I enjoyed this refreshing drink while we watched the Olympics.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Iced Almond Cookie Bites

The family decided that we'd make a day of it yesterday; picnicing at a nearby park and having fun in the sun. The weather outside lately has been beautiful but very, very warm... so we thought not make the most of it by getting our lazy butts outdoors and enjoying it before we're hit by the gloom of a damp fall. My mom was packing the goodies into our picnic bag; chips, crackers, cheese, goldfish and drinks... this is when I began to crave something baked and something sweet. We didn't have any cookies lying around the house, and store-bought granola bars just weren't gonna cut my sweet-carb craving... so it was off to the kitchen for me.

Iced Almond Bites (Yield: 20, timbit sized cookies)
recipe adapted from "Butter Sugar Flour Eggs" by Gale Gand

- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 tbsp baking powder
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1 egg
- 1/8 cup + 1 tbsp cup sugar
- 1/8 cup vegetable oil
- 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 1/4 tsp pure almond extract
- 1 recipe of Icing (see below)

1 tbsp milk
1/2 tbsp egg white
1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
1/2 tsp pure almond extract

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter 1 baking sheet.

2. Combine flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl.

3. Whisk eggs and sugar until pale yellow and fluffy. Continue mixing and drizzle in oil, vanilla, almond extract.

4. Add dry ingredients to egg mixture; stirring until just combined.

5. Turn the dough out onto lightly floured work surface. Form the dough into logs 1-inch in diameter (work in batches if necessary).

6. Cut the dough into 3/4-inch-thick slices, roll cookies into spheres and arrange on baking sheet.

7. Bake until light golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Let cool on wire racks.

Icing: In a medium bowl, whisk milk, egg white, confectioners' sugar and almond extract until smooth. When cookies are cool, dip their tops into icing. Alternatively, use a fork or a squeeze bottle to drizzle the cookies with icing. Let set in a cool place 1 hour.

Since my sister is allergic to almonds and all other nuts, I wanted to make these cookies so that she would be able to enjoy them too. To do this, I used Artificial Almond Extract. Artificial Almond Extract contains no almond whatsoever, rather it gains its flavor from the chemical Benzaldehyde. Even the smallest drop of this artificial essense lent a wonderfully nutty aroma and flavor to this very delicate cookie.

The picnic was a success, we spent almost the entire day at the park. Thankfully, no one got seriously burned and we all enjoyed the fun with family and of course... the food!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Caramba! Whistler, BC

Rating: ***1/2 out of *****

We chanced upon this Mediterranean-inspired restaurant during one of our nights out in Whistler Village. Just on Main St. and again close to our hotel, this was another good find for casual dining. It reminded me of my past dining experience at Coza; the Mediterranean cuisine, the rustic Italian decor, the lovely patio and of course the complimentary bread...

Good thing they brought the bread out before I ordered; I wasn't feeling too hungry and actually contemplated ordering a side of their house-baked bread for $2.95... but free bread is always great.

Instead, I ordered the flatbread with eggplant tepanade, guac and salsa $7.95

My sisters shared this, and had fun spinning it around (silly kids) ... guess what it is

Well, it's cheesy mac-n-cheese of course; for $13.95, and with the ability to feed both of my sisters it was a great deal. The macaroni was so rich and cheesy that I just had to steal a bite.

My mom ordered their Caramba! Salad $6.95; it contained butter lettuce, chicken, thai peanut sauce and water chestnuts. Nothing spectacular, and I felt that given it's price it would be larger in size

And of course, we had to order drinks... it was a vacation after all.

I ordered the Mad Monkey $7.95; a bit on the pricey side, but utterly delicious. It was made with Kahlua, Bailey's and Banana Liquer... heaven in a glass

This wasn't on the menu, but my mom really wanted a strawberry margarita. Our waiter gladly took the order and my mom was very excited, since she hadn't had a margarita in a long time.

We went to Caramba! Restaurante at around 6pm, and without a reservation we were seated within 15mins. I couldn't exactly understand what took so long for us to be seated, because as we were being seated I spotted numerous tables available... perhaps those were reserved, who knows. Like Black's, this restaurante appeared to be under-staffed as the waiters were hustling around like crazy and the manager was also busy serving customers. Though, unlike Black's, the service at Caramba! was much improved. I guess it could've been a result of being served by the manager, but I felt that our server actually made an effort to make our dining experience enjoyable; often coming back to replenish our drinks, asking us if there was anything else we would like and making friendly conversation.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Black's Pub (Whistler, BC)

Rating: *** out of *****
Located at the base of Whistler's Blackcomb Mountain, we found this great two-story pub that had a great menu; we thought it would be prefect for a casual dining experience. Black's was only 2 minutes walk from our hotel, the Hilton, and looked very inviting. At first we planned to sit on the patio, but then re-thought our decision after learning that smoking wasn't prohibited; so indoors it was. The decor was nothing spectacular; it resembled a Moxie's or a Milestones, with it's lether booths, leather padded chairs and wooden tables. We arrived at the restaurant at 7pm and were seated very promptly; the place was very empty on the inside (unlike the hustle and bustle on the patio) and we were able to pick our own seats. We looked over the menu and decided we weren't in the mood for plain ol' burgers and fries, so we ordered some pasta and a whole bunch of different appetizers to share.

My sister, who is in love with pasta, ordered their 1/2 order of Penne Alfredo for $8.50. She enjoyed the cheesy flavour but was turned off by the excess oil at the bottom of the plate.

My mom decided to follow suit with the 1/2 order of Tomato Basil Penne, again $8.50. This pasta was much better than the alfredo; it had chunks of crushed tomato a wonderful basil infused pomodoro sauce and tasted so fresh.

Who in their right minds would pass up chicken wings?! We just couldn't not order them (argh... i hate double negatives :P) and so we got their order of 12wings for $11.95. We initially asked for half of the wings to be honey-garlic and half to be spicy, but I think the kitchen was confused and served us 12 honey-garlic-spicy wings... oh well, it turned out to be a pleasant surprise.

I'd always wanted to try yam fries, but wasn't sure if I'd like them. Not sure why... I usually eat everything, and I figured if I like mashed yam, yam tempura and boiled yam, I couldn't go wrong with fried yam. These fries, $6.95, were served with a chipotle mayonnaise and had a lovely sweetness to them. I would certainly order them again.

I love, love, love calamari! And the calamari at Black's is now my official favorite. I'm not quite sure what seasoning they used, but the squid was fried to perfection; crispy and not overly greasy. Squeeze some lime juice on the squid and it tastes even better... dip the pieces in their chili-tzatsiki sauce and you're in heaven. Plus, it was only $10.95, for a heaping plate of this stuff.

My other sister has become somewhat of a soup-lover, and so she had to try their Tomato Basil soup, $6.95. It resembled a butternut, carrot soup and the aroma was very pleasing. Considering my sister doesn't really like tomatoes, I was surprised she finished the soup... must've been delicious!

My Mai Tai! Not too strong and not too sweet... a girly drink, I know, but it was still very tasty. I especially liked the glacée cherry :P (I am such a kid)

Black's is a quaint restaurant with some really good food. The service was a bit on the slow side, and we had to flag-down our waitress a couple times to get drink refills. But I think it was just that they were under-staffed for that night. I'm glad we chose to eat here and really enjoyed my meal. And while it wasn't anything overly fancy or anything different, the meal was satisfying. My advice would be to try their appetizers and stay away from plain old salads, burgers, pizza and pasta. Try something new, and oh yeah... order some of their drinks!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Whistler Summer '08

So it's two years until the Winter Olympics are held in Whislter... that doesn't matter, Whistler's still a great place to hang out and have fun with the family. Actually, I think my family was thinking that we'd best head up to Whistler well before the large crowds decide they're going to change the entire "scene" up there.
So, with all things set and ready to go, we piled into the van and were Whistler-bound...
The ride up started out smoothly; that was until we hit the are of HWY1 that was undergoing the "highway improvement program". With the Olympics only a year and a half away, the construction crews are working around the clock to fix up/widen the Sea-to-Sky Highway, but with all that construction going on, we were stuck in traffic for quite some time. Some parts of the Highway required staying to a max speed of 50km/hr... freakishly slow for the highway I tell ya. So, instead of the usual 2.5 hours to get up to Whistler, it took us 3.5 hours!! Oh well, at least we made it there... because just last week, there was a rockslide that completely blocked the Sea-to-Sky (the only route, aside from a 7hr detour, to Whistler).

Driving the Sea-to-Sky Highway
My dad in the back, being his silly ol' self... and my sisters
Beautiful forests and majestic mountains... ah, I love nature

Jacques looks ready to go... he's such a cutie :)

I was very psyched to go on this vacation in particular, because the hotel we were staying at allowed pets to stay as well. We stayed at the Hilton Whislter, and they even provided our puppy with his very own doggy-suitcase filled with treats and toys... how considerate :)

Up in Whistler it was beautiful. The weather was warm and not too dry, the pool-side was relaxing with very few roudy kids, and the hotel room was glam + spacious. I knew I would love it up here! Even if I don't spend all my time in the hotel, it's a nice place to crash :P

Honestly, in when you're in Whistler how can you possibly spend all your time couped up in the hotel room? My dad, who was feeling a little under the weather, decided to remain in the hotel room, watching the dog and the Olympics, while my sisters, my mom and I planned out all the fun activities to do.

One trail leads to another at this beautiful, dog-friendly park. The shuttle from Whistler Village takes you directly to this lake and runs every 15mins.

Most of the activities involved walking around the Whistler Village; this didn't bother me... I love to window shop and pretend I'm a tourist from some far away place... interested in Canadian apparell :P Walking through Whistler Village, it was easy to see that there were just as many restaurants as there were clothing/souvenier/sporting good stores. This made it a tough decision on where we would dine out... for the few nights were up in Whistler, I think we chose two great restaurants (reviews to come).

Friday, August 08, 2008

Jackie's 13th B-day and Ice Cream Cake!

So, my little sis (who's technically not so little anymore) was celebrating her 13th Birthday on July 27th. She was really craving an ice-cream cake, and since we were only going to have a small, family schin-digg I decided that I'd be the one to whip up the frozen confection. In a way I was being lazy, because I didn't want to go out and buy a DQ cake... either that, or I was being cheap :P But let's just say that I was really anxious to try my hand at topping DQ at their own game. This cake may not look spectacular (I know the red smudge looks really random, but that's what you get when you attempt to use Nesquik Syrup + confectioner's sugar to make your own gel-icing), but it tasted amazing!!!

Quick Home-made Ice Cream Cake
Makes 1 cake the size of am 8x3 inch loaf pan

- 20 Oreo Cookies, crushed into crumbs
- 1/4 cup butter, melted
- 1/3 cup of your favorite chocolate ganache, cold and fudgy (like the one I made for
July's DB Challenge)
- 6 cups Vanilla Ice Cream
- 3 chocolate cupcakes, crumbled

- various edible decorations
- 1 aeresol can of whipped cream (you can use freshly whipped cream if you have it)

1. Line the loaf pan with saran wrap, this makes it easier to remove the cake once it's layered.
2. In a small bowl, mix together the oreo crumbs and the melted butter. Press it into the base of the loaf pan.
3. Spread the oreo layer with the chocolate ganache, creating a nice even layer.
4. Mix together the 6 cups of ice cream with the crumble chocolate cupcakes; continue to combine the ice cream and cupcake until the texture becomes soft/spreadable, but not melty.
5. Spread the ice cream in an even layer ontop of the ganache layer.
6. Freeze for at least 2 hrs, meanwhile create your edible decorations.
7. Once the cake is nicely frozen, remove the cake from the pan and spread all four sides and the top with a 1/4-inch thick layer of whipped cream. Work quickly, because the ice cream may start to melt through the cream layer. Once the whipped cream is slathered on, place the cake back in the freezer for 2 hrs.
8. Remove cake from freezer, decorate and serve.

For the decorations, I used a melon baller to create little chocolate ice-cream balls and then I stuck a semi-circle of chocolate in them. To cover up the "open edges" of the cake, I used a cocoa+coconut+granulated sugar mixture, and simply poured it around the base of the cake. Although my attempt at writing my sister's name in "gel icing" didn't turn out so well, she didn't mind the strawberry flavored smudge with her name under it. The cake was easy enough to slice through, and the pieces came out intact! Jackie really appreciated the effort I had put into the cake, and she even went back for seconds... that's the best feeling in the world. Knowing that the person you made something for genuinely loves what you've done for them.


Monday, August 04, 2008


Rating: *** 1/2 out of *****

After reading the great review about this place in Chowtimes, I was ready to fill my stomach with some much needed AYCE Japanese food. At Ninkazu, one can choose from AYCE Hot-pot or AYCE sushi... since my sisters aren't really Hot-pot people, we went for the sushi. We went for the Late Night AYCE (see hours in the picture below), and with reservations made in the morning we only had to wait 15mins for a table. The host was very pleasant, seating us very promtly at a large table next to the window. I enjoyed the window seat, as it allowed us to watch the hustle and bustle of Richmond's night life.

Of course, we start off with the sushi selection... (clockwise from left) Yam Roll, California Roll and Spicy Ninkazu Roll. All fresh and all delicious!
Masago Sushi (Smelt Roe), Salmon Sushi and Hokkigai Sushi (Surf Clam)... again delicious, fresh and fast.

The good thing about this place is that they include Sashimi in their AYCE! Although each person is limited to 12pcs, that's more than enough for my family (especially since both my sisters don't like Sashimi... so we get their share :P)

Ika Karaage (Fried Squid), and Fried Smelt. I use to hate eating smelt, because of all the little eggs inside, but the way Ninkazu cooks it made me rethink things... soooo tasty
Just like Metrotown's Taisho, Ninkazu is smart and economical, using tin-foil shells versus real oyster shells for their Motoyaki
Sanma Shioyaki (Makerel), Salmon Belly and Salmon Cheek BBQ
My sisters always love fried dough, here are the deep-fried wontons. I thought that they'd be filled with something... sadly, it was simply the wonton skin in a deep-fried form :(

Mmm... I love edamame

Unlike some AYCE Sushi places that give you only yam/sweet potato, when you order "Mixed" tempura, Ninkazu gave us zucchini!! These pieces are a favorite amongst my family... we always fight over them :P

Their Salmon Teriyaki was just so-so

Nothing spectacular about the chicken-wings either, but my sisters gobbled these down very quickly

And of course, we had to try the gyoza. Nothing amazing in my opinion, not bad either... you just can't mess up gyoza :P

Overall, the experience at Ninkazu was wonderful. We really enjoyed the service, and the restaurant was not too crowded. I saw many people enjoying their hot-pot and almost envied them, but the sushi AYCE was worth the $12.95! Maybe next time the family goes to Ninkazu (which I hope is soon) we will try their hot-pot. The selection at this restaurant is great, the establishment is very clean + tidy and the service is friendly and speedy. If you're ever in Richmond, try Ninkazu!