Tuesday, May 25, 2010

"Please step away from the peanut butter, Ma'am"

Have you ever had food souvenirs taken away from you at the airport by customs or the TSA?

After having customs officers confiscate several items over the years (including meat-flavored instant noodles from Singapore which contained no meat whatsoever), I'm really careful about what I bring back from vacation because I honestly can't bear the thought of someone taking away my food.

Kris and I just got back from our annual visit to Vancouver (and an Alaskan cruise... more on that later) and the one thing I always bring home is a jar of
Kraft Smooth Light Peanut Butter. Kraft peanut butter just tastes way better than anything I can get stateside (and who can resist those cute little bears on the label?) so my parents always remember to buy me a jar before I leave.

During the voyage home, this precious jar of peanut butter always stays with me in my carry-on bag and in the past, I've never had a problem with getting it on the flight. But this was before security was significantly beefed up at the Vancouver airport (courtesy of a
recent bomb scare). The recently implemented TSA screening process includes a full body scan and a complete search of carry-on baggage, during which every item is removed from your bag and examined closely. Everything was fine until the TSA agent pulled out my jar of peanut butter and said I couldn't take it on the plane because it exceeded 100 ml! Since when is peanut butter considered a liquid?! Normally, I try to maintain my composure when in public (and especially when dealing with airport security) but when someone tries to come between me and my food, all bets are off! I uttered a string of profanities before I could stop myself. Kris said I was lucky I didn't get tasered.

But this story has a happy ending. Rather than watch his wife get locked up and detained over a jar of peanut butter, Kris suggested we go back to the check-in counter and pay an extra $30 for an additional checked bag (containing my Kraft peanut butter, lovingly wrapped in layers of newspaper). $30 for a jar of peanut butter - money well spent in my opinion!

What would you have done?

p.s. Now that I'm thinking rationally again, I guess I could have easily purchased another jar of Kraft peanut butter at one of the many online Canadian grocers (ie. Canada Only, Canada Grocer, Canadian Favourites, Canadian Delicacies ) where you can also find Coffee Crisp, Old Dutch potato chips, Shreddies, and St. Hubert poutine sauce.


Sunday, May 9, 2010

4th Annual Spot Prawn Festival, Vancouver BC

Spot Prawn FEVER!!

4th Annual Spot Prawn Festival kicked off yesterday during a gorgeous afternoon at Vancouver's False Creek Fishermen's Wharf.

Spot prawns are the sweetest prawn you'll ever eat, sustainably harvested from local British Columbia waters, available for only a short 6-8 week season every year.

I was introduced to these prized local delicacies during my visit last year and loved them so much
I ate them at least a dozen times! This year, I made sure to time my visit to coincide with the lively season opener.

We arrived 15 minutes before the event began and quickly got in line for the spot prawn tastings:

$10 per plate for 4 spot prawns with 'accompaniments' and a piece of bread:

The food was dished out rather efficiently via assembly line, expertly manned by students from the
Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts. The spot prawns were prepared very simply this year to showcase their natural sweetness (in prior years, local restaurants set up individual tasting stations which offered more elaborate spot prawn dishes).

Spot prawns simply boiled in saltwater:

Chilled spot prawns, poached in a
court boullion:

3 saucy accompaniments, nam jim Thai sauce, cocktail sauce, and mango salsa:

And delicious pizza bianca bread from
Terra Breads:

YUM! And don't forget to suck the heads!

Afterwards we sampled wines from the Okanagan's
Prospect Winery:

Microbrew tastings from
Granville Island Brewing:

Live entertainment from local blues-rock band,
Terminal Station:

A loud horn announced the much anticipated arrival of the first catch of the season:

Our favorite spot prawn fishermen, Steve Johansen and Frank Keitsch from
Organic Ocean:

For more interesting facts about spot prawns, check out
my post from last season which includes an interview with Steve and Frank and features a 6 course spot prawn tasting menu I had at C Restaurant.

You can purchase live spot prawns from
Organic Ocean at False Creek Fishermen's Wharf after 1pm daily for $12/lb for the duration of spot prawn season.

Every Wednesday during the month of May, the
Dirty Apron Cooking School is offering spot prawn classes featuring Chef Nico Schuermans of Chambar/Cafe Medina. Dishes will include a spot prawn ceviche, spot prawn bisque and spiced butter poached spot prawns.
$145 per person

Dozens of local restaurants will be featuring spot prawns on their menus throughout the season including:

BC Spot Prawn Boil
Every Saturday this month starting May 8th
Early seating: 6 - 8pm
Late seating: 8:30 -10:30pm
$65 per person

Menu will feature
8 Thai-influenced spot prawn dishes throughout the season.

5 course spot prawn tasting menu for one week only! Now thru Sat May 15th.
For the remainder of spot prawn season, a tasting menu may be available on special request (ask when booking your reservation).

Spot prawns featured on the menu all year round.

Spot prawn daily specials throughout the season.

Chef's menu featuring spot prawns

Bouillabaisse Provencal featuring BC spot prawns


Friday, May 7, 2010

Home Sweet Home

I'm back in my hometown of Vancouver for a couple days before embarking on a cruise to Alaska with my family. Feeling slightly jet-lagged but that hasn't stopped me from enjoying some Chinese 'comfort food' with my parents.

Nancy Wonton House

Yesterday I tried 'shui kau' dumplings for the first time at Nancy Wonton House. Shui Kau (or sui kau) are like 'wonton on steroids', stuffed with shrimp, pork, mushrooms, water chestnuts in a golden-hued wrapper:

We also ordered some chow mein (fried egg noodles) with beef & broccoli. I always try to eat chow mein (thin Cantonese egg noodles, not the 'East meets West' rice dish that masquerades as chicken chow mein
in certain areas of the US) whenever I'm in Vancouver because it's impossible to find in New Jersey where 'lo mein' dominates Chinese-American take-out menus. There was an slight upcharge for substituting broccoli for the generic vegetable (ie. bok choy) that normally comes with it, but my dad likes to know exactly what vegetable he's getting:

Lean pork with century egg congee (Kris' favorite):

The congee was accompanied by Chinese donuts - warm, slightly crispy, but tender inside:

Finally, braised bean curd on rice (a bargain at $5.95):

Well, I know I'm back in Vancouver when 'assorted beef guts' is a regular menu item:

And I totally know I'm back in Canada when I hear
Gowan playing on the radio (those darn Canadian content rules) but I digress... my mom enjoyed the food so much she said she wanted to go back for Mother's Day.

Western Lake Chinese Seafood Restaurant

This morning, we made an effort to arrive bright and early at Western Lake for dim sum and still found it mobbed at 10 am. We tried going there yesterday around noon but left after waiting for almost half an hour. Normally, you'll find my parents at Golden Harvest for dim sum, but we were determined to find out whether Western Lake was worth all the hype. My mom says you have to be aggressive when trying to get a table, otherwise you'll just be ignored and other guests who arrive after you will be seated before you. If you happen to have a Cantonese-speaking person in your party, have them get the number from the hostess, otherwise they might give you an imaginary number that never gets called (like the number they gave my non-Asian husband yesterday). Today, I had my tough-as-nails Chinese mother harass the hostess every few minutes and she managed to get us seated after only 10 minutes.

At Western Lake, you mark what items you want on a checklist (rather than waiting for old-school steam carts to come around). All dim sum dishes ranged from $2.75 - $4.95.

#2 Steamed Prawn Dumplings (har gow):

#3 Steamed Shui Mai Dumplings:

#11 Steamed Beef Tripe & Beef Tendons:

#18 Steamed Mini Sticky Rice Wraps with Dried Scallops:

#31 Pan Fried Chive Dumplings:

#32 Deep Fried Prawn Spring Rolls:

#34 Pan Fried Eggplant with Shrimp Paste:

#39 Baked B.B.Q. Pork Pastries

We found all the dim sum at Western Lake to be of high quality and everything was served piping hot. The shui mai were some of the biggest and juiciest I've had. Kris was mighty impressed with the size of the stuffed eggplant but a little disappointed that they didn't have
wu gok (deep fried taro turnovers). Despite a good experience overall, I highly doubt Western Lake will replace Golden Harvest as my parent's standard dim sum restaurant. My mom said that she doesn't feel like fighting with crowds whenever she wants to have dim sum, plus my dad enjoys the preferential treatment and the quieter environment of Golden Harvest. But it's always fun to change things up once in a while.

Nancy Wonton House
5257 Victoria Dr
Vancouver, BC V5P 3V4
Tel: (604) 327-1862

Western Lake Chinese Seafood Restaurant
4989 Victoria Dr
Vancouver, BC V5P 3T7
Tel: (604) 321-6862

Golden Harvest
4818 Main Street
Vancouver, BC V5V 3R8
Tel: (604) 321-4448

Tomorrow, we're headed to the 4th Annual Spot Prawn Festival kickoff, from 12 - 3pm at False Creek Fisherman's Wharf. See you there!


Monday, May 3, 2010

Ramps 101

Y-A-Y for RAMPS!

Found some at my local
Wegmans yesterday for $12.99/lb! I'd been searching for them locally in New Jersey this year instead of making the 60+ mile trip to NYC's Union Square Greenmarket (increasing my carbon footprint by travelling so far would defeat the purpose of trying to 'eat local') and was stunned to find them at my regular supermarket for such a good price.

I'd also asked my mother-in-law Barbara to be on the lookout for ramps - she'd been scanning her local farmers markets and grocery stores in Bucks County, PA for the last couple weeks. And she too found wild ramps at her local Wegmans for $12.99/lb. But when she called me to report her exciting find, she sheepishly admitted that she didn't buy any because she didn't have the faintest idea what to do with them. So I thought I'd do a quick primer for her so she can go back and get some before the short season is over.

How to Prepare Ramps

1. Give them a good rinse to get off all the dirt:

2. Cut off the bulb and roots:

3. Peel off the slimy membrane from the stem:

4. Rinse them again to remove any leftover dirt and membrane on the stems:

5. Give them a spin in a salad spinner (or towel them off):

Clean, dry and ready to use!

Ramps have a distinctive odor when raw but don't let that scare you off, they are surprisingly mild when cooked, possessing a sweet scallion-y flavor with a hint of garlic (similar to garlic chives). Try substituting ramps in recipes that call for leeks, scallions, or onions.

The easiest and best way to enjoy ramps is grilled. Simply toss whole ramps in some extra virgin olive oil and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Grill until lightly charred. Grilling brings out their natural sweetness and makes them utterly irresistible.

Another easy way to enjoy ramps is in scrambled eggs. Lightly sauté chopped ramps (stems and leaves) in butter over medium heat for 2 minutes. Lower the heat to low and add beaten eggs. Cook over low heat, pushing eggs around gently with a spatula to form 'curds'. Right before the curds are set, stir in some shredded gruyere or fontina cheese.

Or if you are watching your cholesterol, try an egg white 'scramble' with ramps and asiago cheese (my breakfast this morning):

For more ideas on how to enjoy this seasonal delight, check out my ramp cooking marathon from last year.

Now go get your ramp on, Barbara!