Sunday, February 24, 2013

My First Encounter with Green Juice

It just hit me: Not only am I getting older, if I want to stay healthy pass my 30's, I better start making some changes to my lifestyle choices NOW.  Unlike always, this one just can't be another fad.  It's never easy seeing your loved ones not only aging, but also plagued by ailments and other complications.  If I want them to make changes to their lifestyle and diet, I may as well not be a hypocrite and start with myself.

If you care enough to read my other posts, you may notice I dine out a lot.  I'm also a fanatic of cheese, and anything that's been graced by the deep fryer.  Fruits and vegetables are my nemesis.  But I gotta figure out a way to slowly increase the daily intake to my diet and make it into a habit, which can be extremely difficult.  I could easily see myself breaking down after 3 days and binge eat everything in the fridge, whether it be a tub of mayo, a whole pack of bacon (raw), a loaf of bread, etc.

My previous sedentary lifestyle also contributed to my vitamin deficiency.  The doctor strongly urged me to go on vitamin B supplement ASAP before I crash and burn.  No wonder I always felt so tired and sluggish no matter how many hours of sleep I got.  Finally, I dragged my lazy bum off the sofa and vowed to work out more.  The vitamin B supplement did make me feel more awake, but I was looking for something more natural, makes me feel less bloated, boosts my immune system (I got sick 3 times in a month), stimulates metabolism, and has anti-oxidant properties.  

That was when I spoke to J, a real advocate of healthy eating.  I asked him questions about the green juice photo he posted on his Instagram and received a very informative and educational response that had inspired me to follow.  The green juice detox has been around for a while, but I never really bought into the hype until I heard J's testimonial.

The day after, I went to the market and picked up as many green leaf vegetables that J mentioned as I could.  The ingredients I had were: spinach, cilantro, parsley, kale, ginger, lime, blackberries.  I was nervous about drinking something that would taste too much like "grass" and figured berries will add to taste and anti-oxidant component.   Anyways, my first try was not really successful.  My "handful" of each vegetables packed the blender and it wasn't really blending at all.  I also didn't add enough liquid (this time I used water, but really want to try coconut water next time).  So the drink turned out really thick, frothy and extremely pulpy on the top layer.  Of course, the blackberries turned the bright green color to a murky brown.  Chewing the raw pulp was not great either. Fortunately, I didn't mind the taste of the juice itself that much and was able to drink 2 cups and proved my skeptic siblings wrong.  Oddly, the ginger burned my throat but with a late reaction.  It didn't happen til an hour and a half after I drank it.  This was mostly my dinner and it kept me moderately full.  My mind was not completely satisfied and craved for something more hearty, but that's something else I have to work on. I also had to go to the washroom for #1 like 4-5 times in 2 hours, which may be TMI, but it's a good sign I guess.

My blender is not the caliber of Vitamix as someone kindly mentioned I should get, but if I get the ratio right, it should be okay.  I'm really thinking of ways to make this concoction taste 'gourmet', tasty with a variety of flavours and only using natural ingredients and low in sodium.  J also advise to drink either in the morning or a few hours after a meal to maximize absorption.  I think it will be a couple more times before I perfect this nutritious green drink but I'm looking forward to incorporating it to my daily diet.  As well, I may keep logs of how I feel after a week or so of being on the drink so stay posted.

Here is J's very helpful advice and recipe of the green drink! 
"Here’s the smoothie Im always so excited and raving on about, its high in antioxidants, great for hydration and cleansing of heavy metals, sodium, detoxification, overall balanced health, energy, and replenishment of lost nutrients/vitamins. The biggest difference between eating a salad and drinking your vegetables is your optimizing your vitamin/mineral intake as the essential capillary walls of these ingredients are broken down and easily absorbed/digested by your body. More often than not, vegetables in particular are ingested and are not fully digested (they go in and come out looking the same - example: Corn), thereby limiting the absorption of the good stuff (ex: 50% aborption vs 100% of the minerals/nutrients/antioxidants/vitamins/phtyos). The only word of caution is with a lot of veggies like kale, broccoli, parsley, these are high in vitamin K, so if you have a blood condition or are on blood thinners, it might not be advisable. Blend and enjoy as follows:

Base Vegetable Essentials:
-2 Kale leaves
-Handful of spinach (for the handful portions judge accordingly to the size of your blender)
-Handful of parsley
-Handful of cilantro
-1.5 inch chunk of ginger (skin peeled)
-1/5 of a cucumber
-1 Celery stalk
-1/2 green pepper
-Half a large or one small lemon (Keeps fruits and veggies from oxidizing as quickly)

Optional Ingredients:
-8-10 Mint leaves (optional but I really like this, it adds a nice refreshing twist)
-1 hot red pepper (optional)
-2-3 heads of broccoli (florets and stems – you can use this if you don’t have kale) (optional)
-1 beet (optional)
-1 Carrot stalk (optional)
-1 scoop of protein powder (optional)

Fruit (optional, but makes it taste a lot less grassy):
-1 Banana
-1/2 Pear
-1/2 Apple
-2-3 Tablespoons of crushed pineapple
-5-10 Green Grapes
-1 Kiwi
-1 Avacado
-Seasonal Berries
-One or a combination of these are always good. I usually combine the banana, pear, kiwi and apple
-Orange or Apple Juice or Pineapple
-Coconut Juice
2-3 cups of water/juice combo. 3 cups breaks it down to a very fluid consistency, whereas 2 is a bit thicker.
Combine all the ingredients and blend to a smoothie consistency. I usually add about 3 cups of water or juice and it gives me a very drinkable consistency. For me, this recipe will make about 2 liters of smoothie but it really depends on the size of your blender. You might need to play around with the portions a bit to get you to a place where it is easily drinkable both taste and texture wise. I had to work with a few different iterations of it until I was happy with mine (Both taste and texture). Try not to make the drink overly sweet with the fruits, it should be mildly tart with a slightly sweet edge, you don’t want to overdue your sugar intake in one sitting, even though it is from fruits.
The key is FRESH (I've drank a lot of bottled green smoothies but I think through the pasteurization process a lot of those minerals and nutrients are lost, they have never given me the same re-energized feeling I get from this recipe ) to gain the maximum health benefits, try not to leave your batch for more than 1 day max, you’ll notice that the color actually changes from a bright green to a duller green even overnight from the oxidization of the ingredients. Give it a whirl, I noticed a huge difference within about 2 days in my energy levels and focus. Go for smooth not pulpy!"

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Spanish tapas: Sardine Can and Espana

The Sardine Can

Every single time we stopped by the Sardine Can, it was always running at maximum capacity with hungry diners pacing around the front door, praying there would be an open seat soon (doesn't matter where).  The night I hit up this Gastown gem with my friend S was no different. Luckily, we didn't wait around too long and got 2 cozy spots at the bar.  Created by the same folks behind Pied a Terre and La Buca, the name "Sardine Can" was quite fitting, as we did feel a little bit crammed in the modest, yet crowded space. 

 I was quite intrigued with how simple and minimal their kitchen was.  And much more intrigued by how fast the chef was able to fly out those orders, keeping consistency with excellent quality control.   As we both were not too familiar with Spanish tapas, S and I weren't quite sure what we should order and so we only order 3 dishes like 2 old shy introverts who didn't go outside that often.  Now that I looked back, we should have ordered at least 2 more dishes; smoked ham wrapped prune stuffed with Mahon cheese , and slow cooked pork cheeks.  What were we thinking?
The smoked sardine on toast was probably what they are known for.  For only $5, I thought the portion was reasonable and the taste made this a steal and a half.  When you think 'sardine', some of you (me included) might think of small oily canned fish served whole.  However, the smoked sardine was a smooth spread, dressed with lemon juice, perhaps capers.  It was not fishy at all.  Instead, it was salty, tangy, refreshing on crisp toasted baguette.   A wonderful dish that left me wanting more.
We also ordered steamed clams with chorizo sausage and mushrooms in sherry cream sauce.  I enjoyed the clams.  They were meaty and not all shrivelled up. The tomato sauce had just the right acidity and the chorizo sausage had just the right spice and smokiness.  I ended up filling my belly scraping up sauce with sourdough bread.  Lastly, the mushrooms were cooked well enough that the texture was tender, but still firm and not soggy.   The sherry cream sauce was fantastic, but I wish they had baked it with cheese.  Just eating a big bowl of mushrooms got mundane after a while.  

Despite being constantly insanely busy, service was prompt and our food never took too long to arrive.  However, I did not feel like the ambience was somewhere I could sit down, be comfortable and enjoy my meal for very long.  Everything there felt so hectic and so we decided to venture out elsewhere. S and I did regret not staying to try the chocolate terrine on toast.  

Sardine Can on Urbanspoon


The second Spanish tapa restaurant the girls and I hit up recently was Espana on Denman.  The atmosphere at Espana was warm and inviting.  It was dimly lit and the bar area showcased their wine collection.  Walk into Espana after 7 pm and you will find yourself in the same predicament as at the Sardine Can.  And they don't take reservation here either.

B and I tried out red wine concoctions; mixed with lemonade, and one with cola ($6 each).  The first tasted like sangria, the latter just tasted like coke.  It was worth a try.
P described her wine to be smooth, light, easy to drink and doesn't overpower the food.
Iberian ham croquettes arrived with a wedge of lemon.  After tasting it, the rest of them certainly did not require any sauces.  The croquettes were exactly how they were meant to be; crispy batter, smooth, creamy and well seasoned inside.  We got a taste of the ham in small bits, not huge chunks.
The second dish that arrived was "OMG" good.  It blew us away.  The 2 pieces of 'toasts' arrived looking like slices of cake.  The thick bread was a spongy with crispy edge, topped with a thick layer of pate of chicken liver infused with anchovy and sherry.  The flavour was pretty much a party in my mouth.  As a bonus, the acidity of the balsamic vinegar cut through the pate making the party with a twist that could go on all night.  It was sooooooo good.
If there's one dish we never go without ordering, it's crispy pork belly.  Check out the marbled layer.  The skin was thick and, most importantly, crispy.  The meat was tender and came apart easily, the fat just made the world go round. Despite being served with my nemesis, white bean, they managed to get me to eat it too.   Props go to the supporting romesco sauce topping on the crispy pork and pesto mixed in the white bean.  
The octopus salad was on the special that night.  When it arrived, we had to double check with our server, "I think we ordered octopus salad".  "This is it,"she replied, "the octopus is there....there and there."  It was so dark, everything looked the same, and so we couldn't tell what was what on the plate.  It was a warm salad, a bit too salty in my opinion, although I really liked the chorizo on this dish.  It was slightly crispy with full-flavour.  The octopus was surprisingly tender, chewy but not rubbery.  The arugula tossed in lemon juice and olive oil livened everything up.  The fingerling potatoes were crispy and made good fillers. 
The house-made morcilla (Spanish blood sausage) with fried egg and mushrooms was a special dish.  It would easily be an excellent brunch dish also.  It's got all the proteins and iron one would need to face a hard day.  The sausage was savoury with a crumbly texture, and swimming in a light gravy-like sauce.  
We actually debated for a long time whether or not to order the paella.  Although we were already full, I knew in my heart if I didn't order it, I'd spend the rest of my life wondering "what if?".  There's certainly no room for that! Actually, what pushed me was the key ingredient, squid ink.  It always tastes so good in pasta, and even bread, but I had never tried with paella before.  For $32, the paella arrived in a large pan, black as night.  The flavour of the rice was amazing, full of flavour, zesty from lemon juice and probably hundreds of capers mixed in with the rice.  Despite the octopus being done well, tender and not rubbery, we all wished there was more seafood or more topping on the rice.  The ratio just didn't seem to match.  

We were full to the brim, yet this time, we all called for desserts. And, we were glad we did.  The catalan cream custard arrived in a ramekin.  Once we dug in, it pretty much revealed itself to be a creme brulee.  The burnt sugar was so thick and crispy and I love the taste of burnt sugar so much.  The custard cream was light, fluffy and creamy.  It was worth the weight gain.  
Again, speaking of weight gain, I don't care if I end up doubling in size from eating this dessert everyday.  Initially, we thought the trifle was 'too big'.  After digging in, pfft...there was no such thing.  The cake was saturated with sherry and layered with tangy blood oranges, pomegranate, and fluffy whipped cream.  I learned a lesson tonight. I shall always drench cakes with sherry before I eat it.  It was too good.  Or, maybe I just love the taste of alcohol too much.
Espana Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Takeya Sushi

Takeya Sushi may seem like a typical Japanese takeout & dine in restaurant, but it is always just as busy as its sister restaurant, Ichiro.  Finding where to dine is a routine habit  ritual for me and I wonder how the two would compare.  So, we sought out the modest restaurant on No. 1 road one Saturday night.  As I sat down and flipped through the menu, I began to question how authentic it was going to be.  It seemed the style was leaning more towards Western style Japanese cuisine with some fusion, hence spring rolls and dry deep fried gyoza.  Regardless, I later discovered their nigiri were solid.  
Toro pon nigiri, all dressed up for a party with sliced onion, mayo, roe, and light ponzu sauce.  The ponzu amount was very little and didn't really enhance much flavour.  I thought maybe the sauce should have been drizzled on top of the nigiri, so the onion would have a chance to absorb the citrus flavour and wouldn't be so strong tasting after.  Also, their toro was already great on its own with super fatty, melt-in-your-mouth texture I crave for so much.   Therefore, I felt the add-ons were not necessary and didn't enhance the taste of the fish that much.  
I think I will always order this at Takeya from now on, Takeya nigiri; seared toro, salmon toro, saba, amebi, eel, salmon and tuna roll.  The seared tuna and salmon toro hit the spot just right; smoky, faintly charred flavour on fatty toro.   The saba didn't have that strong, distinct fishy taste and was quite lean for saba.  Unagi was a good size and very saucy with buttery texture.  The amebi was plump but not as sweet as Hachi Sushi.  The tuna and salmon roll made great fillers.
Another dish that just made it on my list of favourite things in Richmond, salmon pon, Takeya's version of tataki. Thinly sliced pieces of seared salmon (or tuna) were dressed with spinach, onion, roe, mayo, and bathing in citrus ponzu sauce.  The dish had the right amount of burst in flavours, and contrasting crunch from onion and popping roe.  

The first three dishes were all from Chef's special menu which may change monthly.  I really hope all three dishes are here to stay. 
Tempura don and udon set made savoury fillers, because heaps of nigiri and sashimi just couldn't fill us up the way noodles and rice bowls can.  Although everything about them may be typical, they are also a great in value and portions.  Most of all, they get the job done.

To go with the udon, I needed a side of chicken karaage, but a small portion with 4 pieces.  The batter was crispy and flavourful while the meat was juicy and tender.  

Can you believe all that food was shared between 2 people?  Like Ichiro, Takeya also places more emphasis in delivering fresh and decent quality sushi and sashimi.  While I found the cooked food to be on par with the rest of other Japanese restaurants, some items offer great value and serve their purpose just fine.  

Takeya Sushi on Urbanspoon

Monday, February 4, 2013

Dine out at Wildebeest


I first heard about Wildebeest in the Metro newspaper since the end of last summer, and was pretty set on taking a friend for a surprise date there.  Five months later, I found myself still in good company and visiting Wildebeest for the first time for my second dine out this year.  The three of us ordered 2 dine out courses and some items from the regular a la carte so we would get a variety.  Located in Gastown, the ambience at Wildebeest would attract hipsters from all walks of life (but mostly with dough).  It's a nice combination of Old World industrial design and a cozy, warm, and rustic feel.  The atmosphere is quite lively and energetic, reminding me of some bistro in East Village in New York. 

The back part of the restaurant has several long tables, which means you could get cozy and comfortable with strangers cafeteria-style.   They had a lengthy selection of house specialty cocktails, so I ordered myself the East Side Smash which consisted of Cuban rum, citrus, watermelon, and rosemary.  It was rather a refreshing drink and it made me miss summer even more.  


There were so many intriguing selections to choose from from the condensed regular menu.  Between the bone marrow vs. crispy pork and polenta croquette with tomato jam, we decided on the latter. The croquettes deep fried to golden crisp on the outside, and tender and meaty on the inside.  There was plenty of pork in there, and the texture was somewhat similar to pulled pork.  It balanced nicely with the acidic tomato jam which livened up the dish nicely.  
First appetizer from the dine out menu, smoked salmon roulade was presented like a floral arrangement.  Raw, thin, slices of pumpkin were infused with sweet oranges was very crisp and refreshing.  The smoked salmon roulade was smooth and rich, was made even richer by the creme-fraiche.  
The other appetizer from the dine out menu was poached egg with heritage onions, sourdough bread, alpine gold cheddar and some kale.  I was surprised to see how the egg was served; the white and the yolk was cooked almost to the same consistency (with the white being a little less cooked than the yolk, but neither was runny).  This egg wasn't poached regularly and I had to ask.  My suspicion was confirmed, the egg had been cooked sous-vide.  


I was really looking forward to trying the albacore tuna tempura from the dine out menu.  Wrapped with nori swimming in dashi broth with enoki, shiitake mushrooms, and radish, I really liked the construction of the dish.  The nori wrapping was light and crispy, while the tuna was perfectly seared and fresh.  The concept was similar to eating agedashi tofu with the tuna tempura sitting in dashi broth, which was not too salty.
The second main, also from the dine out menu, was natural angus beef short rib.  Although I did wish there was more jus to accompany it, the short rib was really the star of the show; tender pieces of medium rare short rib and charred edges.  Rutabaga (a cross between cabbage and turnip) was juicy and reminiscent of an Asian style stewed vegetable dish.
From the regular menu, pork jowl with oatmeal and bourbon barrel-aged maple syrup was one of our favourite dishes that night.  I never thought pork, oatmeal, and maple syrup would make a combination, but, they all worked very well together.  The pork jowl had that melt-in-your-mouth fatty texture, mixed with mushy, mild-flavoured oatmeal and sweet maple syrup packing more depth and punches.  That was quite a treat, and no, it wasn't gross at all.  


To finish our dine out courses, we selected lemon cake with parsnip and white chocolate mousse, and stout-infused tapioca.  The cake was quite dense, while the mousse was not overly sweet and quite fluffy.  I actually thought I was eating whipped cream.  I couldn't really detect stout flavour, but the tapioca was good.  What made it better was eating the lemon cake with the cheesecake foam.  
I was the first to veto the cheesecake as I was never a fan of the dessert.  Fortunately, no one listened and we ordered it under the recommendation from our server.  This was no ordinary cheesecake, but one which was actually in a form a fluffy, creamy foam with crumble bits and very tart blackberry sorbet.  It was so tasty on so many levels.  

Wildebeest won me over for creativity in the way the ingredients are brought in together.  I would definitely go back and try out more of their regular menu.   
Wildebeest on Urbanspoon