If you have been following along for some time now, you’ll know that I, or Jo and I in this case, started our first foray into the restaurant business last October. Our place, Eats of Asia, is located in the famous Millarville Farmers Market, about 20 minutes or so southwest of Calgary. The Market itself has been around for over 30 years nestled in the heart of the Millarville racetrack which has been around for over 100 years. When the opportunity to get into this hallowed location came up, I almost said no. It was actually Jo that slapped the reality of this unique gift into my head. When I look back now, I wonder if I was high that I considered turning down what eventually became the start of the most important crossroad of my, or our lives.
For as long as I’ve been doing The Aimless Cook, people always told me in the video comments that I should open a restaurant. I’ve always dismissed the notion, knowing not only that it’s one of the most riskiest business ventures out there, but also that people who start to invest their money and quit their comfy salary jobs to pursue that dream of owning a place of their own often end up crashing and burning into oblivion. So what the hell am I thinking?
Well, I’ll be honest with you. Passion can make you do some crazy shit. The key is that you keep it real, make good decisions, and not be stupid. If I were to put it into terms that most people would understand, “Don’t be like a young lovestruck teen, letting your dick make your decisions for you.” How’s that? One of the first rules I learned about the restaurant business from my mentor, “Never buy anything you don’t need. Cash flow is everything.” This opportunity didn’t come sooner because I wouldn’t have been ready. I’m 41 years old, I’ve been divorced, I’ve gone through the worst that relationships can give you, and in addition I have the best that relationships can give you. I have 4 wonderful children that mean the world to me, and looking back I wouldn’t change a thing. You could say that the experiences that I’ve had made me super skeptical and yet always hungry for more. I would say that I’m ready. I can also safely say at this point in life that I know what I don’t need.
So what pushed me over the edge of being nestled comfortably in the safety of corporate life into navigating the often treacherous waters of entrepreneurship? Well, in my case, take a few of the well-known elements of success and throw in some key players who walked into my life, a unique opportunity, and my current mental state and I think you have it.
Everyone knows that passion is key to pursuing your dreams, and I’ve had a lot of dreams. I think during the course of my life I’ve wanted to be a comic book artist, a rock star, a writer, a financial planner (don’t ask how that one got in there). The difference now is that something always brings me back to food. Like an old friend, you never appreciate what you have, but they’re always there for you no matter what and no matter how many years go by. I love to cook good food, share Asian culture, and making a career out of it made perfect sense. A noble pursuit indeed.
In the next few posts, I will be writing more on the subject of my adventure in the industry. If you have your own dreams of opening a restaurant, I hope that this memoir will serve as a guide, or at least give you an idea of the realities of pursuing your own passions.
The ramen burger is gaining popularity in North America. Touted as the newest food craze, it’s a clever sandwich using ramen noodles as the bun. Today, I’m going to show you how to make your own. Enjoy!
You will need:
- fresh ramen noodles (one package per person)
- 1 egg, beaten
For the beef teriyaki filling:
- 10 oz. thinly sliced beef (per person)
- 1 yellow onion, sliced
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons mirin
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- a splash of sake (optional)
- ¼ cup dashi
Cook the ramen like you normally would until cooked. Strain and transfer to a large mixing bowl. Add the beaten egg and combine until the noodles are evenly coated. Take the noodles, divide them into 2 equal portions, and put them into ring moulds, ramekins, or burger patty moulds. Pack them and weigh them down so that they can set in the shape of your ‘buns’. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
For the Beef Teriyaki, start by sauteing the onion in a small pot on medium heat with a bit of oil. Cook until the onions are lightly caramelized, then add the beef. Cook until the beef starts to change colour. Next, add the rest of the ingredients and continue cooking until the beef is done and the sauce is thickened to your liking.
When the noodles are set, they should pop out of the moulds easily. Fry them on a lightly oiled skillet on medium high heat until they are slightly browned and warmed through.
Assemble your burger and enjoy!
*The ramen bun holds up well to sauce. You can of course enjoy them with hamburger patties, katsu, fried oysters, etc. It up to your imagination.
What are you going to put in your ramen buns?
The Calgary Stampede is back and so is all the excitement that comes with it. I was on the Stampede midway last night and sampled some of the latest offerings that the food vendors had to offer. Among the classics, like corndogs, tacos, flautas, mini-donuts, and ginormous turkey legs, the bar was raised once again with the typical deep-fried shock-fest of offerings such as deep-fried Oreos, cheesecakes, Philly Cheesesteaks, and butter. Yeah…deep-fried butter. Here are a few of the items I had the pleasure (or displeasure) of sampling…
The classic corndog
This is my favourite food item under the “meat-on-a-stick” category. Whenever I visit the Stampede, this is one thing I cannot leave without having. Crunchy battered exterior, yielding to a perfectly cooked mystery meat in tube form underneath. This is street food genius on a stick. Just mustard, please!
This is basically exactly what it says it is, and as a result of eating this, I ask the simple question…why? Eggrolls are finger food, meant to be eaten with your hands. They’re already made into a form that promotes portability and ease of consumption. Why complicate things by adding a stick? Now grab some wontons, make them super-sized, fry them up and put 4 on a skewer. There’s something I can enjoy on the midway!
I honestly thought I would enjoy these. The heat of the peppers in play with the dark chocolate sound intriguing, but I was dead wrong. Since the jalapenos are fresh, they emit that raw, very powerful heat that just overwhelms the palate in a way that the chocolate just can’t compete with. Another one of those snacks for late night drinking challenges when it’s time for truth or dare.
This just sounds wrong on a lot of levels, unless you’re a huge fan of Paula Deen’s cooking. Chunks of cold butter are wrapped in pie dough and deep-fried. As a result, what you end up with is a pile of deceptive little morsels of molten-hot, artery clogging pastry bites. Since the butter inside is melted, you get this crispy on the outside, raw dough inside bite that’s just not appetizing at all. They’re a little better dipped in ice cream, but if you want a better experience for your buck, just get churros and ice cream.
Calgary food truck, The Naaco Truck, brings their unique spin on Indian cuisine to the streets, and at this year’s Stampede, they have brought the Naaco TNT. The TNT is chef and owner, Aman Adatia’s take on the famous Indian street snack, Jhal muri which features a colourful and refreshing mix of local produce, puffed rice, fried chickpeas, cornflakes, cilantro, lime and a tangy tamarind dresssing. Put that mix into a paper cone, add a stick (in this case, a tongue depressor) to scoop it all up, and go hard. I love this dish. Unlike all the other fried offerings that are constantly trying to out-shock each other, the Naaco TNT is fresh, healthy and incredibly delicious. The textures of the dry ingredients interplay with the crisp cucumbers and sweet corn to give your mouth a very pleasant experience.
The flavour profile focuses on the fresh, local vegetables and are a nice complement to the tang of tamarind and lime juice in the dressing. The pineapple also adds a nice hit of sweetness to round things out. Beautiful.
There are a lot of foods on the midway that are out to challenge your perception and tastebuds. Some are way out there while there are still the good old classics. What are some of your favourite midway foods?
Char siu is that famous Chinese red roast pork that you see hanging in the windows of your favourite meat shops in Chinatown. So delicious and savoury with that hint of sweetness from that incredible caramelized marinade. It’s easier than you think to make so let’s get cooking!
You will need:
- ⅓ cup Hoisin sauce
- ⅓ cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons Shaoxing cooking wine
- 2 tablespoons oyster sauce
- ½ teaspoon 5-spice powder
- 1 ½ tablespoons maltose (or honey)
- 3 lb pork shoulder*
*For a great balance of fat and lean, go for shoulder. If you want extra lean, get yourself pork tenderloin. If you want to go for broke, get pork belly.
The first thing we’re gonna do is make our marinade. You want to do this the day before so that your pork will have maximum flavour.
In a medium mixing bowl, combine ⅓ cup of sugar with 2 tablespoons of shaoxing cooking wine, 2 tablespoons of oyster sauce, a ½ teaspoon of 5-spice powder, and ⅓ cup hoisin sauce. For nostalgia, I’m also adding about 6 drops of red food colouring. Finally, add 1 ½ tablespoons of maltose, which is the secret to that wonderful caramelization that this dish is famous for. You can find maltose in most Asian grocery stores. If not, you can substitute honey.
Maltose is a very thick and very sticky ingredient, so be patient. It will slowly dissolve as you mix it with the other ingredients.
When the marinade is ready, put it into a large ziplock bag and then add about 3 lbs of pork shoulder. These steaks are about 2 inches thick, so for our home recipe, they should cook up fast. Coat the pork evenly and pop into the fridge to marinate overnight. Be sure to turn the bag over every few hours or so.
When the meat is ready, take it out of the bag and keep the marinade in a small bowl. Place the pork in a roasting pan on a rack and put in into a preheated 375F oven until done. You want to baste it with that marinade every 10-15 minutes. Also be sure to flip the pork over halfway through cooking. It will be done when the edges start to caramelize and the surface is glistening red. If you have a meat thermometer, the inside should read about 160F.
Once you know the meat is about done, turn the oven up to broil and briefly hit it with that high heat to caramelize the rest of the surface. Take out of the oven and set aside to rest for a few minutes before slicing.
Char siu is crazy versatile so make lots and keep it handy for whatever you want to use it for. It also freezes well, so you can store it whole or sliced, thaw it and use it whenever you get a craving. Enjoy!
What is your favourite dish with char siu?
As a chef, I am always intrigued by new cookbooks. I am a sucker for cookbooks, mostly for the inspiration they provide, but mostly for the new ideas and innovative ways they work with ingredients to create new and wonderful dishes. I have had the opportunity to read a cookbook lately by former model, Yara Shoemaker called “Health on Your Plate: Shop and Cook with Yara”.
To call Health on Your Plate a cookbook would be inaccurate, as Yara takes the reader on a health and lifestyle journey. The guide is the result of the observations and experiences she had upon her arrival in the US from her native Syria. Navigating the big box food culture of North America and trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle was a challenge for her, but Yara shares with us her tips, recipes and insight into keeping it simple.
I had the pleasure of talking to Yara Shoemaker about life, eating right, and staying healthy. Here’s what she had to say:
1. What is your definition of “beautiful”?
Every person has something beautiful in them; many times it’s just a matter of
accepting your uniqueness and emphasizing it. In my opinion, becoming healthy
should be our priority before becoming “beautiful.” You’ll often see someone who
doesn’t look like the glossy magazine standard of beauty, however the person is
healthy with a happy spirit, which shines through to everyone around them. So, beauty
is a combination of looks, health and a positive attitude!
2. What is your favorite simple weekday go-to meal?
Shot Glass Salad! It’s so versatile that I can use the same formula any day of the week
to come up with a fresh, satisfying healthy meal. And if you’ve already got seasonal,
organic produce on hand, you can create a balanced meal in minutes.
3. What would be your best advice to people that don’t seem to have enough time to
cook at home?
If you know how much of an impact your food makes on your quality of life, it will
become a priority. Food is much more than pleasure – it’s our life source!
To simplify it, just shop once a week for fresh, seasonal, organic produce (from a local
Farmer’s Market, if you have the opportunity) and wash it right away to cut down on
prep time later in the week.
Realistically, you’ll still eat out sometimes and that’s okay. It’s just a matter of following
a few smart tricks when you order:
• Skip the bread and butter – save your appetite for something nutritious!
• Start with salad – a small plate of leafy greens will help you with portion control when
the entree comes.
• Get salad dressing and any sauces that come with your food on the side.
• Ask for your meal to be cooked in oil, not butter (especially for proteins).
• When the dessert menu is offered, plug your ears! At least most of the time, but go
ahead and indulge when you know you really deserve it.
• Slow down! It’s more to your advantage to be the last one chewing – it gives your
digestive system the opportunity to absorb every last nutrient and also helps you pay
attention to your body’s full feeling.
4. Do you think that North America is getting better at knowing where their food comes
Yes, it’s really encouraging to see the health trend in this country! People are taking
serious steps to improve their health, including teaching their kids healthy habits, which
is so important. The only problem is: who to listen to? There is a wealth of information
out there and it can be confusing, so people need access to the right information to
make good food choices. That’s what my book is about, getting back to basics – the
essential facts that our ancestors have known for ages: focus on fresh vegetables and
whole grains, minimize the rest and you have the easiest guidelines that anyone can
follow! I hope this trend is lasting and that everyone will be more active in pursuing a
5. What is your fondest food memory?
I spent most of my childhood summers on the sunny Mediterranean coast in my
grandmother’s village in the mountains. She was always cooking up something
delicious in her tiny kitchen, and I remember her weekly ritual of making flatbread. I
watched her knead huge balls of dough and take it to her traditional tannour oven. She
made flat rounds and stuck them to the sides of the hot stone oven, waiting until they
bubbled and browned just right to remove them. Those warm pieces of bread dipped
in dark, earthy olive oil, covered with chopped ripe tomatoes from her garden and
sprinkled with salt is a memory I can almost taste even now!
Yara Shoemaker is an ordinary woman with an extraordinary appetite for knowledge
about healthy living. She decided to dig deep into the facts of nutrition and health to
learn how every bite would affect her and her loved ones. As a result, she created an
ideal lifestyle centered on natural nourishment with real flavor, detailed in her new book,
Health On Your Plate; a complete resource for the optimal healthy lifestyle! It’s the quick
guide to everything you need to know, from the healthiest cookware and appliances, to
essential spices, produce, and ingredients every kitchen should have and how to shop
for them. This essential resource uncovers eye-opening, little-known food mysteries that
will help keep you and your family healthy and safe. And you can look forward to easy,
versatile recipes, like the unique Shot Glass Salads that help you get creative in the
kitchen to make incredibly healthy and delicious meals!
Find mouthwatering recipes, healthy advice and more at her blog: Yara’s Way!
On today’s show, I am with Chef Darren Maclean from Downtownfood as we make some delicious okara fritters on part 3 of our special on soybeans.
The first thing you’re gonna need is some okara. Okara is the leftover lees, or pulp from the soymilk making process, and if you haven’t watched our soymilk episode, you can watch it by clicking the annotation or on the link in the video description below.
We put together something simple using some minced pork and vegetables that we’ll include in today’s recipe, but you can use whatever ingredients you have on hand.
You will need:
- 7 oz. okara
- 3 oz. minced pork
- 1 teaspoon chili paste
- 1 teaspoon ginger, minced
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon mirin
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 3 green onions, chopped
- 1 carrot, grated
- ½ cup oyster mushrooms, chopped
- 2 eggs
- a pinch of salt
- 2 tablespoons kimchi
- 1 cup flour
- 1 cup dashi
Combine the ingredients into a large mixing bowl and mix well to make a batter. Put in saucepan on medium high and cook slowly for about 6-8 minutes, stirring often until the mixture absorbs most of the liquid. You should have something like thick pancake batter or mashed potatoes.
Heat some oil in a pot or deep fryer to about 325F. Using 2 spoons, carefully drop the batter into the oil and cook for 4-5 minutes until golden brown.
Drain well on paper towels and serve with your favourite toppings.
We used green onions, nitsume (unagi sauce), gochujang, and kewpie mayo.
The first thing I should say about these okara fritters is that they are very light and fluffy in texture. The okara absorbs flavours very well resulting in a very tasty bite.
What is your favourite deep-fried food?
Silken tofu is incredible when made fresh, and Chef Darren MacLean from Downtown Food shows us how he makes his own tofu in-house daily. This is part 2 of our 3 -part special on soybeans!
You will need:
- 3 cups fresh soymilk
- 1 1/2 teaspoons gypsum powder, available at the Asian grocery
Make a slurry by combining the gypsum powder with a teaspoon of water. Add the mixture to the soy milk and mix well to combine. Put into a ceramic vessel and set aside.
Heat up a steamer on high heat til you have a rolling boil. Lower the temperature to med – med low until you have a gentle steam. carefully place the soymilk into the steamer and cover, leaving it slightly ajar to let extra condensation escape. Steam for about 6 minutes per inch of soymilk in the container.
*The tofu is done when it looks the consistency of custard.
Serve with your favourite toppings and enjoy!
Some of my favourite toppings include green onion, ponzu, mirin and soy reduction, sansai, dashi broth…
How do you enjoy your tofu?
On today’s show, I’m with my friend, Chef Darren Maclean from Downtown Food. In this first episode of a 3 part special series, we’re cooking with soy beans!
Soy milk is amazingly simple to make and delicious. In Taiwan, it is enjoyed hot as a traditional breakfast item with freshly fried youtiao (Chinese crullers). In our special series on soybeans, we will show you how to make your own soymilk at home.
You will need:
2 cups dried soybeans, soaked in water overnight
1 litre fresh distilled water (your favourite spring water is also perfect)
Drain the soybeans and put them into a blender. Add 3 cups (750ml) of the water and blitz on high until the beans are completely blended.
Pour the mixture into a large pot and gently heat on medium high, stirring occasionally until the mixture reaches about 140F. You will see the mixture start to get frothy on the top. When it comes to tempurature, take off the heat and pour through a couple layers of cheesecloth.
Squeeze the cloth to extract the excess moisture, then open up the cheesecloth. Use the reserved cup of water (250ml) to pour over the soy pulp (okara) and give it another final squeeze.
Return the milk to the pot and give it another gentle heating to 140F. This is important as this will improve the flavour, removing the raw bean taste and breaking down the natural trypsin inhibitors thus improving the nutritional value as well.
When that’s done, strain again and put into a container. Refrigerate and enjoy!
What is your favourite soy product?
Inspired from Martin Yan’s China
This chicken recipe was inspired from a street stall in Guangzhou and is featured in Martin Yan’s book, “Martin Yan’s China”. I have never seen a marinade using fermented tofu for fried chicken. It piqued my curiosity for sure!
- 2 cubes (1 oz) red fermented tofu
- ¼ teaspoon sugar
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ⅛ teaspoon white pepper
- 1 lb chicken thighs, boneless/skinless, cut into bite-sized pieces
- oil, for deep frying
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1 egg
- 1 green onion, chopped
In a medium mixing bowl, mash the fermented tofu into a paste with a fork. Add the sugar, salt and white pepper and mix well. Add the chicken, cover and marinate in the fridge for 1 – 4 hours.
Heat 2 inches of oil to 350F in a wok or medium pot. Mix thecornstarch and a couple eggs in another medium bowl with a whisk. Add the chicken and stir to coat evenly. Working in batches, deep-fry the chicken, stirring gently to prevent them from sticking together until golden brown and crisp (about 5 min). Remove and drain on paper towels.
Put into paper cones, garnish with green onion and serve.
What is your favourite stinky food?
Steamed bao are Chinese buns which are made by steaming a simple bread dough. They can be made plain or have a variety of tasty fillings like custard, meat or bean paste. In this recipe, I make the buns for my favourite Taiwanese style slider, gua bao. Enjoy!
- 1/4 cup water
- 5 tablespoons milk
- 2 1/4 cups flour
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 3 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
- 2 tablespoons vegetable shortening, melted
- 1 teaspoon white vinegar
Combine water and milk in a small bowl. In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, and baking powder. Slowly stir in the water mixture, and when absorbed, stir in the shortening and vinegar. Turn the dough out to a floured surface and knead for 10 minutes until smooth and elastic. Cover the dough and let sit under plastic for 1 hour.
Makes 16 bao.
What is your mealtime staple where you live?