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Dim Sum Dilemma

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Dim Sum Dilemma

My first introduction to Dim Sum gets major points for ambiance, but negative twenty for actual taste. On our first trip to San Francisco (do NOT call it ‘Frisco or San Fran, everyone who lives in Northern California just calls it “The City”) we wandered through Chinatown and soaked in the atmosphere. There were boxes of live frogs squirming together like a plague just waiting to be released, turtles patiently climbing over one another and giant sized vegetables of every description. Stores extended past their doors and windows to encroach on the sidewalks, almost forcing people to walk in the streets, or run the risk of accidently placing  your foot in bucket full of glistening eels. The size, density and variety made Victoria’s Chinatown seem like the tiny little corner that they added into Old Towne in the Royal BC Museum.

Overwhelmed by the hoi palloi, we slipped into some random restaurant and pointed to some Dim Sum items through the finger prints on the menu. My memories of this first Dim Sum consist of a few sensory impressions: cold, dry, greasy and stale. So, it was a dining option we didn’t explore further until years later.

Fast forward about four years when I began venturing out in Vancouver to explore the diversity of Dim Sum, as there are plenty of options. This time I did some research and tried out Sun Sui Wah on Main. A big banquety space with carts racing around and the chatter rising up to fill the high-ceilinged room it was worlds apart from that first random incident. The cart approach is good for first-timers and large groups. You just take a whiff and a glance then point to what you want to try. The hard part is trying to remember what you liked for the next time. It’s a lot of fun with large groups of adventurous friends, or somewhat picky eaters who are looking to expand their horizons. I’ve taken a few Dim Sum Virgins to Sun Sui Wah and everyone got into it. It was fun first foray, but the carts were starting to lose their appeal.

My husband, the Executive Chef of my heart, told me about the Imperial on Burrard. He’d been there with some co-workers and he liked the dishes better than Sun Sui Wah. Wanting to do it right, I organized an upcoming birthday do for my two friendettes with back to back birthdays for a Dim Sum adventure. The Imperial is in a beautiful old building down by the water with a typically gorgeous Vancouver mountain/ocean view. The room was more elegant than Sun Sui Wah and without the perils of being run over by runaway carts. Ordering from the menus wasn’t the sensory experience of having everything brought by for inspection, but allowed more discussion and planning. A word about my friendettes, they get just as giddy over food as I do and it just makes me love them more than I would anyway. My b2b b-day girls were my Sushi Friends back in the day and could always be relied on to join me in a couple of rolls whenever the desire struck.

Back to the Imperial, well I did go back a couple times and the food was better, but I still wanted something more. I liked all the flavours and textures, but I still wasn’t finding the freshness. Eliminating the middle men running the carts was a step in the right directions. But, I was looking for more umami , something that would curl my toes and turn my raincoat red (I don’t know what that means, I just like the alliteration. Also I don’t know that I really want curled toes).

Exec Chef knew a guy who was related to a guy who ran a Chinese restaurant called Fisherman’s Terrace in Richmond (of course! I should have been looking in Richmond all along.). We went for dinner one night and had this amazing crab dish that was a whole crab covered in a dry “sauce” of  crunchy bits of goodness. I could see the glint in his eye that means Exec Chef is gathering inspiration that will result in a new dish. All the dishes were tasty, but what really impressed me was the bright and fresh quality of the flavours. We went there a couple more times for dinner before it dawned on me to try their Dim Sum!

The next time we found ourselves near Richmond around lunch time we headed to the Aberdeen Mall for Dim Sum and Daiso. We had our son, Young Fresh Chef, with us and we had to wait with the rest of  crowd that spilled out into the mall. When we finally got a table and a pot of Jasmine tea, we were presented with a paper menu list and a pencil. I ticked the items that tickled my fancy (including sticky rice and shrimp dumplings for Young Fresh Chef) and passed it to Exec Chef for his perusal. While waiting for the food, they boy and I wandered over to the fish tanks to check out their residents. The restaurant is huge and busy, the atmosphere a cross between Sun Sui Wah’s hustle/bustle  and Imperial’s dignified calm. Back at the table, when the food arrived, I was overcome by the heady scents. I dove right in and only came up for air to help Young Fresh Chef unwrap his sticky rice and give him a shrimp dumpling refill.

This was it! This was what I was looking for! The flavours were big, bold and balanced (the 3 B’s of flavour, according to me). The fried items were hot and crisp, the BBQ Pork Buns were clouds of dough filled with sweet and smokey goodness. There wasn’t a clinker in the lot. All the classics I’d had before were the best version I’d had and the “doughnuts” in a noodle wrapper were a revelation. It’s hard to describe in print, it made me want to laugh and cry at the same time. It shouldn’t be good, but it is, IT IS.

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The Perils of Peach Pie

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The Perils of Peach Pie

I *heart* pie. The phrase, “It’s high-time for pie!”, runs through my head with awkward regularity. I’m not sure where it comes from, I only know it means I should be looking for something with crust and a fruity filling. This is not to say that all pie is created equal. They need to be in season, no pumpkin at a summer picnic or cherry  by the winter fireside, and the filling shouldn’t be too saucy (unlike me) or too dry (like my wit).  While the filling is important, what makes a pie a *PIE* is the crust.

I will now share something with you, I fear the crust. Not on the plate, but in my hands. It strikes fear in my heart. Duh-Duh-DUH. I decided to face my fear, with the support of my Junior Chef and an excess of ripe peaches. Armed with my scale and copy of Michael Ruhlman‘s book Ratio.  I tried to remember everything I’d read about pie crust method from Jeffrey Steingarten‘s The Man Who Ate Everything. For the filling, I referenced Baking Illustrated. I decided to forgo the poaching and skinning of the peaches (reeks of effort, I did take the time to remove the pits) and I didn’t have the recommended potato starch or tapioca starch, so I used corn starch, but cut down the amount to keep the pasty taste at bay.

So, my first peach pie AND my first lattice top crust! When the pie finally cooled, I dished up some slices and served it to Chef. He took one bite, said I’d done a great job, then informed me that he doesn’t like peach pie. Well, I guess after 13 years together we still have a lot to learn about each other. Fortunately, Young Fresh Chef was a fan of the pie and it only took a couple of days to finish it off. I think he especially liked taking it to school in his lunch!

Banana Dippers

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Banana DippersMy junior chef is always looking for ways to make fruit more fantastic. Inspired by Lik-M-Aid. The comic features JC’s current top three dips. It’s really fun to rummage through your cupboards and try different dipables! So far we’ve sampled:

sprinkles – way fun

malt powder – in my top 3!

skim milk powder – good for combo dips

hot chocolate powder – another top 3 for me

grape koolaid – not so good if it’s unsweetened

Real Lemon and Real Lime powder – tangy and mouth puckering

ground almonds – subtle flavour with a nice texture

Orange/Lime Combo Dip

shredded cocoanut – rounding out my top 3

Combo dips make it even more experimental.

It reminds me of the potions we used to concoct as kids, then dare each other to try. I find that Junior Chef consumes much more fruit when there are dippers present and he is smiling and giggling the whole time. Further variations include: Pear Dippers, Apple Dippers and Green Grape Dippers. So, go check your cupboards and commence dipping!

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