Sunday, October 7, 2007

Still alive!

My last post here was nearly two months ago? How embarrassing!

My hectic summer was filled with travel and work. I've also been incredibly busy planning my trip to South America. I'm leaving tomorrow for a 31-day trip to Peru and Bolivia. I'm really looking forward to soaking up the new sights, sounds, and tastes of my next adventure.

I shall return after November 10th with a new resolve to be a better blogger!

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time
~T.S. Eliot

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Gobo - Burdock root

When I was a kid I used to watch my grandmother in the kitchen preparing gobo. Standing on my toes to see above the kitchen counter, I marveled at how each scrape with a knife would slough off the dark woody bark and reveal pearly white flesh. I used to wonder how she could transform something which looked like an old stick into a sweet-tasting traditional Japanese Canadian dish.

Gobo, or burdock root, is a hardy biannual plant belonging to the chrysanthemum family. It can grow to around three or four feet tall with large pale green leaves. The edible roots are normally harvested when 12 to 18 inches long. Gobo easily grows from seed. The spring-sown seeds are ready for harvest from late summer through to autumn, and the autumn-sown varieties are overwintered and dug up the following spring or early summer. Although gobo produces flowers, it’s best to harvest it before the flowers appear, otherwise the root gets too tough.

I remember watching my dad digging up gobo from our backyard; it was always quite a workout because the taproots can extend for several feet. My father would choose sandy, loamy soil and cultivate it very deeply, making sure there were no rocks. Cultivating the sandy soil at least a foot and a half deep before planting the seeds helps make the effort of digging it out a little easier. These days gobo can easily be found in Asian grocery stores.

It’s believed that gobo was originally used in Japan for its medicinal qualities. It is a good source of dietary fibre, contains calcium and potassium and it’s low in calories. Since it can grow nearly anywhere and rarely bothered by pests, many cultures have used it over the centuries. Burdock root has been used in early Chinese medicine and it’s also been documented in Indian Ayurvedic medicines, as well as used by German and Russian herbalists. For the Iroquois in North America, burdock root was an important winter food; they dug it in the autumn, dried it, and ate it throughout the winter. Although burdock root grows wild around the world and many cultures have used it throughout the ages, it had only, until very recently, been actively cultivated by Japan as a vegetable. In that regard, it’s very likely the seeds Japanese Canadians used were brought here by the Issei (first generation) from Japan. (My father says he uses seeds given to him from a late Issei relative in our extended family.)

A popular way to cook gobo—and the way my grandmother used to prepare it—is kimpira, a sauté and simmer cooking technique often used to prepare root vegetables. When gobo is cooked this way the bitter flesh becomes nutty and sweet.

Gobo Kimpira

1 cup gobo

¼ cup carrot or one large carrot

2 tbsp vegetable oil

1 tbsp sesame oil

2 tbsp soy sauce

1 tbsp sugar

1 tbsp mirin

½ tsp dried chilli flakes or shichimi togarashi

To prepare the gobo you can scrape off the bark with a knife but I use a vegetable peeler to take the bark off, it’s quicker and safer. If the gobo skin is thin you can also clean it by using a coarse vegetable brush. Cut the gobo into thick matchsticks. Immediately soak the cut and cleaned gobo in cold water to prevent it from turning grey. Cut the carrot into matchsticks.

Heat a wok or skillet over medium heat. Add the vegetable oil and add the drained gobo. After a few minutes add the carrots, shoyu, sugar, mirin and continue to cook over medium heat until most of the liquid has evaporated. Sprinkle on the sesame oil, chili flakes, or shichimi togarashi. Gobo kimpira can be served hot or cold.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Cambodian beef lok lak

One of the best meals I had during my trip to Southeast Asia was Cambodian beef lok lak. I enjoyed this dish while I was in Siem Reap, where the amazing temples of Angkor Wot are located.
Cambodian beef lok lak (or loc lac) consists of stir-fried cubes of beef in a spicy lime marinade served with a fried egg and rice. This was a hearty and satisfying meal to enjoy after a long day scrambling around the temples in the steaming jungle. Chow has a good recipe for it here.

Siem Reap is a magical place. I was surprised at the number of tourists there and I was particularly surprised at the Las Vegas-style hotels being constructed along the road to the airport. The tourism industry is booming there, according to the latest statistics.

I have to confess that during my trip to Southeast Asia I didn't partake in a lot of the streetfood. I was worried about getting sick and--sure enough--I did get sick one evening while I was in Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City. But I've recently came across a short article, How to Eat Street Food Without Ruining the Trip, that contains some good tips.

Coming up: I have a few more posts to make about my trip to Southeast Asia once I've sorted through my photos. I also just got back from a trip to Portland, Oregon, and the International Pinot Noir Festival in McMinnville, so expect to see a report on that.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007


I got back from my trip to Southeast Asia several weeks ago. Vietnam is a beautiful country. I loved everything about it--except for the humidity. It's an incredibly lush and intoxicating country full of green rice paddies and friendly people.

I think my favourite place in Vietnam was Hanoi in the north. The traffic is crazy there. Hundreds--if not thousands--of people on scooters, rushing here and there. Crossing the street is quite an of bravery.

Here are a couple of pictures of the market in the old quarter of Hanoi and street food.

As expected, the pho (traditional Vietnamese beef soup) was amazing in Hanoi.

There are many variations on the recipe, but the trick to making excellent pho is to start off with a good stock. Here's a simple recipe I use at home:

Pho, Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup


For the stock:

1 large onion, chopped
1-inch ginger root
1 pound beef bones or oxtails
6 star anise

Broil the onion and ginger root until caramelized. Smash the ginger root. Place the beef bones in a large pot, add enough water to cover the bones. Add ginger, onion and star anise. Bring to a boil and reduce to simmer for 30-40 minutes. Skim off foam that rises to the surface while simmering.

For the soup:

1 package rice noodles
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 fresh green or red chili pepper, thinly sliced
1 pound lean tender beef, thinly sliced

Take the bones out of the finished stock. Strain out the vegetables and seasonings. Bring the strained stock back up to a boil. Add the rice noodles. Cook until al dente. Add the fish sauce, chili, and thinly sliced beef. Adjust seasoning (add salt and pepper to taste) and serve with garnishes.

Add as many fresh garnishes as you want! Include fresh bean sprouts, thinly sliced green onions, fresh sprigs of basil, mint, or cilantro.

New template

Testing, testing. Trying out a new template.

Yes, I'm still alive!

Saturday, April 28, 2007

And the next adventure is...

In a few hours I leave for a two-and-a-half week trip to Southeast Asia. I'm going to be travelling to Vietnam, Angkor Wot in Cambodia, and Bangkok, Thailand. I hope to sample some great food and take a lot of pictures along the way. I'm also scheduled to take a cooking class at the Blue Elephant Cooking School in Bangkok. So I'll be back here later in May with lots of new stories to tell!

Friday, April 13, 2007

Noshing in New Orleans

A couple of months ago my husband attended a conference in New Orleans and I tagged along. This was my second trip to New Orleans (my first one was in April 2004) and both times I had gained a few pounds by the end of the vacation. You'll see why. Here are a few photos from my week there.

As soon as we landed in New Orleans and got settled into our hotel (The Sheraton on Canal Street on the edge of the French Quarter), we took a walk along Decatur Street and made a beeline to Johnny's Po-Boys.

A po-boy is a traditional Louisiana submarine sandwich. This one has breaded deep-fried shrimp, lettuce, tomato, pickles and mayo on a crusty French baguette.

This is a deep-fried soft-shelled crab po-boy sandwich with a bowl of gumbo, also from Johnny's Po-Boys.

A Muffuletta sandwich from the famous Central Grocery in the French Quarter. Another hearty sandwich made famous in New Orleans, the muffuletta is packed with layers of salami, capicolo, and mortadella meats, with provolone cheese and an olive/pickled vegetable mixture.

And, of course, a trip to New Orleans wouldn't be complete without a visit to the legendary Cafe Du Monde on Decatur Street. The beignets arrive to your table hot and piled high with icing sugar.

We enjoyed a nice dinner at Brennan's restaurant. I had the veal with crab meat and hollandaise sauce. We had to ask the waiter what the little yellow package tied with a green ribbon was at the corner of my plate--it turned out to be a half a lemon tied in yellow cheesecloth. Ha!

This is another traditional Creole dish of crawfish etouffee with rice. I wish I could buy crawfish here in Vancouver.

I can never have a enough seafood. This is a cold shellfish platter from Bourbon House restaurant. It's loaded with oysters on the half shell, mussels, shrimp and scallops.

New Orleans is one my favourite cities in North America. The food is excellent, the people are friendly, and the jazz music is fantastic. I can't wait to go back again someday.