Tea Time: Ti Kuan Yin Oolong (Review)

Well, I finally got to visit the tea shop My Cup of Tea again, after having been away from Montreal for a year. You would think that in Korea I could have visited some nice tea sMy Cup of Teahops and tasted some interesting teas, but though I went to a tea expo, it seemed to be less about tea and more about crockery.

My Cup of Tea

In any case, I wanted to pick up some of their Milky Oolong, which I hadn’t tasted in a long time, so I headed over to China town, where the shop is located on St. Laurent. The staff was helpful as always, and you’re free to smell thMCOT tease tea samples. The boxes of teas also look colourful and inviting. While I was there, I decided to pick up a box of ginseng oolong, which I had already tried, as well as a box of Ti Kuan Yin oolong.

Ti Kuan Yin

This tea is a few dollars pricier than their other teas, at $18 for 100g as opposed to $15, and it is limited edition. When considering the price, however, one should keep in mind that these types of premium, whole leaf, hand-rolled teas can be re-steeped up to 3 times.

Ti Kuan Yin (back)

Ti Kuan Yin (front)

The Chinese Goddess of Mercy

According to the package, this tea is named after the Chinese goddess of mercy, and Kuan Yin is short for Kuan-shi Yinwhich means “observing the sounds (or cries) of the (human) world.” IN one legend, Kuan Yin sets out to save all sentient beings from their unhappy plight. However, since there were so many people who needed to be saved, she struggled so to comprehend their suffering that her head split into eleven pieces. When the budda saw what had happened to her, he gave her eleven heads. After that, she tried to reach out and help all of the beings who were struggling. However, since she only had two hands, they shattered into pieces. Again, the budda helped her, giving her one thousand arms.

While I’m not quite sure what the goddess has to do with this tea, I do enjoy reading such legends.

Taste

This tea has a rather delicate, mild flavour. It does carry a hint of Ti Kuan Yin (leaves)sweetness, but I wouldn’t really describe it as floral. I’d like to try it iced after over steeping it a bit, as I think that may help to draw out its flavour. Ti Kuan Yin does have an interesting mouth-feel and its delicate taste does linger on the tongue, as is described on the box.

Well, ’til next time…enjoy your cup of tea!

Site News: We Have Moved!

Hello, all! You may have noticed there are finally some new posts on this blog! I’m back in Montreal, now, so am starting to contribute to this blog once again.

You may also have noticed the site’s new look. I have moved from WordPress.com to a self-hosted site with WordPress.org. So, please update your bookmarks! I will be reviewing old posts over the next little while to make sure links are working etc., but feel free to let me know if you notice something amiss.

‘Til Later…

Seed Starting Time

Sure, there may have been a snowstorm here in Montreal just last week, but hey, it’s mid-April, and the snow has melted. One’s thoughts turn naturally to seeds, seedlings, and gardens…well, at least, mine do. I did start some seeds not too long ago, and some of them have sprouted! So, here are some photos for all of you. These will hopefully serve as a source of inspiration, or, if you’re new to starting seeds and are having trouble identifying your baby plants, these could help you with that, as well.

Note: I did sow my seeds more thickly than usually, since all are at least 2 years old, and thus, will have a lower germination rate.

seed-starting setup
I used a commercial seed starting mix here, and bottom heat
These look similar to oregano and marjoram seedlings.
Bergamot seedlings (these look similar to those of oregano and marjoram)
These seeds are obviously still viable!
Tomato seedlings (these seeds are obviously still viable!)
Cucumber seedlings look like this as well.
Top- Borage seedlings (those of cucumber look like this as well) Bottom- Marjoram
Basil seedlings
Basil

From Seeds to Seedlings: Some Tips

Though one can just stick one’s seeds into soil and wait for them to sprout, here are a few tips to help you maximize your success:

  1. Use fresh seeds- Though seed viability is different for every plant, and also depends on how the seeds are stored, most seeds maintain their vigor for only about 3 years
  2. Use a sterile seed starting mix– Whether you buy a commercial seed starting mix or mix one up yourself, using a sterile mix (as in, don’t use dirt from your yard or potting soil you’ve already used) will help you to avoid problems with pests and disease.
  3. Maintain consistent moisture-  Make sure your seed starting mix stays moist, so that seeds are able to sprout. This can be achieved by covering your seed-starting mix with a plastic dome, and/or by misting it with water.
  4. Place your flats in a warm place- Most seeds sprout faster when held at a higher temperature, and this is especially true of certain heat-loving vegetables like tomatoes and peppers
  5. Provide sufficient light- Though most seeds don’t need light in order to sprout, your seedlings will need light to grow into strong plants.

Cocktail Hour: Romeo’s Gin (Review)

Romeo's gin 1st edition
Romeo’s gin 1st edition

Wow, exciting things have been happening on the Quebec gin front since I’ve been abroad. Yet another new gin from la belle province has made its way onto store shelves…and this one is even being marketed as ‘Montreal Dry Gin’. What a great time it is to be a Montrealer…well, if you overlook the struggling economy, bad weather, and ever-present language tensions. Still, I’m glad to be back in the city after a year of pining for cheese, bread, beautiful churches, and artichokes. As an added homecoming bonus, this gin is good enough to help you forget your worries…Romeo’s martini, anyone?

Romeo’s Gin: Background Info

Romeo’s gin comes from the maker of Pur Vodka, entrepreneur Nicolas Duvernois. After realizing that the restaurant business wasn’t for him, but that vodka was very popular, he decided to look into producing his own. Pur vodka, at the time it came out (in 2009), was the only vodka made in Quebec, and is to date the most-awarded Canadian vodka. Another Quebec vodka has since come out (in 2014), Quartz vodka.

Romeo’s gin was released to the public sometime between December 2015 and January 2016. I’m not sure what inspired Nicolas to choose gin as his next project, but I’m glad he did, since it is one of my favourite types of spirit. I’m also not sure what the story behind its name is…when I asked the question on their Facebook page, I received the following reply: “We called it romeo’s gin because of several reasons… But mostly because it’s a love story between Montreal, gin and art !”

MoZ
Mo’Z

This brings up the next point which makes Romeo’s Gin cool and unique, its link with art. The original design of the bottle features a logo and a work of art, Mo’Z done by a local (Montreal) artist, Stikki Peaches. The logo is to change every year, and next year and for every year thereafter, the distillers plan on creating two different logos, one featuring  a local artist and one featuring an international artist. It’s certainly a great idea, one which will no doubt help to achieve Nicolas’ goals of democratizing art and promoting local artists. He has additionally created a foundation called Romeo’s which aims “to preserve, democratize and modern[ize?] art.” 50 cents from the sale of each bottle of gin will go to said foundation.

Romeo’s Gin Flavour

Romeo's gin gibson
Romeo’s gin gibson

The main aromatics which were chosen to flavour Romeo’s Gin are juniper, cucumber, dill, lavender, almond and lemon. When I smelled it, I was only able to detect the juniper scent, which told me it was, indeed, gin. When I tasted it on its own, it tasted strongly of cucumber. After mixing it with vermouth in order to make a martini, I was able to taste, in addition to the cucumber, a floral flavour from the lavender and a nuttiness from the almonds. The almond seems to give it a slight bitter finish, which I’m not sure I like, but it does seem to be growing on me. On the whole however, it is an excellent gin with a unique flavour, and tastes very fresh and smooth. Though the cucumber taste is predominant, as in Hendrick’s gin, its flavour is different and distinctive. It’s no wonder they have just walked away with their first award, a double gold metal, which they received from the San Francisco World Spirits Competition (2016).

‘Til next time, cheers to Montreal, art, and Romeo’s Gin!

 

Restaurant Review: Copper Branch

Copper Branch PoutineIn honour of Poutine Week, my sister and I headed over to Copper Branch recently in order to try their portobello poutine with miso sauce.

Copper Branch: Vegan Fast Food

I had never heard of Copper Branch prior to this foray.  The company was established last year and is thus a newcomer to the vegan restaurant scene.  It is native to Montreal, and aims to expand globally through franchise.  It’s off to a good start, as it already boasts three locations: two in Montreal, and one in Brossard. They bill themselves as a healthy, vegan, environmentally responsible alternative to fast food.  They also deliver.

The Original Location (on Bishop): Atmosphere

My sister and I visited the original location on Bishop below St. Catherine.  It is a little bit out of the way, the sign isn’t super prominent, and from the outside it doesn’t really look like a restaurant, which made it sort of hard to find. I did notice the terrasse in front later on, so I guess that in the summer it is easier to spot.  Upon entering, one is struck by the rather odd juxtaposition between the fast food-style menus and counter setup, and the decor (faux-copper ceilings, copper pipes).

We ordered at the counter, paid, and sat down.  When our poutines were ready a few minutes later, we went to pick them up at counter.  The food came in large ceramic bowls, but the tea I ordered came in a take-out cup.  The cutlery was plastic, and in terms of salt, individual packets were available.  I’m not sure I understand the reasoning behind deciding to use real bowls for the food, and disposable drinking containers and plastic cutlery.  Maybe they couldn’t decide on their priorities so decided to hedge their bets?  Maybe they wanted to make their food seem classier, but weren’t prepared to go all the way with the silverware?  I don’t know.

The Copper Branch Poutine

On to the poutine!  The best thing about it was the fries, which were nice and potato-y.  On their website it says that they avoid frying, so it’s possible the fries were of the oven-variety, but in any case, they were good.  The miso sauce was rather thick, and wasn’t very flavourful.  It most certainly lacked salt and pepper.  The portobello mushrooms were few and far between.  The vegan cheese added absolutely nothing to the equation, neither flavour nor texture.  To those of you who buy daiya vegan cheese on a regular basis…do you actually enjoy the flavour of this product?  Or do you use it only for presentation’s sake?  On the whole the poutine was rather soggy and bland.  It lacked the textural interplay of a traditional poutine, and thus wasn’t very fun to eat.

Vegan Superiority Paradox

Judging by this one dish, Copper Branch, like most of the vegan restaurants I’ve eaten at in Montreal, seems to the guilty of something I’d like to call the vegan superiority paradox.

vegan superiority paradox:

The belief that because one is serving food which is ethically superior (whether because it’s vegan, sustainable, fair-trade, eco-friendly, healthy, etc.), one does not need to strive for culinary greatness.

Paradoxically, for now, at least, these companies/restaurants seem to be right in this belief.  Although the food served at vegan restaurants isn’t, in most cases, as tasty or as good (flavourwise) as equivalent dishes served in regular restaurants, they are still popular, and in most cases do very well.  This is either because their customers lack alternatives, or because they believe that healthy food should be bland.

It is a good thing that more vegan and vegetarian restaurants are opening up and that the public is waking up to the problems with our food supply.  I do find it saddening that so many of these restaurants seem to feel that ‘okay is good enough’ when it comes to flavour.  I find it saddening because I know that vegan food need not be bland.  It can be delicious.  Build some flavour.  Add some seasoning.  It’s not that hard.

Hopefully one day I will finally have the opportunity to open my own restaurant so the I can prove that to the world.

‘Til next time…

Dear Blog (and possible blog readers),

I know that I have been neglecting you lately.  The truth is, this past year has been rather rough for me. After I returned from Paris, I looked for a waitressing or bartending job, but was unsuccessful in spite of 12 years of experience.  I also tried to find clients for the personal chef business I was hoping would take off.  There, too, I was unsuccessful.  I was thus forced to take a cooking job.  Why was a cooking job my last resort, you may ask.  Don’t you like cooking? Well, blog, you’ve obviously forgotten about this post, in which I declare the restaurant industry in Montreal unsustainable.

Anyway…though the job I have allows me to cover my basic expenses, I pay almost half of my net salary in rent (not including hydro, or anything else)  This leaves me in a very precarious situation financially.  If I have unexpected or occasional expenses, there is no room in my budget for them.  There is also no room in my budget for going out to eat once in a while, etc.  On top of this my job is dull, unrewarding, and provides no opportunities to interact with anyone except the other cooks with whom I never really seem to have much in common.

This unlife has left me with a bad taste in my mouth, and I became disillusioned with…well, pretty much everything including writing in you, dear blog.  This experience has also left me ever more bitter and jaded about the restaurant industry.  I’ve pretty much stopped reading the restaurant reviews and such, because…hey, it’s not like I can afford to eat out, or anything.

I went into cooking in hopes of opening up my own restaurant one day.  However, since that goal is not currently within my grasp, and since I’ve always wanted to see more of the world, I’ve decided to dust off my Bachelor’s of English Literature and go teach English as a second language in South Korea.  The abundant opportunities for new culinary experiences (and new experiences in general) will hopefully renew my zest for life (and food, and cooking).  Also, the fact that I’ll be paid a decent wage and will actually be able to start saving money again should take a load off of my shoulders.

I’m not sure if I should start a new blog, or continue on with this one…but there are changes ahead, blog, that much is certain.

Review: Brasserie Dieu du Ciel’s Rescousse (to the Rescue)

Dieu Du Ciel- 'Rescousse' boxDieu Du Ciel- 'Rescousse' bottleA local beer whose brewers will donate 66 cents for every six-pack sold to the Fondation de la faune du Quebec?  And which boasts this nature-goddess-like figure on the box?  How could I resist?

Described as an altbier (which is German for ‘old beer’), it is a style of beer brewed using top-fermentation.  This rousse boasts a surprisingly bitter finish with notes of chocolate and coffee…something one doesn’t usually find in red beers.  And there’s a a short poem on the box.  Awesome!

‘Till next time…cheers!

Making Tempeh at Home: My First Attempt

After finding a source for Tempeh starter recently, I had the opportunity to try making Tempeh.  I used the recipe from Sandor Ellix Katz’s book, ‘Wild Fermentation‘, and have also culled some info from his new book, ‘The Art of Fermentation’ to round things out:

2 1/2 cups soybeans

2 TBSPs vinegar

1 tsp Tempeh Spore (Actually I used 1 of the four packets…I only noticed after I was ready to add the spore that they recommend 1 packet for 2 cups of soybeans)

Step One: De-hulling the Soybeans

The beans must be de-hulled in order to provide a greater surface area for the spore to grow on.  If you have a grain mill, this is a great time to use it.  You don’t want to make soy flour, however, so be sure to use the coarsest setting.  If you don’t have a grain mill, you can soak the beans, cook them until Milling the soybeansMilling the soybeanssoftened slightly, and then mash them up in order to loosen the hulls.

 

 

 

Step Two: Cooking the Beans

Cooking soybeans

If you haven’t already started cooking your beans, now is the time to do so.  They should be boiled until you are just able to bite through them, not until they are fully cooked.  It is important to avoid overcooking them, as this will cause them to become mushy, which will result in a very tightly packed tempeh cake which will, in turn, result in a lack of space between the beans, and thus, a lack of oxygen available to the tempeh mold, hindering its growth.  The soybeans should take between a half hour and 45 minutes to cook to the ideal degree of doneness, but cooking time can vary due to the age of the beans and their size (or the size of the grind), so it’s important to keep and eye on them.

As the beans cook the hulls should rise to the top of the water. They may be skimmed off if desired, but removing them is unnecessary.

Step Three: Strain and Dry the Beans

Once they are cooked enough, strain the soy beans, doing your best to remove as much water as possible.  PrepareDrying the beans a baking sheet with a clean, dry towel and spread the beans out upon it.  You can place the tray near a fan to dry them further, or use another towel to pat them dry.  Excess water can lead to bacterial growth as opposed to the desired mold growth.

Step Four: Inoculation

Put the beans into a bowl, and add the vinegar.  Mix it in well.  Vinegar is added to the mix in order to give the tempeh spore an advantage over bacteria present in the air.  Katz goes into some detail in his new book about how the traditional method of making tempeh involves two distinct fermentations, the first of which acidifies the beans.  The beans are soaked for 24 hrs, which, in a tropical climate, is long enough to sour them.  Though the vinegar method works, Katz seems to be of the opinion that the traditional soaking method may be worth the effort (though, at lower temperatures, one would have to find a way to speed up the process).  I may try that next time.

Next, it is time to add the Tempeh spore.  Make sure the beans are no hotter than body temperature, then add your starter and mix well.

Step Five: Forming the Cakes

Produce BagsSoybean cake

For this step you’ll need large plastic bags with holes in them.  I’m using produce bags, because they come with air vents, but you can poke some holes in large zip-locks instead.  Put your mix into the bags.

 

 

 

Step Six: Incubation

The tempeh needsIncubation set-up to be incubated at between 85 and 90 degrees F (29 to 32 C).  Unless you have something specially designed for this kind of thing, you will likely need to use your oven for incubation.  An oven cord thermometer is most useful type for this purpose, but any type of thermometer can be used to check the temperature.  Though the lowest setting on your oven will be too hot for incubation, you can fiddle with the temp inside your oven by turning the light on and cracking the oven door more or less until you find a setup that works for you.

When your oven is at the proper temperature, place the tempeh inside.  I put it on a baking tray, but recommend you place it on a rack, as the underside of the cake was not properly colonized by mold, likely due to a lack of air circulation.

Incubation takes between 20 and 30 hours.  During the second half the fermentation period the tempeh will start to generate heat, so make sure to keep an eye on the temperature.

Making Tempeh (after 18 hrs)

Making Tempeh (after 18 hrs)- close-upMaking Tempeh (after 22 hrs)Making Tempeh: Underside of Tempeh

The tempeh is ready when it has become a solid mat of beans, held together by a white mold.  It may have some black or gray mold around the air holes…these are new spores forming.  It should smell mushroomy. As I’ve already mentioned, I had a bit of trouble with my tempeh because it did not colonize on the underside, so I put it on a rack and put it back into the oven.  The cake got a bit more solid, but even though I left it to grow for another night, it never grew in completely.  It was a bit crumbly but I was still able to get it out of the bag in pretty much one piece.

 

Step Seven: StoringMaking Tempeh: Finished Tempeh

Remove the tempeh from the bag, and let it cool.  You can then cut it into pieces for storage.  Fresh tempeh will keep for about a week in the fridge.  Make sure not to stack the pieces in the fridge or the mold will continue to grow and will generate heat.  You can freeze the rest of it.

Step Eight: Eating!

The fresh teFried Tempehmpeh differed significantly in texture and in flavour compared to the Noble Bean tempeh I usually buy.  It was firm, instead of being soggy, and crisped up nicely when fried.  It had a pleasant mushroomy flavour and didn’t have the slight bitterness that I’ve come to associate with tempeh.  It made some fantastic tempeh bacon!  I haven’t yet Tempeh bacontried defrosting any of the tempeh I froze, so I’m not sure how much freezing the tempeh affects its flavour and texture.

Making your own tempeh can save you quite a bit of money, as well, as the cost of the ingredients is quite low.  According to my calculations, it was about 1/6 of the price oFried Tempeh Baconf store-bought (about $4 for 240g).

My next adventure in tempeh making will be soy-free, for my mom who doesn’t eat soy.

Happy Fermenting!

Update:  The defrosted tempeh is a little soggier than the freshly made stuff, but its flavour and texture are still superior to that of store-bought.

Where to Find Fermentation Cultures in Montreal?

Cultures for Health Products Available at Mycoboutique

Good news, readers!  After many hours of fruitless google searching, I have finally stumbled upon a store which sells Tempeh Tempeh Starter and Kefir Grainsspores and Kefir grains:  MycoBoutique.  Both water and milk Kefir grains are available.  I decided to go with the water grains, since I’m interested in doing both dairy and non-dairy ferments, and from what I’ve read it is fairly easy to convert the grains from one medium to another.  The brand they are selling is Cultures for Health. Since the the labels on the products are entirely in English, I’m guessing that selling these products here is not exactly permis, so please, refrain from telling any buddies you may or may not have at the Office about this. Though Mycoboutique’s prices for these products are higher than prices on the Cultures for Health website, when you factor in the exchange rate, shipping cost, and the opportunity to avoid playing russian roulette with customs and ridiculously expensive brokerage fees, I think you’ll find the markup reasonable.

VitalCâlin and Koji

They also carry a product called VitalCâlin which contains a culture of Aspergillus oryzae…which, though it is not being marketed as such, can likely be used to make koji (a necessity if you want to try making miso or sake at home). Though koji is defined on Wikipedia as simply ‘the common name of the fungus Aspergillus oryzae’, a recipe that calls for koji usually refers to rice that has been inoculated with the fungus. A spore starter which consisted of the spores on rice flour, on the other hand, is usually referred to as koji-kin.

VitalCal is made by a Quebec company, Aliments Massawippi who specializes in organic miso. Considering the fact that they’ve been around since 1999, I don’t understand why I’ve never heard of them before! I’ll be on the lookout for their products in the future, though. There’s a list of sales points on their web site for anyone who’s interested…unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to include any stores in Verdun!

Anyway…I’m currently incubating my first batch of Tempeh…I’ll let you guys know how it goes.

Happy fermenting!

Cocktail Hour: Yellow Chartreuse

Yellow Chartreuse

If you’ve never tried Chartreuse before, you should…it’s good quality stuff.  Still made by Carthusian monks using the method outlined in a secret manuscript given to them in 1605, it is essentially an herbal liqueur.   The more readily available green version is sweet, pungent, and strong (55% alcohol).  Served on ice, and sipped slowly, it goes down deceptively smoothly.  It’s gentler cousin,  yellow chartreuse,  is both less strong (40%), and less assertive in terms of flavour.   It tastes sweeter, and reminds one of honey on the tongue.

Til next time…cheers!