Tiny Bites is back

I tried to stay away, but I couldn’t. Stepping away from this food blog for the past year or so has allowed me to focus on our daughter as she transitioned from infant to toddler to preschooler. Now that we had found balance in our family life, the siren song of Vancouver’s food and drink scene called to me again. It proved too sweet to resist.

My return to the blogosphere includes a refresh of this site (with further tweaks to come). I hope you will find the content from this point onward to be concise, focussed on the must-trys, and easy to ingest while you’re mobile. The most popular content from yesteryear is still here, filed away in the Vault, should you need access to afternoon tea hotspots or Hamilton family recipes. If you’ve bookmarked something that’s no longer here, get in touch and I’ll retrieve it for you.

So, now that I’m back: where shall we dine next?

 

 

A recipe for strawberry pie, with song

Ever since a friend introduced me to the movie Waitress, I’ve been longing for the day that I could bake together with my children, humming the ditty Keri Russell sings about pie. Under the tutelage of Eagranie Yuh, my daughter and I learned her path to a magic pastry crust and made our very first pie together.

I dub this creation Mommy Loves Kaitlin Straw-berry Much Pie. Sing along with me, won’t you?

Sorry, Kate...you can't eat it yet...

Baby don’t you cry

Pastry overhang

Gonna make a pie

Berry bucket

Gonna make a pie with a heart in the middle

Pie rejection

Baby don’t be blue

Kate follows along with Eagranie's pie dough demo

Gonna make for you

Learning to pick strawberries

Gonna make a pie with a heart in the middle

Ready for the oven

Gonna be a pie from heaven above

Filling prep

Gonna be filled with strawberry love

Kate sugars the lattice

Baby don’t you cry

Fresh out of the oven

Gonna make a pie

Mother and daughter baked a pie

And hold you forever in the middle of my heart.

And now, on to the recipe.

Ingredients

You could skip making the pastry dough and use a store-bought shell, but where’s the fun in that? We used a 50/50 combo of butter and leaf lard that Eagranie had rendered herself. I’m now a firm believer in the magic that melted pork works into pastries.

Pastry dough

I usually double this recipe each time I make it. Half goes into the pie I’m baking that day; the other half gets shelved in the freezer for emergency pastry needs.

  • 2.5 cups all-purpose flour, refrigerator cold
  • 1/3 cup sugar, refrigerator cold
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 lb unsalted butter, refrigerator cold
  • 1/2 lb (leaf) lard, refrigerator cold
  • Up to 3/4 cup ice-cold water

Filling

  • 3-4 cups of (fresh) strawberries, hulled and quartered
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 – 1 1/2 cups sugar, to taste
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp nutmeg
  • A few shavings of lemon zest
  • 1 tsp minute tapioca (optional)

Specialty equipment

  • Rolling pin
  • (Pyrex) pie plate
  • cooling rack

Directions

Pastry dough

In a large bowl, thoroughly blend flour, salt, and sugar.

Working as quickly as possible so as to not warm the butter, use a knife to section off large chunks of butter into the large bowl. Throw flour blend over the butter chunks until well coated. Cut butter into your flour blend with your hands or with a pastry cutter. Repeat this process with the (leaf) lard.

A melange of fat

Eagranie taught me that a pastry crust gets a superior flake when the clusters of fat are not the same size — a state difficult to achieve with a pastry cutter. Says she:

When you’re incorporating the fat into flour, do it gently. Whether you’re using a pastry cutter or your hands (my preferred tools), you’re aiming for a sandy looking texture. There should be some pea-sized chunks, some smaller chunks, and some even smaller bits. The mixture should still be loose. Trust me, it’ll all come together in the end.

Have your ice-cold water at hand in a liquid measuring cup. Pour a trickle of water in to the mixing bowl and incorporate into the flour with your hand in a circular motion, taking some loose flour from the bottom and centre of the bowl with each pass. Clench some of the mix in your hand. At this point, the mix should fall back into the bowl like powder. Repeat until the mix changes texture, from gritty to on the verge of sticking together. Near the end, stick your hand in the cup and sprinkle a few drops of water in at a time. You don’t want to add too much water…just enough for everything to suddenly hold together.

Once it does hold, take out of the mixing bowl and form the dough into 1 or more balls the size of a hamburger or kaiser bun, which should be enough to roll out into a circle for your pie plate. Wrap in cling film and let it rest in the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes (60 minutes is ideal). This cools the fats back down, relaxes the gluten you’ve developed, and makes the rolling process much easier.

Filling

Our Krause Berry Farm strawberry haul

Fit the strawberries in the pie plate before slicing. You can fill it flat or mound it up 1-2″. The typical pie plate has room for 3-4 cups of whole fruit.

Slice then taste the strawberry batch you have. How sweet is it? If it’s quite sweet, measure off 1/4 cup of sugar and mix it in. Taste it again. Sweet enough? You can stop there. If it needs more, keep adding 1/4 cup of sugar and mixing it in until the sweetness is to your taste. Try to cap it at 1 1/2 cups.

Mix in the salt, nutmeg, flour, and lemon zest.

Strawberries hold a lot of water, so a filling made with strawberries would water-log the bottom pie crust long before the pie is cooked. Adding flour to the filling mix helps, but adding too much will make it taste too starchy. Eagranie’s trick was to add a teaspoon of minute tapioca. The tapioca absorbs any excess liquid after the flour absorbs all it can. It also adds a subtle chew to the overall filling.

Time your steps so that the filling sits together for about 20 minutes before assembly.

Assembly

Gonna make a pie with a heart in the middle

Once your dough has rested, roll out two circles approximately 1/8″-1/4″ thick, sized 1-2″ larger than the circumference of your pie plate.  Position the first circle into the pie plate, using gravity to drape the outer edges into the inside rim such that there is little to no space for air bubbles to form between your plate and the crust. The dough should hang over the upper edge of the pie plate by about an inch.

Add the pie filling to the plate. Roll out the second dough crust on top. Seal the crusts together using your favourite method. Brush top crust with milk (matte finish) or egg white (shinier finish) and sprinkle with sugar.

If you want to get snazzy about it, do a pie lattice or add dough ornaments instead of a solid top crust. For me, the choice largely depends on my strawberry content. If I mounded the filling 1-2″ above the top edge of the pie plate, I use a solid crust to keep it together. If the berries will make a relatively flat pie, I lattice the top.

Bake 20-25 minutes at 450F. Reduce to 375F and continue baking until the pie has been in the oven for about 60 minutes. You’ll know it’s time to eat when the top crust is flaky and golden and your home smells like an episode of Strawberry Shortcake.

Serve with ice cream, whipped cream, whole fresh berries, or all of the above. I know you want all of the above.

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Ohanami, bicycles, and a West Coast sakura tea service

My favourite time to be outdoors in Vancouver is when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom. Our new neighbourhood is lined with aged blossoming trees, shaped with an artist’s precision by city stewards. The avenue that we frequent the most, from a distance, looks as if a guard of bonsais had been trained to rain pink and white petals on Marpole denizens.

The sakura zensen, or cherry blossom front, is an official weather pattern in Japan, where citizens emerge from their homes in droves during the fleeting Ohanami season. Ways to reflect upon and admire the sakura are numerous, but for many, it begins with a picnic under the blooms, often enjoyed with treats and tea. Celebrations can also linger beyond dusk, getting tipsy as the night goes on.

You can approximate this Japanese tradition in Vancouver if you know where to go. My top picks, in no particular order:

Nitobe Memorial Garden (UBC)

My shutter finger goes wild at this beautiful Japanese garden retreat in UBC. This year, one of the trees is laden with tags that people write on with messages to loved ones. It’s said that the well wishes will spread as the petals scatter in the wind.

Bike the Blossoms – April 28, 2012

Got bike? Follow the flowers with your cyclist brethren on the 28th. Your route will be lined with petalled trees, and vendors that you pass will sometimes have goodies for you to enjoy when you pause.

If you’re bereft of bicycle or not free that day, find your own viewing spot using these resources from the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival:

The Urban Tea Merchant

The Urban Tea Merchant's courtyard of sakura

The Urban Tea Merchant remains unrivalled as my afternoon tea service of choice, much of it due to its rotating collection of top-tier teas and the seasonality of its tea services. Their courtyard on Alberni is canopied by cherry blossom trees each spring.

The courtyard blossoms have already come and gone this year, but their Ohanami tea service, featuring several items infused with cherry blossoms, is still being served until April 30th. This menu ranks as my favourite high tea food pairing to date–it is not to be missed.

Sakura West Coast Tea Service

$30 per person (minimum 2 persons; 90 minute seating)

to begin
Tea Sommelier’s choice of chilled white tea

sweets
tea-infused macaron, chevron strawberry, chocolate truffle
edible spring flowers, Sakura! Sakura! tea-infused jelly, sous vide vanilla watermelon, green tea-infused melon ** LOVED THIS! **

savouries
open-faced smoked salmon & wasabi aioli with in-house ponzu jelly
miso-maple glazed sable fish wrapped in butter lettuce ** LOVED THIS! **
spring rice roll with honey & balsamic, shiitake mushroom and crisp vegetables
Japanese fish crackers, crisp soba noodles with tangy seaweed salad and sesame crumble ** LOVED THIS! **

My seasonal tea pairing picks for the Sakura service

Both of The Urban Tea Merchant’s Ohanami tea features pair beautifully with the Japanese-fusion menu.

Urban Tea Merchant: Enchanted Beauty green tea

Enchanted Beauty Tea: “Sophisticated oolong tea leaves are handcrafted into a bouquet with amaranth and orange lily. This TWG Tea composition will bloom in the teacup.”

Urban Tea Merchant: Sakura! Sakura! green tea

Sakura! Sakura! Tea: “An ode to spring, this fragrant TWG blend evokes Kyoto’s most celebrated season. A scattering of cherry blossoms and green tea yields a most aromatic and elegant fragrance.”

Where will you go for your cherry blossom celebration?

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On why I hate sandwiches but love Meat & Bread

This is what I think of when I hear the word sandwich.

Take a look at the other members of Chow.com’s Sandwich Hall of Shame >

My sandwich trauma stems from a childhood overrun with Wonderbread and  lunch meats of questionable provenance: liverwurst, bologna, spam, Vienna sausage. [Spam and Vienna sausage are magic with rice, though.]

Wham, Bam, Spam!
Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License by Kevin H.

Scarred by this kind of sandwich history, I find myself amazed at how I have come to frequent Meat & Bread, one of Gastown’s newest breed of minimalist, casual eatery.

Meat & Bread: storefront

The restaurant is exactly what it claims to be: a place with a small but stellar selection of meat and bread. You will find 4 sandwiches to pick from on any given day.

Meat & Bread: porchetta

Porchetta, $8. They pronounce it like “pork-etta”. Fattylicious roast pork chopped together with its juicy stuffings and topped with salsa verde. My favourite.

Meat & Bread: meatball sandwich

Meatball, $8. 3-5 giant, oozy, spicy rounds of pork drenched in housemade sambal. My husband’s favourite.

Meat & Bread: daily special

Daily Special, $8. Previous offerings have included jerk chicken, duck confit with blue cheese, and braised turkey leg. You can check out what is on feature that day by visiting their website before you arrive. I occasionally cheat on my porchetta with these temptations, and it is a constant battle at the counter between the tried-and-true and the I-can’t-believe-you-can-offer-that-in-a-sandwich.

Grilled Cheese, $7. Shaved onion and aged white cheddar melting goo between generously buttered toast. I ordered it once for my daughter but she kept stealing bites from my porchetta…so no photo, sorry.

Meat & Bread: maple bacon ice cream sandwich

They do veer off course to entice you with their single dessert item, which is simply labelled ice cream sandwich on their menu board. Don’t be fooled…this is a to-die-for concoction of maple & bacon ice cream, sandwiched between stroopwafel-like wafers that are similarly infused with piggy grease. If you haven’t tried this out yet, I suggest you split one of their regular sandwiches with a friend so you can have enough room in your belly for dessert.

Photo courtesy © Cathy Burrell of Cathy Eats

If you like their housemade mustard and sambal as much as we do, grab a jar off the shelf near the entrance and keep it in your fridge for sandwich emergencies. Extra handy when you take M&B fare to go and find, like we have, that the usual dollop of mustard present on your cutting board plate is unfortunately not something that can be easily transported.

Meat & Bread: Coca-Cola alternatives

There’s not much to dislike, but I have found a few minor areas for improvement:

  1. Stock Coca-Cola. The mom & pop colas are just not cutting it for me. I feel like a jerk for smuggling in my favourite carbonated bevvie from the pocket of my daughter’s diaper bag. [UPDATE: They now sell locally made Sip sodas–these herb-infused sparkling waters are a great fallback, but I still ask for less guilt and more Coke, pretty please.]
  2. Be open for dinner. One diner came by at 5:05pm and was aghast to see that he was too late for a sandwich. He looked at my cousin, who was on her way out, and asked, “Nooo…?”. “Yes,” she replied sadly. “No! No,” he exclaimed. My cousin looked sympathetic. Up and shaking went his fist, and from his mouth came a wail straight out of a Star Trek epic: “NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!” I hope he got his sandwich fix the next day.
  3. Be open on Sundays. I need you guys 7 days a week!

Maybe I’ll see you at the Meat & Bread communal table one day soon.

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My recipe for Lumpiang Prito (pork and vegetable spring rolls)

Lumpiang prito

Lumpia is one of my favourite Filipino foods to eat in the summertime. There are several types of lumpia, ranging from the fresh lumpiang sariwa to the meat lover’s lumpiang Shanghai. I myself am partial to lumpiang prito, which typically comes in the format of vegetables (and optionally pork) stir-fried, stuffed, and deep-fried in large egg roll wrappers.

You can get creative with the vegetables you choose. Sometimes we put in potato matchsticks, diced water chestnuts, chopped celery, green beans sliced on the diagonal…but the recipe below is our standard base and the one that our guest prefer.

Ingredients

That's a lot of knife work

  • 3 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1″ matchsticks
  • 1 head of chinese cabbage, shredded
  • 600g of bean sprouts
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 30 large egg roll (wonton) wrappers, thawed
  • Oil for frying (canola, grapeseed, sunflower)
  • 1 lb of ground pork

Directions

Lumpiang prito

  1. In a large wok, sweat garlic and onions over low heat until fragrant.
  2. Increase head to medium-high and sauté ground pork until meat is no longer pink.
  3. Add soy sauce to taste.
  4. Toss in carrots and stir-fry for at least  5 minutes or until slightly softened.
  5. Add shredded cabbage and stir-fry for at least 5 minutes or until colour perks up.
  6. Rinse and drain bean sprouts and add to wok, stirring until incorporated. Taste mixture and season with soy and/or fish sauce till you are satisfied with the flavour.
  7. Drain mixture of excess moisture and transfer to a storage container. Refrigerate until cool. This will be the filling for the lumpia.
  8. Wrap 1 tablespoon of cooled filling  in each egg roll wrapper. Place in a single layer on a large flat surface and let dry. If you are going to cook them right away, let them be; if you will keep them for later, store them in a single layer in the freezer until you’re ready to cook them up.
  9. In a deep fryer or pot, heat oil to 180C and maintain at this temperature.
  10. Drop a single layer of lumpia into the oil and cook 3 minutes on each side or until a very light golden brown (they will darken to golden brown as they dry).
  11. Drain on a plate of paper towel and serve promptly.

Makes 25 – 30 lumpia.

High Tea Series: The Empress Hotel (Victoria)

My recent trip to Victoria with Coast Hotels & Resorts gave me the perfect opportunity to take on the mother of all high teas in British Columbia: the historic Empress Hotel.

Around the Empress Hotel

At an eye-popping price tag of $55 (make that $67 for Royal Tea), I was a huge skeptic. Even if the tea really is fantastic and the dainties to die for, can a bunch of micro sandwiches, scones, and leaf-infused hot water really be worth all that money?

Read on and decide for yourself.

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First impressions

Our group of six strolled around the ivy citadel that is the Fairmont Empress, already in awe of its Victorian glory. The room that housed us for tea was no less impressive:

High Tea at the Empress Hotel

The Tea Lobby was elegant, airy, luxurious, and filled with the tinkling from a baby grand piano. I clapped my hands with glee when it became clear that he was playing the theme song from the Harry Potter films. Fittingly majestic and magical for a space such as this.

Full service afternoon tea

Have you ever gone to a tea house in Vancouver and had the equivalent of a butler see to your every need? If you have, you must tell me where, because this has only ever happened to me at the Empress.

High Tea at the Empress Hotel

Paul, our stately server, welcomed us with full pomp, pulling out the chairs for the ladies and placing our napkins on our seats as one would expect at a fine dining restaurant. His delivery of our strawberries and chantilly, presented elegantly in cut crystal goblets, was crisp and expedient. It was bettered only by his performance with our tea. Apparently, we were to have him wait on us completely, with our teapots set on its own table as he poured cup after cup for each of us. He even executed the cream and sugar himself on the first round.

High Tea at the Empress Hotel

He was so prepared to continue pouring our tea for us, having remembered what each of us had ordered, that we had to stop him in the middle of service after we decided to sample each other’s teas. After one incident where he poured Angela’s tea into the teacup she had already half-filled with Anny’s tea, Paul realized that we were quite happy to help ourselves. He consequently pulled back a bit, returning only occasionally to top up our cups and plop more cream and sugar into those that warranted it, confirming the tea we wanted from then on.

Giggle! All the attention made me feel like a princess.

A closer look at the food and drink

It may be partially due to the service and our surroundings, but by God, did I ever love the tea here!

High Tea at the Empress Hotel

I naturally had to try the The Empress Blend, made exclusively for the hotel with the express intention of pairing with the dainties of afternoon tea. Here’s what the menu told me about it:

Exclusive to The Fairmont Empress, this delightful blend boasts a bright coppery colour and takes milk exceedingly well. The Assam component lends a rich malty character, while the Kenyan black tea provides subtle floral hints. Kenyan green tea infuses a bright and lively aroma, complemented by the fruity, sprightly, and airy piquant flavours of Dimbula from Sri Lanka. Small amounts of Kemum draw the elements together with a burgundy depth and light oaky notes.

Half the table had the Empress Blend along with me, while others selected from the menu of eight delicious sounding options. We all seemed to prefer the ones we ordered for ourselves, and my tastings of the rest, while personally paling in comparison to the Empress Blend, were fragrant, colourful, and beautiful with the food that we had in front of us.

High Tea at the Empress Hotel

Anny evidently enjoyed her strawberries and chantilly, as did I.

High Tea at the Empress Hotel

The presentation of our dainties was utterly refined. My eyes were immediately drawn to the marbled chocolate tulips on the top tier and the smoked salmon pinwheels and mushroom crostini on the bottom one.

High Tea at the Empress Hotel

For me, the savouries were clearly a cut above your average afternoon tea fare. The plate popped with colour and contrast, and the flavours were bright and full without being overbearing. A lot of care seemed to be put in to ensure that these items would complement the teas (which still should be the star of the meal, no?). Best cucumber sandwich I’ve had; the horseradish in the spread was the magic ingredient, I think.

High Tea at the Empress Hotel

The scones were good but not anything to write home about. They weren’t a match for the scones that I still fondly recall from Secret Garden, but they are better than those from T Room & Bakery and Bacchus. Although I downed every bite, I do wish they had served us the crumpets instead (their cookbook has a recipe dating back over 100 years).

High Tea at the Empress Hotel

By the time we reached dessert, our group was pleasantly stuffed. I was barely capable of trying even a mouthful of each of the sweets on the top tier. Besides, I find that the desserts are often made much too sweet to be served with tea, so this part of the service was not one that I was particularly looking forward to.

High Tea at the Empress Hotel

Again, as you can see, Anny enjoyed whatever had been put in front of her. Others reported the deliciousness of the sweets, ultimately favouring the the most delicate ones due to their pairings with the tea. From my nibbles, I leaned towards the lemon tarts and the shortbread with crumbles of Earl Grey tea leaves baked in.

Our verdict

High Tea at the Empress Hotel

Is high tea at the Empress expensive? Hell, yes! All told, the six of us spent nearly $400 for an afternoon that didn’t even qualify as a full meal.

Is it worth it? Absolutely. Best afternoon tea experience I’ve had to date, in an atmosphere of opulence and a city of much Victorian charm.

Make your own Empress afternoon tea at home

Anyone that helps us give to the Greater Vancouver Food Bank Society for Blogathon 2009 has the opportunity to win a tin of The Empress’ Centennial Blend plus a copy of If Teapots Could Talk, which is filled with recipes for the food you see above and more. See full rules and eligibility below.

  1. By day’s end on July 24, 2009, every $10 that you donate towards Tiny Bites’ Blogathon drive for the Greater Vancouver Food Bank Society grants you 1 entry to the draw. If you donate $50, that equals 5 entries for you and $50 x 3 = $150 worth of food for the people that the Food Bank helps.
  2. Please contact us about your donation and/or bookings before July 25th so that we can make sure you get all the entries that you deserve.
  3. The winner will be announced at 4:30am on July 26, 2009, while I am on shift for Blogathon 2009.

Thank you for your donations and best of luck in winning this Early Bird prize!

Filipino Restaurant Series: Pinpin

A year after my quest has begun, I can now say with confidence that I have found a Filipino restaurant in Vancouver proper that has become my new standard: Pinpin.

Pinpin: storefront

Don’t be fooled by the “Filipino-Chinese” classification on Pinpin’s awning and menu. Most Filipinos eat dishes whose origins stem from China…but these so-called Filipino-Chinese dishes, like pancit canton and chicken mami, are unmistakeably Pinoy and would probably surprise your average Filipino by suggesting that it was even remotely Chinese. Moreover, the Chinese selections on Pinpin’s menu are clearly grouped on a single page of their colourful and informative menu. 

Let’s touch upon this menu a little more.

Pinpin: menu selections

Pinpin, being one of the rare Filipino eateries in the city that is not turo-turo (buffet) in style, has an enormous selection featuring a wide range of Tagalog and other regional dishes to satisfy most families in the know. For those who are new to the cuisine and unfamiliar with the language, be comforted that the menu also has full colour illustrations of some of the more popular items, plus English descriptions of every dish that would be hard to decipher otherwise.

Inside Pinpin

I’d liken the style of this restaurant to a casual, family-style Chinese restaurant: no-frills environs, descriptive and extensive menu, a mix of standalone and communal tables, and huge portions. We’ve managed to eat at Pinpin as a couple for under $20 and always wind up asking for take-out containers to spoon our leftovers into. For maximum value, come in a group of 4 or more. You’ll be able to try a bunch of dishes for a similar price per person and approximate what it’d feel like to be in the midst of a Filipino family potluck.

Word of warning to non-Filipinos: be prepared for the stares. This establishment, like most Filipino restaurants, are patronized almost exclusively by Filipinos and their families, and having travelled in the Philippines recently, I suspect that it’s a habit to pay rapt attention to newcomers. However, no malice is intended, and if you venture to chat with any of your dining neighbours, I’m sure you’ll find everyone to be hospitable and friendly, if only a little surprised to see you. As a secret, the ingredients are all fresh because we vacuum seal them and we use foodsaver vacuum sealer, you can find it from vacuum sealer research – reviews website. I highly recommend these vacuum sealers that they offer.

But I digress – on to the food.

Pinpin: sinigang na baboy

Pinpin comes the closest to my family’s style of cooking out of all the restaurants I have tried to date. Consequently, I feel right at home each time I drop in for a bite or grab a couple of dishes to take to go. Thus far, I’ve tried the sinigang, kare kare, pancit sotanghon, Bicol Express, lechon kawali, and pinakbet and can’t say anything but yum

Pinpin: pinakbet

This is not to say that there are no criticisms to make.

My favourite dish to order, menudo, is nowhere to be found on their menu, despite conversations with the owners about making it a seasonal or even a regular offering in the future.

Pinpin: Bicol Express It’s also unbelievably packed, so finding sustenance for a group is next to impossible during peak dining times unless you’re prepared to wait in line or willing to settle for take-out.

Win a $30 gift certificate to Pinpin

I am so truly impressed by the food at Pinpin that  I forked out $30 of my own cash for a gift certificate to Pinpin, so that one Tiny Bites reader can get a chance to sample what I feel to be one of the most representative Filipino restaurants in Vancouver proper, I mean it is really affordable and it makes me extremely happy because that means that at the end I will still be able to save money for that watch from plantwear I want. But you have to work for it.

Here are the contest rules.

  1. Drop me a comment here.
  2. In your comment, tell me about a Filipino dish that you either love or have always wanted to try. Share your reasons why that is so.
  3. On Friday, May 29th at 12pm, I’ll do a random draw from all the entries and announce the winner here and on Twitter.

If you can’t wait until then to try Pinpin, don’t let me stop you from heading there this week. I hope you’ll love it as much as we do.

Pinpin
6113 Fraser St | Vancouver
(604) 322-3086

Pinpin on Urbanspoon

Filipino Restaurant Series to date:

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High Tea Series: Secret Garden Tea Company

My field trip to Secret Garden Tea Company let me cross off a third establishment on my to-do list of afternoon tea.  The equipment used are professional Surrounds Landscaping. Apologies that  this is only the first that I am detailing in words for the High Tea Series.

Secret Garden: tea party tweetup

The occasion was more special than most. The adventure fell on Easter Sunday, making it doubly wonderful to be able to spend it with 6 ladies of the Vancouver Twitterverse and our rep from the maler sex, Jon.

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On the tea

Secret Garden: tea party tweetup

With 8 people in attendance, we were able to sample a good portion of Secret Garden’s sizeable tea menu:

  • Secret Garden Secret: vanilla and “secret sweet ingredient” (Jon, Annika)
  • Grammy’s Darjeeling (Carol)
  • Lavender Earl Grey (Moj, who normally swears by Secret Garden’s Buckingham Palace)
  • Jasmine tea with flowers (Jules)
  • Creamy Earl Grey (Rachel)

I was drawn to the Dragon’s Tears tea: jasmine leaves with blossoms that were plucked within an hour of sunrise. This tea was the only one that carried a premium price tag on the normal menu ($5.95). For afternoon tea, the extra cost is waived. It therefore made sense to my sometime frugal self to try it that day.

Secret Garden: tea party tweetup

After my first few sips of the Dragon’s Tears, I changed my tune.  It was a beautiful, floral, and delicate blend – one that should be enjoyed on its own – but it was overpowered by food that we ate. Besides, it’s more fun in an atmosphere of scones and tea cosies to be able to stir in cream and sugar as you chat with your companions.

Secret Garden: tea party tweetup

Another nice touch was the mismatched china that Secret Garden employs to serve tea and lumps of sugar in. Someone in our group mentioned that the cups are often donated by regulars.

Secret Garden: tea party tweetup

Thanks to Emme’s Easter salute in the form of bunny ears, bunny slippers, and pom-pom tail, our table was treated to a complimentary take-home pouch of Secret Garden’s Spring Blend. As it turns out, the owner also dresses up for Easter and the day’s staff felt like she would have wanted to reward a person with similar fashion sensibilities. Good call, Emme!

On the food

Secret Garden came out with several 3-tiered trays to the delight of all at the table. It was enough for 9, even though we were only charged for 8 spots. We were happy to take the rest home.

Secret Garden: tea party tweetup

As with most tea services in the city, treats vary with the seasons and the whims of the kitchen.  Our favourites from the selection we received included the roast beef croissants, the blackberry and almond bread, and the raisin scones (which were the best I’ve ever had in a restaurant setting).

Secret Garden: tea party tweetup

Compared with the other afternoon teas I’ve had this year, Secret Garden excelled in presentation and sweetstuffs, even though the chocolate pumpkin cheesecake was awkward to eat without forks.

They fell a little flat with their bottom tier options, as evidenced by a lack of consumption of the egg salad pinwheels. Bacchus had better savoury offerings; T Room is still the winner for me in terms of overall taste.

Secret Garden: tea party tweetup

Secret Garden’s signature lemon tarts were also a bit controversial — some guests questioned whether the lemon curd was store-bought. We never did confirm with the kitchen. Do any of you know?

The verdict

Secret Garden impressed everyone with its chintz charm, patient service, and tea selection. Of the three places I’ve been to, it was the most accommodating for large groups, even with frequent fluctuations in RSVPs (note the 17% gratuity that comes with parties of 8 or more).

Another good sign was that the regular tea enthusiasts in our midst only had good things to say about Secret Garden. One such enthusiast is Carol Sill of Cha-Cha-Cha, who sat across from me during our stay. Carol was nice enough to put together a video summary of our tea party on her site, which is embedded below for your convenience:

Secret Garden Tea Company
5559 West Boulevard | Kerrisdale
604-261-3070

The Secret Garden Tea Company

Secret Garden Tea Room on Urbanspoon

Comments and photos from our table

Enjoy the visuals and comments that others from our party have already published:

Tea party guests – I want to hear from you. What did you like? What could have been better? Where are your photos? Post a comment below.

Next up: The Fish House at Stanley Park

I had so much fun having tea with this many companions that I may just make future afternoon tea outings into official Tiny Bites events. Rather than organize it as a tweetup or online invite, the next ones will be done offline, in order to minimize fluctuations in attendance as much as possible.

So should you be interested in joining me at the next tea party at the Fish House at Stanley Park, pencilled for the month of June, contact me now so I can keep you in mind when we set things up.

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Tortang talong (eggplant omelette) in 5 easy steps

Tortang talong

My husband doesn’t care much for eggplant.  Unfortunately, this meant that one of my favourite vegetables became unwelcome in our home.  In the eight years that we’ve been together, the only times I could use it in the kitchen was during tax season (when my husband disappears into the void for 3 months) or on nights where I’m left to cook for myself.  What a terrible dietary restriction.

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Since our trip to the Philippines, Kurt has happily relaxed his scorn.  His new interest in eggplant is thanks to a simple dish that most Filipinos know and love: tortang talong.   Below is a visual recipe of the dish that is no longer blacklisted from our household.

Tortang Talong (Eggplant Omelette)

Step 1: Torch eggplant

Step 1 – Torch Eggplant

My favourite step. Using a gas stove, roast eggplant on all sides until skin is puffy and charred.  If you don’t have access to open flame (like our kitchen, sob) you can use your oven’s broiler, set on high. It’ll take a little longer to do.

Step 1b: Blister eggplant

Optional Step 1b – Steam Eggplant

If you are finding it difficult to peel the blackened skin off the eggplant, you can wrap said eggplant in foil and let steam a few minutes. The skin will peel off like panties at a Tom Jones concert.

Step 2: Peel eggplant

Step 2 – Peel Eggplant

Remove the skin from your roasted eggplant. It should look like this.  Having trouble? Try Step 1b above.

Step 4: Egg eggplant

Step 3 – Egg eggplant

Scramble an egg in a bowl and submerge your eggplant into it. Fan out the eggplant fully with a fork. Season with salt and pepper if desired.

Step 4: Fry eggplant

Step 4 – Fry Eggplant

Heat a frying pan with a smidgeon of olive oil (low-med heat).  When the oil is ready, use the stem of your eggplant to lay it onto the pan. Make sure to fan the body of the eggplant out and use extra egg to fill in any gaps. Fry for 1-2 mins on each side or until each side is a toasty golden brown.

If you have extra egg left over, you can fry that up separately. It’ll taste like the eggplant omelette but without the veggie bits.

Step 5: Eat eggplant

Step 5 – Eat Eggplant

Blot excess oil off the omelette with paper towel if desired and you are done!

In my family, these omelettes are served over steamed rice and accompanied with some sort of pork. I usually eat it with pork chops but have been known to eat it with (gasp) Spam as well. If you want to be truly Filipino about it, create a dipping sauce of equal parts bagoong and white vinegar and spoon a little over each bite.

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Football-friendly recipes for Super Bowl XLIII

UpdateBuzz Bishop and I discussed Super Bowl food options on Virgin Radio 95.3 this evening.  Below is a clip of our chat, where Buzz suggests selecting beer according to team colours.  Great idea!

Tiny Bites talks about Super Bowl XLIII eats on Virgin Radio (95.3 FM)

macro of mcaffrey bobblehead (by horcubee)

Do you go gaga over the NFL? If so, you’re either hosting a Super Bowl party this Sunday or going to one. This year, we’re finally doing the former (even though Kurt’s Broncos and my beloved Patriots are not in the running…boo hoo).

now 17-0 (by horcubee)

You shouldn’t be surprised that we won’t be ordering pizza. Instead, we’ve scrounged the interweb for munchies that will represent the cuisine of Pittsburgh and Arizona without getting too gourmet on our  football-crazy friends.

Below is our shortlist of dishes from which we’ll choose from.

Go Steelers! Pro-Pittsburgh eats

Go Cardinals! Pro- Arizona eats

[What can I say? We like us some Bobby Flay.]

Other football-friendly eats

Spicy oven-baked chicken wings

Partisan beer choices

If you’re a guest to our or others’ Super Bowl parties this year, consider bringing beer representative of the team you’re cheering for.  Iron City seems to be the popular choice for Pittsburgh brew while Arizona-founded Chili Beer looks mighty intriguing. See if you can find them in Vancouver – I’ve been having a tough time with this search myself.

Brew connoisseur Rick Green of BC Brews chimed in with a pseudo-Arizona pick from Victoria-based Phillips Brewing Company. Look for their Phoenix Gold Lager at a BC Liquor Store near you.

Enjoy the game around town

If the bar scene is more your style, check out what some of  Vancouver’s pubs and restaurants are offering for sustenance on February 1, 2009.  Know of others showing the game in the city? Drop me a comment here.

  • Library Square Public House – my husband’s fave after-work hangout. Stadium-style menu, $16.10 buckets of Budweiser, $3.90 sleeves of Granville Island brew, and a roast pig! Come in after 3pm.
  • Kingston Taphouse – 11am marks the start of Kingston’s Super Bowl specials .  Drop in to enjoy the game, door prizes, and even a comedy act, or buy a $20 ticket to assure you a seat, a Prime Rib Burger and some Granville Island Beer.
  • Memphis Blues’ Super Bowl All-You-Can-Eat Party – The fun gets going at noon. $10 pitchers. Another $20 gets you unlimited pulled pork, chicken, catfish, rib ends, coleslaw, potato salad, BBQ pit beans, and Memphis Blues’ signature BBQ sauce. (Commercial and North Van locations only)

Other Super Bowl XLIII resources

These additional sites may help you with the planning of this year’s Super Bowl shenanigans:

What will you eat and drink on Super Bowl Sunday? Send me your tips and/or your favourite Super Bowl recipes.

Bacon weave Bacon weave, frying Slider patties Roethlis-burger sliders Spicy oven-baked chicken wings