This vegetarian black bean chili I made is damn good. Served on rice.

New Year 2015

Our friend Steve was raised heavily influenced by Japanese culture, so he has a tradition of hosting New Year in that style. This is what the table looked like; we had a lovely day with Steve, Dorene, Mark, Crystal, Chantal, Edmund and I. Dishes shown: burdock root salad, mochi, sashimi (tako, hamachi, maguro), rice crackers. Not shown: o-zōni soup, soy prawns, takuan, a number of other pickles and condiments.





Christmas Cheers and Holiday Haul

After our homey Christmas Eve, we slept in on Christmas Day. In the (late) morning, Edmund baked his contribution to the get-together later that day: another recipe from Where People Feast, Pacific macaroni and cheese… a deceptive title for a scrumptious baked pasta dish filled with fresh crab meat. It smelled so good, I started hoping San Francisco would be snowed in within the next half-hour so we could justify staying home and eating the whole dish!

Then we exchanged some stocking stuffers, and we headed out with the steaming dish to have Christmas lunch-dinner-feast at our friends’ Steve W. and Dorene with a bunch of other friends and family. As usual, everyone had brought wonderful dishes to share and Steve W. had cooked up a storm. It was a day of comfortable conversation, friendship, good food, and bad puns.

After exchanging gifts with our friends, we came home not too late because (1) we wanted to exchange the rest of our presents to each other, (2) I wanted to avoid seasonal drunk drivers as much as possible, and (3) our hosts had to fly out to a wedding on the 26.

We were quite pleased with the presents we gave, they seemed to hit the mark. And as usual, I received way more than I should, from people who know my tastes well. First, the “us” presents:

World of Dew coverEdmund got us a role-playing game right up my alley which I had somehow missed, Ben Woerner’s World of Dew (Woerner’s Wunder Werks). Happily for us, even though we had missed the Kickstarter campaign this spring, the good folks at EndGame had not, and they had ordered several retailer copies so that Edmund found this and brought it home. It is in turn based on John Wick’s game Blood and Honor (John Wick Presents), which I had also missed—in this case because it was released during our moratorium on all non-essential purchases. Both are beautiful books illustrated with vintage Japanese prints.

Usagi Yojimbo Saga trade paperback cover, vol.1To go with this, Edmund also got us volume 1 of the 30-tear anniversary Usagi Yojimbo compilation (Dark Horse Comics). We’re both fans of the long-eared ronin, it will be nice to re-read these adventures in one fell swoop. (I wonder how many volumes this new compilation will end up necessitating? I probably shouldn’t ask myself these questions, and should just enjoy my 600 pages of furry chanbara instead…)

Finally, Edmund also got us a paperback copy of the latest novel in Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series, Blood of Tyrants.

Downwood Tales coverThen we received the latest expansion for the Mice & Mystics board game from our friends Steve W. and Dorene, Downwood Tales (Plaidhat Games). We’ve greatly enjoyed Mice & Mystics and we were looking forward to being eaten by snakes or having our mousey fur incinerated by firebelly newts, and playing new characters like Jakobe the gecko and Ditty the shrew. This is a massive expansion that seems to provide as much material as the original set—or perhaps even more, since some elements appear to increase replay value. This afternoon we made it through the first chapter and enjoyed it.

Hobbit Tales coverSteve P. and Maureen gave us another game, very story-oriented, Hobbit Tales from the Green Dragon Inn (Cubicle 7 Entertainment). It’s very similar to Atlas Games’ Once Upon A Time card game, though a bit more structured and also more competitive. I agree with reviewers who have suggested that for family play, you’ll get a better experience from not keeping score. In addition, Maureen gave me one of those handy vacuum sealing corks that allow you to keep wine good for a few days more after opening the bottle. Heidi and Eric gave us lovely glass-blown Christmas ornaments.

Race to Adventure! coverKaren Twelves and Sean Nittner gace us a copy of Evil Hat Productions’ Race to Adventure!, a compact board game based on the pulp universe of Spirit of the Century. This belongs in the category of games that, although competitive, are not too painful to lose at because you can play them in half an hour or less, like Race For the Galaxy (unrelated, despite similar title.)  I suppose this can also be said of the Hobbit Tales game above, but I feel the competitive aspect tends to detract from story, so I prefer to play it more cooperatively. Sean and Karen also gave us a print copy of the beautiful Atomic Robo RPG.

Finally, June and Edmund both got tons of sweets for us, especially chocolate.

Lovebirds broochLovebirds earringsPresents that were for me only: Edmund gave me beautiful silver jewellery designed by Haida artist Odin Lonning: a brooch and matching earrings on the Eagle and Raven lovebirds motif. Pacific Northwest people like the Haida and Tlingit (among others) have two main social groups, called moieties (literally, halves), the Eagles and the Ravens, each in turn containing 22 or 23 lineages. Traditionally, one cannot marry within a clan or lineage of the same moiety, so marriages typically signify the joining of an eagle to a raven. Eagle and Raven, when linked together, are consequently known as the Lovebirds. The Lovebirds are a popular design for items such as bracelets and rings, given as gifts between couples of these clans.

Strong Female Protagonist_01In addition, and perhaps to give the brooch something to hold in place, Edmund took me at my word when I said I would adopt The Feminist Killjoy Gift Guide as my Christmas wish list, so he gave me the Infinity Scarf (#29 in the list.) Amusingly, when I wore it yesterday I received several compliments on the look, but only Dorene noticed what the theme was. Hee hee. Rounding this up, Edmund also gave me the first collected volume of Brennan Lee Mulligan and Molly Ostertag‘s Strong Female Protagonist, a comic book you can also enjoy online.

My mom sent me four little books she got at the annual book expo, le Salon du livre de Montréal: Le Journal d’Edward, hamster nihiliste, 1990-1990; Tous les coqs du matin chantaient; Mitsou: les aventures extraordinaires d’un chat végétalien; and La Fabrique des mots. She also sent two DVDs: Louis Cyr, the Strongest Man in the World; and The Scapegoat.

Christmas Eve at Home

I opened a Crabbie’s ginger beer and finished wrapping presents this afternoon. For dinner, Edmund made a couple of recipes out of Dolly and Annie Watts’ Where People Feast: An Indigenous People’s Cookbook, baked Alaskan halibut with lemon-dill butter with a side of beet and blackberry relish, plus his famous sautéed parsnips. Now we’re having dark chocolate cupcakes for dessert.

With dinner, we played Sentinels of the Multiverse—Legacy, Expatriette, Haka and Nightmist beat The Chairman in advanced mode, ha-ha. (But we were pretty far down by the end…)

We sure know how to rock the casbah. ^_^

Happy holidays, one and all. Here is a picture of one of the best things this year, Phantom coming to live with us since July (the black cat in this picture). With him is Valentine, our little beach foundling.

Val and Phantom in Edmund's lap

Sushi From Heaven: Hanazen

Hanazen - ChirashiFriday was my first pay day in my new job, and Edmund and I wanted to celebrate. In fact, we’d had to reschedule several times and were overdue for a night of fine dining with our friends Steve and Dorene so we’d agreed to go out for sushi celebration. At the very last minute, though, we ended up changing location to avoid having to drive across one of the Bay Area bridges at rush hour in wretched weather. In a fit of inspiration, Dorene suggested Hanazen in Orinda, which Edmund and I could take a BART train to and Steve and Dorene could easily drive to.

I don’t often give 5 stars but Hanazen earned it. One of a kind, artisanal preparation of lovely fresh ingredients, creating complex, nuanced flavours. Eating there for the first time requires a certain dose of humility and appreciation for art. This was more upscale, smaller, and altogether refined than the place we were originally going to eat at. I’ve been in many nice, pleasant sushi places but it had been a long time since I had been in a top-notch place where everything is about creating art, not about delivering a product. I say “art” as a compliment, not sarcasm: the art of a perfect balance of flavours, aromas, colours, shapes, and textures.

The Restaurant

I’d read the Yelp reviews, especially the negative ones (I always do) before trying this place. I “get” what the negative reviewers were unhappy with, but I think they missed the spirit and quality of this place.  For context, understand that this place is owned by a husband and wife who are chef and host—Kenji and Coco Horikawa—with no other personnel, and could seat 17 people at a time if it was jammed packed with no room to move. You go there for an evening of slowly savouring little bites of heaven and good conversation, not to have a well-timed meal before going to the Shakespeare play or the movies.

Most of the condiments, pickles, sauces, infused salts, and garnishes used in preparing the dishes are made by the chef himself rather than store-bought. This means that every element is so good it can be savoured on its own, but together they build these lovely complex flavours that unfold slowly as you eat. The sake menu is also diverse and offers a range of flavours as wide as any sommelier’s choice of wines in a fine French restaurant.

Service: The service started out formal and I understand why it seemed distant to some Yelp commenters. But as soon as we showed that we were interested, not too vain to receive pointers on how to appreciate the food and drinks, and happy to learn about the preparation details, we felt our host and server, Coco Horikawa, warm up to us. The service was attentive and helpful throughout the meal.

Freshness and Choice: This is the very opposite experience of chain restaurants where you can find everything everywhere, but of mediocre quality and always the same; it’s the one-of-a-kind experience that will be a little different every time. So no long menu with dozens of wacky Americanized rolls, just a solid core list and a board with a generous list of the current delicacies. Coco Horikawa is a sake expert, and Chef Kenji Horikawa’s speciality is kaiseki, a method of cooking that marks the seasons in Japan. Let them guide you to what’s good and fresh today, and works well together.

Price: Just think why your run-of-the-mill sushi bar is cheaper: made faster, with cheaper, store-bought ingredients and using shortcuts like big piggish rolls instead of nigiri pieces. Let’s not mince words, Hanazen is expensive for regular people on regular salaries—the kind of place we can only eat at for a special celebration. But it’s priced correctly for the value, quality, care, and work involved.

Reservations: It’s clear that every spot is marked “reserved” all the time. I believe the owners prefer to work by reservation only so they can pace the work and plan the ingredients accordingly. If you want to sit at the counter, mention that when you make your reservation.

Wheelchair access: Although Yelp says there is no wheelchair access, they actually put down a ramp in advance if you mention this in your reservation. However, don’t expect that anyone will have time to stop preparing or serving food to take care of this if you don’t mention it ahead of time.

What We Tried

We ordered “family style,” sharing all the dishes. We abandoned ourselves to the good judgement of the chef by ordering the Chef’s Choice for one plate of sushi, one of chirashi, and one of sashimi. We also tried some rolls (Dragon roll, tempura roll, and one maki with the chef’s own home-pickled kampyo.) Among the “small plates” listed on the board, we tried the grilled pike and the miso cod, sunomono, and probably something else I’m forgetting right now.

We also tried the saké sampler, with three very different drinks: if memory serves, a “manly,” sober Junmai; a complex Junmai Ginjo evoking aromas of melon, and a fruity, cheerful, complex and over-the-top Junmai Daiginjo (I hope I’m remembering them right, I should have taken notes.)

Something memorable for me: I usually find ikura (big pearly fish roe) completely uninteresting, but Chef Kenji marinates the ikura and gives it a superb, citrus-y flavour. Heck, a benchmark for Japanese restaurants: even the rice itself was lovely.

Photo taken from Foodio54 because we forgot to photograph most of our dishes, we just dove in. Used without permission, no copyright challenge intended.

Slow-Cooker Braised Elk Ribs

Elk ribs, from Bradley Smoker forumA guest had brought some pre-packed elk ribs so I made this for dinner yesterday (and of course forgot to take a picture, so you get a stock picture of what the uncooked ribs look like). I adapted the base recipe from Brown Hollow using ingredients I had which inspired me. Yeah, it’s pretty shameless the way I tinker with recipes and ignore instructions nowadays; my mom, who does the same but doesn’t own up to it, shakes her head.

I served this with a baby spinach salad topped with some of Edmund’s cranberry-orange relish and chopped pecans, and a side of basmati rice cooked with Edmund’s Moroccan preserved lemons.

Slow-Cooker Braised Elk Ribs

  • One slab of elk ribs (1.5 to 5 lbs or 0.7 to 2.2 kg)
  • Montreal Steak Rub or just salt and pepper

Braising Liquid

  • 8 ounces (250 mL) home-made cranberry-orange relish if you have it, or store-bought red currant jelly
  • ¼ tsp (1 mL) ground mustard powder
  • ¼ cup (60 mL) tawny port
  • 4 cups (1 L) home-made chicken, turkey, pork, or beef stock (I used turkey)
  • ½ tsp ground allspice or crushed allspice berries
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) juniper berries (10 to 12), scorched and coarsely crushed (actually, I left them whole this time)
  • 1 tsp ground cardamom or 4-5 pods, husks removed and finely crushed
  • 1 Tbsp (15 mL) brown sugar
  • ½ cup (125 mL) apple brandy
  • 1 Tbsp (15 mL) red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) ground cinnamon
  • Coarse salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
  1. In a slow-cooker set on High, whisk all braising liquid ingredients down to the cinnamon, being careful to liquefy the cranberry or currant jelly. Bring it to a simmer and let it cook for a while; this can take up to an hour if your liquids were cold. Alternately, heat and reduce in a pan on the stovetop before pouring in the slow-cooker if you want to hurry things up.
  2. Meanwhile, pat the ribs dry with paper towels. Rub with the rub mix or just salt and pepper. Brown the ribs in a cast iron skillet.
  3. Place ribs in slow-cooker, with the liquid level coming up over ribs and about three-fourths of the way up. If you need more liquid, add more broth or just water. Rinse the skillet you browned the ribs in with some of the braising liquid to get all those meat juices, and return the liquid to the slow-cooker.
  4. Aromatic and root vegetables such as onion, potatoes, turnip, celery, and carrot may be added in an amount to loosely cover the meat. I added little red potatoes 2 hours later in the cooking so they would be just right by dinner time.
  5. Simmer for at least 4 hours. The longer they simmer, the more tender the ribs get. Six to eight hours brings them to falling-off-the bone, which is the desired level of doneness.

Don’t add salt or pepper until serving time, as this makes a fairly spicy broth thanks to the mustard and the rub on the ribs. I saved the leftover liquid to cook a piece of beef later this week, rather than waste it.

This recipe should work well with any game ribs as well as beef short ribs. A dark port would work as well as the tawny port and result in a deeper-coloured liquid.

Turkey Day leftovers?

Turkey Pot PieHey, it’s time to make some of my favourite recipes for leftover turkey. In fact in our household, it’s really all about the leftovers. So let’s go dig up last year’s list of my favourite recipes for turkey. And if you have leftover cranberry relish or chutney, you can always do what I did last year as well and add it to this slow-cooker pulled-pork recipe.

Roasted Spaghetti Squash with Sausage

Spaghetti squash in panFor the Thanksgiving potluck, I wanted to have something with squash for theme and season, but I also felt like showing off the home-made sausage I’ve started making since I got a meat grinder.  So this recipe from White on Rice was a great compromise! But since we also have at least one vegan in the group, I decided to also make a meat-less, cheese-less version. Both were very well received at the get-together.

Roasted Spaghetti Squash with Sausage OR Vegan Filling

Yield: Serves 3-4.  Total Time: 1 hour

From: Try not to over cook the squash until it becomes overly soft.  It should still have a bit of a bite to the texture.  If pressed for time to make dinner, since the squash is warmed in the pan with the sausage at the end, one could always roast the spaghetti squash ahead of time and then quickly heat it with the sausage at dinner time.


Sausage Meat-01
Home-made sausage meat

Sausage Filling

(Garlic-fennel sausage from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything.)

  • 2.5 lbs (1.1 kg) ground pork. If grinding yourself, which I recommend, use a fatty cut like pork shoulder or pork butt.

  • 2 tsp (10 mL) crushed or chopped garlic (or more)

  • 1 tsp (5 mL) fennel seeds

  • ¾ tsp (3-4 mL) kosher or sea salt

  • ½ tsp (2 mL) fresh ground pepper

  • ⅛ to ¼ tsp (0.5 to 1 mL) Cayenne pepper

Mix in by hand in small batches.  This yields way more sausage than you need for the recipe, so freeze the extra for another dish one of these days.

Bread filling
Bread filling

Bread Filling

Crumble some bread (I used home-made sourdough) and splash with a bit of olive oil. Mix in a good pinch of salt, ½ tsp (2 mL) fennel seeds, crushed or powdered garlic, and pepper. Allow to stand for at least 30 minutes.


  • 1 spaghetti squash (about 3 lbs or 1.4 kg)

  • 2 Tbsp (30 mL) olive oil (divided in two parts)

  • 5 or 6 medium shallots, thickly sliced

  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed or finely minced

  • 3/4 lbs (350 g) uncooked sausage or bread filling

  • 1 cup (250 mL) coarsely grated Parmigiana Reggiano (optional)

  • 1 Tbsp (15 mL) finely chopped oregano, or other herb complementary to the sausage [like fennel for the above]

  • Kosher or sea salt, to taste

  • Fresh cracked black pepper, to taste

Spaghetti Squash
Roasted spaghetti squash


  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Oil a sheet pan with first 1 Tbsp (15 mL) of olive oil. Slice spaghetti squash in half lengthwise. (Use the tip of the knife to first pierce and get the cut started. Once you get the first cut started the rest of the squash should slice easily.) Scoop out the seeds and strands, then place cut side down on the prepared sheet pan.
    NOTE: Edmund has made the brilliant suggestion that the garlic and shallots could be oven-roasted at the same time and that would probably be really good!  I’ll try it next time.

  2. Bake for 45 minutes, or until the squash flesh separates easily into strands with a fork. Finish loosening and removing the “spaghetti” from the shells and set aside.

  3. Onto a large sheet of butcher paper or similar, pinch and pull small balls of filling, laying them so they stay slightly separate.

  4. Shallots in pan-01
    Shallots and garlic in pan

    Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat. Heat second 1 Tbsp (15 mL) of olive oil in pan, then add shallots and garlic. Cook until soft, stirring every 30 seconds, then add filling. Cook untouched until bottom side of filling starts to brown, then stir. Continue cooking and stirring occasionally until the filling is cooked through (2-3 minutes depending on heat, type, and size of pieces).

  5. Add spaghetti squash strands to the filling and continue cooking until heated (usually less than a minute.)

  6. Fresh Oregano-01
    Fresh oregano

    Remove from heat. Toss in oregano or other herbs, and if you’re not making this vegan, the Parmigiana Reggiano.  Season with sea salt and fresh cracked pepper (remember the cheese will have a bit of “saltiness” to it already.) Serve immediately.

Photos by Sophie Lagacé 2013, licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 3.0.


Healthy Dinner: Rogan Josh

I made rogan josh curry for tonight’s dinner, using a leftover of the nice slow-roasted beef my husband had cooked a few days ago.  There was only about a third to half of the meat the recipe called for, so a few minutes before the end of the cooking time I added a chopped eggplant to add some volume.  I felt virtuous that made it half to two-thirds vegetarian, right?  ^_^

I served the curry on a bed of basmati rice, along with a side salad with yoghurt dressing.  Even more virtuous, yet tasty!  I love eating healthy meals, but they have to be real food…

Gamer Food!

"No Junk Food" signThis weekend Edmund and I are going to be on staff (and hopefully doing some gaming) at Pacificon Game Expo in Santa Clara, CA.  We’re on a very limited budget and we’re also trying to eater healthy meals, so we just can’t live on potato chips and hamburgers from Friday through Monday.  So we have planned to make and bring the following menu items:

  • Spicy cocoa muffins
  • Slow-roasted beef sandwiches with basil, on home-made bread
  • Cold soba noodles with shrimp and vegetables
  • Hummus, pita and tabbouleh salad
  • Oatmeal bars
  • Cold-brewed coffee
  • Fresh fruit and vegetables for snacks

It sounds complicated but it’s much simpler than it seems because we use the bread machine and the food processor a lot.  Edmund has just put the muffins in the oven, and the bread is already done.  The beef is currently seasoning and will be roasted tonight, the fruit and vegetables have been acquired, Edmund will make the oatmeal bars after the muffins are baked; and while the beef is roasting tonight, I will be making the hummus, tabbouleh, cold-brewed coffee, and some mustard since we’re out (all of those benefit from sitting in the refrigerator overnight). The soba can be prepared at the last minute.

Sadness: we decided we didn’t have time to make pita, so I bought some at the store.  But we didn’t get a single unhealthy item, and except for the pita, everything is home-made, down to the condiments.

That is also a much cheaper way to eat; do you have any idea how much freakin’ hummus and tabbouleh you can make from chickpeas and bulghur?  It’s about three to five times more expensive and far less flavourful to buy prepared foods.  The slow-roasted beef is made from eye round, an inexpensive cut from Costco which comes out cheaper per pound (or kg) than any cold cuts, deli meats, sausages or hot dogs.  Etc., etc…

Time-wise, I admit that a bread machine, food processor and dishwasher make all this food prep much more pleasant, but I have also done this with nothing more advanced than a $20 electric egg-beater in the past, and it was still worth it.