Kevin and I are going on a diet together. I am determined for both of us to eat out as little as possible, since there’s no reason I can’t cook most of our meals. Except a few meals with friends, we more or less achieved that goal this week!

Monday

Cinnamon Swirl Brioche with Shredded Coconut

vegan cinnamon swirl brioche with shredded coconut

I found this recipe from Lucy’s Friendly Foods via the /r/Breadit community. Although the recipe is for a vegan brioche, I happened to make it non-vegan by adding butter, since I don’t have margarine at the moment. (I know, you’re like, why didn’t you just follow a regular dairy recipe then?! I was mostly trying out this recipe to see how successful my homemade soy milk is for making enriched doughs.) I also screwed up by adding maybe double or triple the cinnamon to the dough, so I omitted it from the actual “swirl” part. Instead, I rolled up sweetened dried coconut in the braids and prayed it would still turn out pretty.

Well, the braids I made were too fat, making them hard to twirl around each other more than once. The crumb was very dry, and coconut shreds fell everywhere when I sliced the loaf. And the thing hit the top of the darn oven again!

vegan cinnamon swirl brioche with shredded coconut vegan cinnamon swirl brioche with shredded coconut

As I expected, the extra cinnamon made the whole loaf taste a little off. Instead of being concentrated in the swirls, so you get the contrasting of flavours between white bread and sweet cinnamon in one bite, it was spread uniformly throughout the bread.

vegan cinnamon swirl brioche with shredded coconut

It’s more than edible, but it didn’t live up to my expectations, considering how much butter I added. That’s probably the fault of all my fuckups and not of the recipe itself, so I do plan on trying this one again. However, I’ll skip the cinnamon and just add more shredded coconut instead (with some butter or margarine in the folds to hold it together). The coconut reminded me of a loaf I used to buy from T&T when I was younger, which contained a buttery coconut-custard mixture swirled into the slices. I haven’t bought bread from T&T in over a month because I’m determined to make my own, but man do I miss those loafs! It would be one more thing off my bread checklist if I can find a way to mimic their delicious bread.

Homemade Poutine: Take 2

smashed baked potatoes

Mmm… don’t these smashed potatoes look delicious? Seasoned with pepper and sprayed with canola oil, these were used as the base of tonight’s “poutine” dinner. Notice the word in quotation marks, because poutine authenticity is taken seriously by many people and this pretty much got everything wrong:

  • Smashed, baked potatoes instead of fries
  • Marmite-based gravy
  • Cheddar cheese instead of cheese curds

But hey, whatever you wanna call it, poutine or gravy-on-cheese-on-fries, it turned out pretty fine!

I made modifications to the gravy based on Kevin’s suggestions from last time to use beef stock, but I had run out of that, so in a sudden burst of genius I thought, “What about marmite?” To my surprise!! This was a thing!

homemade "poutine" with marmite gravy and cheddar cheese

The marmite gravy was very savoury and rich, a total umami bomb, and neither Kevin nor I could tell the difference from beef gravy. It also happens to be vegetarian. I feel like I discovered a food hack or something. The only change I would make next time is to sprinkle in some dried basil to enhance the flavour, and use a flour roux to thicken it up rather than starch. I prefer the flour method because not only is it cheaper, but I’m also running out of starch. 🤭

The only disappointment was the cheese, because after searching for cheese curds for a second time at the grocery store, I still couldn’t find any! I had to make a last minute substitution with cut up cheddar chunks. Regular cheddar is firmer than cheese curds, and they don’t have the same nice melt-in-your-mouth texture.

Low-Fat Vegan Okara Brownies

low-fat vegan okara brownies

I had a bunch of okara (soybean pulp) left over from making soy milk, so I tried out a recipe for brownies tonight. The batter was very, very runny, but it firmed up surprisingly well in the oven. In fact, the brownies turned out spongy and cakey, which was not what I was hoping for at all.

I’m in the habit of reducing sugar by about 1/3 when I bake anything, and 90% of the time it turns out well. But here I should’ve used my common sense, seeing that it was already a recipe from a diet website, to stick with the recipe-recommended amounts. Now I finally know what something tastes like when you don’t add quite enough cocoa powder or sugar… and it’s pretty gross. These hover right on the border between edible and disgusting.

The other changes I made were using more okara instead of soy yogurt, and using entirely all-purpose flour instead of subbing half for whole wheat. I think the other problem is that I baked these for almost twice the time called for by the recipe (45 minutes instead of 25). Maybe that’s why they have such a cake-like texture. I will be trying this recipe again with the recommended amounts of sugar and some more cocoa powder than called for. Hopefully my next attempt turns out much better!

Tuesday

Vegan Bread Pudding with Nectarines

vegan bread pudding

I made a personal brunch today using the ill-advised tea bread from last week. Bread pudding is supposed to be made with stale bread, so they were perfect for this purpose since they were so dry and flavourless! I used Detoxinista’s recipe but I should’ve looked at her pictures beforehand, because I ended up cutting my bread into cubes that were too large (don’t @ me, I’ve never eaten bread pudding before). That’s my bad, but if I make this again I won’t be using any of the arrowroot starch recipe either. The coconut and maple syrup alone ended up being thick enough, and the added starch made it thick and difficult to spread around, especially with how big my bread pieces were.

At the last minute, I decided that the pudding might go well with some fruit, so I cut up half a nectarine and put it over half of the mixture as a test. It ended up being a great idea, and I wish I had been brave enough to use the whole fruit. The nectarines became so sweet after roasting in the oven and their juiciness helped the rest of the pudding, which was a bit dry, go down smoothly.

Although this bread pudding didn’t turn out too nicely, that’s due to my inexperience, and I don’t hold it against the dish itself. I think it’s a smart way to use up stale or unwanted bread, and since I’ll probably end up making many more failed loafs of bread, there’s lots of bread pudding in my future!

Dinner at Busan

I had dinner at Busan BBQ again, this time with Kevin and Crystal. Y’all are probably tired of Busan at this point, so no pics! And let’s be honest, it’s not the most photogenic restaurant, so no loss there. Did you know this is the first time Kevin and I have been to Busan together? Crazy, because we both go there fairly often with other people, but never with each other until now.

Wednesday

French Toast

tea bread loaf

I have never made a successful French toast in my life… and this morning the curse continues :-(

french toast

Since I finished the stale tea bread buns with my bread pudding recipe yesterday, now I’m trying to find ways to use up the loaf I made from the same dough. Another use for stale bread is French toast, so I gave that a try.

The problem this time was I sliced the loaves too thin (see above) and a lot of them fell apart either when I dipped them in the egg wash or when I was flipping them on the skillet. And somehow I forgot to add sugar to the mixture too. It’s just one of those days when I feel really dumb, ugh. Luckily, my breakfast was saved with some pancake syrup. Sugar solves everything!

Cabbage & Peas Stir Fry (Patta Gobi Matar)

cabbage & peas stir fry

For dinner, I made a big batch of Patta Gobi Matar, or “Cabbage & Peas Stir Fry” according to the recipe website, although I don’t see what this has to do with stir fry at all. It’s more of a stew. This recipe is actually very simple, since it’s all made in the Instant Pot and the ingredients are just a bunch of chopped veggies plus spices.

I was very disappointed that Kevin didn’t eat much of it—too many veggies. He wanted a dish with meat, but I was too tired to cook something else this evening—not to mention, the only meat we had left were some cans of spam and sausages—so he ended up ordering delivery. I’ve learned my lesson: I need to stock more meat in our fridge, and I should try to include some in every meal from now on. Sometimes it’s such a drain cooking a meat and meat-free version of every dish.

Thursday

Hokkaido Milk Bread

hokkaido milk bread

TGIT! Thank God it’s Thursday! My “weekend” usually starts on Thursdays these days, because I only have one class each on Thursday and Friday and neither of them have mandatory attendance. 😉 So since today was pretty free, I decided to tackle the recipe I literally bought my stand mixer for. I’ve been intimidated by how complicated Hokkaido milk bread seemed, with complicated ingredients like tangzhong roux and milk powder. But I’d had enough of the crusty water-based breads I’ve been eating lately and I really craved some rich, buttery bread. So today I picked up some milk powder at the grocery store, and got to work!

hokkaido milk dough, before first rise hokkaido milk dough, after first rise

Making this bread turned out to be 100× easier than expected. I used the recipe from King Arthur Flour, since they are one of my go-to’s when I’m learning a new recipe. The only change I made was using soy milk instead of milk. The dough was super pliable and easy to work with thanks to all the fat, but as you can see above, that also meant it couldn’t rise as much as some other doughs I’ve worked with. (On the left is the dough right after kneading and before the first rise; on the right is the same dough one hour later. It hasn’t quite doubled in size.) The recipe said this was fine, so I kept going.

hokkaido milk bread dough, after shaping into buns and loaf hokkaido milk buns dough, after second rise hokkaido milk loaf dough, after second rise

After splitting the dough into two portions, I shaped turned one half into individual buns and the other one into a loaf. Then I let them rise for a second time.

Shortly before baking, I dribbled some soy milk onto the surfaces with a spoon (the lazy and poor way of brushing it on, since I don’t own a pastry brush—works very well 10/10). They took less time to bake than the recipe predicted—I took them out at the 22-minute mark, and OMG THEY WERE PERFECT. The soy milk gave them a nice shine, but not as much as an egg wash would.

hokkaido milk bread crumb

These are very close to the kind of bread you can get at Chinese bakeries, with a light, tender crumb that comes gently apart when you pull. So chewy and rich! They did not survive to see the next morning.

I’ve recently read an interesting article by Dressler Parsons about the origin of this kind of bread. She brought up a point that I’d forgotten, that many kitchens, even in modern apartments in China, aren’t equipped with ovens. I remember that even my grandparent’s very nice, very spacious (for a place in Shenzhen city center, at least) apartment didn’t have an oven. So why are baked breads ubiquitous in Chinese bakeries? It all has to do with colonialism, bby! ♥

Lemon Butter Garlic Salmon with Homestyle Vegetables

lemon butter garlic salmon with homestyle carrots and potatoes

Obviously, the Hokkaido milk bread was the star tonight, but we also had to have actual dinner, so… I made a quick Instant Pot meal of salmon and vegetables. The recipe came from 365 Days of Crockpot, which has been a very trustworthy site for me so far, but this recipe was a letdown. The salmon was way overcooked and the vegetables had a bit of fishy taste to them. My boyfriend couldn’t eat any of it because he thought the fishy taste was too strong. Maybe this website should stick to Crockpot recipes.

Anyway, I still ate my portion, because salmon tastes good to me almost no matter what, and Kevin got by on the freshly baked bread. I’m still floating on my Hokkaido milk cloud so nothing can really bring me down rn.

Friday

Hand-Kneaded Hokkaido Milk Bread

hand-kneaded hokkaido milk loaf dough

Since we finished all the bread I made yesterday, I wanted to make another batch of the same since we can’t get enough. Horror of horrors! I had all my ingredients added to the mixing bowl already, when I went to turn on my mixer… and it didn’t move! I was in shock, so I kept flipping the switch a few times, plugging and unplugging the cable, nothing happened. I was very annoyed at this point, since I’ve only had the mixer for a couple of weeks. But before I could fire an email off to the seller, I had to take care of the dough first. Even though Hokkaido milk bread is infamously difficult to knead by hand, I wasn’t about to let all the ingredients go to waste.

hand-kneaded hokkaido milk loaf

That’s right, I kneaded this baby completely by hand. It’s nowhere near as pretty as my first loaf, but not a bad attempt for hand kneading, right? The dough actually started coming together after kneading for about 15 minutes, and my arms were tired at that point, so I ended it there. I’m sure if I stuck it out longer it would’ve been smoother and less lumpy, but hey, all the flavours were there. Kevin agreed that it wasn’t quite as good as yesterday’s, but he snapped up the buns just as quickly anyway.

Butter Chicken

butter chicken

I tried out the very crowd-tested Twosleevers Instant Pot butter chicken recipe for Kevin’s dinner, and it was amazing. I didn’t eat any of it, so this is based on Kevin’s (and my nose’s) testimony alone. However, if a meal gets the Boyfriend Stamp of Approval you know it has to be pretty good! I’m so surprised at how easy and quick this was to prep. I always thought butter chicken would involve a lot of marinating, a complex spice blend… but this recipe was so simple that I’ll be making it pretty frequently from now on.

The only slight hiccup was the burning of some of the tomato sauce on the bottom of the pot. I’m not sure how to prevent this, since I made sure there was nothing stuck to the bottom before I turned it on and the recipe says specifically not to add any water to the pot. However, it doesn’t seem like a huge issue since it doesn’t impact the taste of the dish, just makes doing dishes a bit harder, but that’s not my job anyway. :-)

Another cooking lesson I learned today: one chicken breast is the perfect size for one large serving. Since I cooked two chicken breasts today, that’s enough for two meals for Kevin. I’ll probably cook the third one on Sunday, depending on whether or not he feels like eating butter chicken for three days straight.

Saturday

kitchenaid mixer

Guess who got a new mixer?!! I’m in the process of getting my old one returned, but in the meantime I managed to find a newer KitchenAid model for $200 on Kijiji. The guy selling it was nice enough to deliver to me this afternoon, so I can return to bread baking without skipping a beat. It works flawlessly, with the perk of mixing a lot faster than my old one and not emitting any weird motor oil smells :-D

The one problem that I am noticing is that the bowl doesn’t seem securely fastened to the base of the mixer. When I was mixing my brioche dough, the bowl got spun loose a couple of times—could’ve been disastrous if there were loose ingredients like unincorporated flour or liquids in the bowl, because the mixer spins so fast. I don’t feel comfortable leaving it to mix alone because of this issue, I’ll have to look into it to see if I’m missing something, maybe a more secure locking mechanism?

Brioche Dinner Rolls

brioche buns with flax seed

Since my confidence has been boosted by the easiness of Hokkaido milk buns, I tried brioche today for the first time. (*EDIT: Ugh, I have serious short-term memory issues. I totally forgot about the cinnamon swirl “brioche” loaf I made on Monday. Even though I don’t know what authentic brioche is supposed to taste like, I don’t think the loaf I made then tasted anything like brioche, so I guess that’s why I didn’t count it. It wasn’t very rich or buttery.)

The recipe I used is known as a “poor man’s brioche,” apparently because traditional brioche is a complicated two-day process involving overnight fermentation. This simpler recipe takes about the same time as Hokkaido milk bread. I made a few substitutions, such as using all purpose flour for bread flour, and soy milk and margarine for whole milk and butter. I also tried to substitute the egg with a flax egg, but made a mistake by using whole flax seeds.

I was expecting it to turn out more or less the same as milk bread, but maybe the eggs do make a big difference after all, because these were a lot crustier, and the crumb a lot more stiff, than the super pliable Hokkaido milk buns. They still taste great, though, and Kevin even said he liked the flax seeds! Will definitely be making these again.

Homemade Milk Tea with Grass Jelly

homemade milk tea with grass jelly

We walked to T&T today for our weekly T&T run and came back emptyhanded, because it turns out they had closed due to a power outage. It was sweating balls outside, and Kevin was irritated that he couldn’t enjoy the beverages that we usually buy there when we got back, so I made us some bubble tea instead.

The last time I made bubble tea, I had poured some of the brewed tea into an ice cube tray to make tea-flavoured cubes. This way, you can enjoy an icy cold beverage without diluting down your drink!

I’m really thrilled that we found out about bubble tea powder mixes. It’s not the healthiest thing in the world, but it kicks your milk tea craving and is great for cooling off on hot summer days like today.

Sunday

Hokkaido Milk Bread, Take 3

🎵 You down with Hokkaido milk bread three times in one week? Yeah, you know me! 🎵

dairy-free hokkaido milk buns dairy-free hokkaido milk buns

This is my first dairy-free attempt at the same recipe as earlier. I used margarine, coconut milk powder, and soy milk. The only issue was, I had run out of bread flour and used all-purpose for this batch instead. Also, I forgot to add the egg until after I’d already mixed the other ingredients. The dough was already coming together when I added the egg, and when I did, it somehow became super duper wet and I had to add more flour to get it to roll into a ball again.

The crumb on this bread turned out very differently from the other attempts. Gone was the fluffy pull-apart goodness, gone was the soft, unresisting crust. This crust was a bit harder and chewier—maybe because I used egg wash this time instead of soy milk, and I baked for 25 minutes, a bit longer than usual—and the inside was denser and drier. It was still tasty, don’t get me wrong, but this was not really milk bread.

Pho Ben Thanh Restaurant

We met up with some of Kevin’s SBSA friends to celebrate Canada Day, starting with a pho dinner near Conestoga Mall.

I don’t think I’ve been this excited over a single dish for a while. I love pho and haven’t had it for over a year—in fact—this is the first time I’m eating pho in Ontario! My parents and I liked to eat out at this one pho restaurant in Calgary, Pho Kim, which was the only restaurant where I ordered the same thing every time: #11. (Even after I stopped eating most meat, I would still order this dish. My parents were more than happy to eat the beef from my bowl. The last time I ate there, though, I tried one of their vegetarian options, and oh my god is it delicious.)

Anyway, all this is to say I have been seriously missing pho for some time, so when I found out we were eating pho today I was so happy!

I was pretty hungry when we got to the restaurant, so I didn’t remember to take a photo before chowing down. This is not exactly the best pho I’ve had in my life. In fact, it ranks pretty close to the bottom. Kevin and I ordered the same bowl so we could compare notes. First, we both agreed that the beef had a… meaty smell. Like how fish can have a “fishy” smell, in a bad way? In Chinese, we call it 肉腥 (“meat stink”). It’s actually this odour that made it so easy for me to stop eating meat.

Even though I didn’t eat any of the beef myself, the smell was obviously present in the soup and noodles. Don’t get me wrong, the primary smell is still the delicious pho broth, but if you take a whiff the wrong way you’ll smell the meat. Of course, it can’t have been too bad, because Kevin still happily finished all of his (and my) beef, and we both slurped up the noodles. For a quick fix to a pho craving, this does the job, and I also appreciate that their smallest bowl, at just $9.99, is actually a reasonably sized portion, since most pho places have oversized servings even for the smallest size. I walked out of this place full but not stuffed.

However, the meaty smell definitely put a damper on my chances of coming back. The plating needs some work as well. There was a dried piece of cilantro stuck to the edge of my bowl and the sides of the bowl felt grimy and not quite clean. I’m surprised that this restaurant has a fairly high rating, so maybe it was just an off day. Whatever the case, the lack of any other pho places in the area makes me want to brew my own pho broth.

Milkshake and Onion Rings at Mel’s Diner

I ordered a butterscotch-malt milkshake and Kevin got a plate of onion rings. The food was decent but kinda overpriced imo.

beef eater onion rings at mel's diner

The service has been pretty bad the last few times I’ve been here, whether it was for takeout or sit down. I don’t expect servers at student-targeted restaurants to give much of an F about patrons, but the servers here REALLY don’t give an F.

Mel’s was one of those places I went to for the novelty (and for the very late weekend hours back when I could actually stay up past 12 am), but that has worn off for me. I feel like most of the food there is just ok, and it’s stuff I could make on my own anyway, so I don’t see myself coming back here too often.