RSSArchive for March, 2007

London Series: Breakfast at the Sheraton Skyline

I told you I’ll blog about food today … here it is. :-)

I stayed in the Sheraton Skyline Hotel in Hayes, just next to the Heathrow Airport. This is very much a business class hotel with very little tourist. It seems to me that people who stays here are very much people who works for the airport or aviation industry.

I had some of my breakfasts in the hotel’s Al Dente Cafe.

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The cafe is very spacious, bright and cheery. I don’t know … to me this makes a difference in setting the day right. I always wanted to have an unrushed morning breakfast in a bright place and a newspaper to catch up on the news. And like to have breakfast alone … hate people talking to me during breakfasts! :-) So this is perfect.

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Service was excellent in the Al Dente Cafe — very prompt and polite. Somehow I wish every place is like this. I noticed that service is much better in such business hotels in that people dresses better and the customers are working professionals. Also, perhaps these type of customers tip better because they could expense the tips. I don’t know …

First came with a cup of coffee and a glass of orange juice. The coffee is really strong and smells good. A characteristic of a good cup espresso coffee is the layer of crema … and this has it. It’s a big cup too. Fantastic.

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The breakfast is buffet style. There was a very wide selection and simply too much for anyone to try everything. I had always liked cooked and warm breakfast. This is just what I wanted. Like many good breakfast spread, they even have a station where they prepare omelette the way you want it.

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In North America, the standard condiment is ketchup. I noticed that in England they almost always have both ketchup and mustard. I am no fan of mustard but took a bottle anyway to try and see if I like it … I did not. Can anyone tell me more about using mustard as a condiment? i.e. do you use it like you do with ketchup on meat and eggs?

The only time I know people in Vancouver normally use mustard is on hotdogs.

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I like this station where there are all kinds of English tea. There is even a pot of hot water of some sort that you use to make a pot for yourself. It was pretty neat … the pot was steaming all the time and looked very inviting.

Let’s see … there is a place where you can toast your own bread … I always like that. It also came with a full rack of variety of jams and marmalades. For drinks too, they have milk, Perrier, all kinds of juices, and soft drinks.

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I don’t normally eat a lot in breakfast. I took a bit of stuff from the cold selection. Had a couple of slices of cold smoked salmon — it was OK. Tried also a little bit of the crisp bacon but it was awfully salty. I wondered how people like it so salty — it was as salty as trying to eat a spoonful of salt, no kidding. I also tried, for the heck of it, some cheese, especially blue cheese … this one I did not like.

What I like best is their yogurt — this was awesome. It seems to me that they are made fresh because the foil that covers it is not those airtight ones and the strawberries tasted like they were just prepared a moment ago. It was so good I took another.

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There was another table of pastry … very nice pastries. I did not take any at all because I was full.

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The breakfast was great and the atmosphere is perfect. I normally spend about 45 minutes here, taking my sweet time reading the papers. The downside is that this costs 19 GBP … and that is $43 CAD, excluding tips!! Good thing there’s a thing called expense account.

London is an expensive city.

BTW, I am gonna blog about food again tomorrow … promise. No more museums, tanks, cameras … at least for the next few days. :-)

Al Dente Cafe at Sheraton Skyline on Urbanspoon

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London Series: War Museums in London

Got to really apologize to all … there is no food in this blog entry. So, you gotta bear with me for one more time OK?

I had a whole Sunday to myself before I start my training course. There were a few things I wanted to visit for the day. Planned everything to perfection and guess what? I overslept and woke up at 10am. I wanted to wake up at 7am to have an early start. Gosh. I was soooo upset and kick myself for oversleeping. Despite all these travelling, I thought jet lag is not a problem. I was wrong.

There is a theory concerning jet lags which I have not fully figured yet … see if you agree with me. I was told that jet lag is worse if I travel from west to east (i.e. from Vancouver to London) than the other way round. I find that quite true.

Anyway, what I wanted to do was to lug my camera gear and see the changing of the Queen’s Life Guards. Sigh … it takes at least 1 hr to get to the city by tube. By the time got there, everything was over. I just can’t get over it … sigh … sigh …

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For that day, I wanted to cover the two war museums — the Cabinet War Room and the Imperial War Museum. I love history — especially war history. Anyway, most history is centered around wars, right?

The Cabinet War Room is also known as the Churchill Museum. This is the exact location where Churchill and his cabinet conducted the war during the Second World War.

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The Cabinet War Room is engineered as a bunker with underground links to 10 Downing. The Cabinet room (below) is where Churchill’s inner sanctum cabinet meet. I had a audio guide which describes in stunning detail each of every exhibit and room.

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I find it so engrossing learning how life was during the war. The quarters were small and cramped. Below is the room of Churchill’s wife, Clementine. Strange … I was wondering why she does not share a same room with Churchill.

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The room below is Churchill’s private dining room. Churchill, as I learned, is a stickler for keeping to routines despite the war. The daily dinner is an absolute must have to him.

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Churchill’s room was the most spacious and comfortable of all rooms. He did not spend many nights in this room throughout the war, having preferred to stayed in 10 Downing unless there was an air raid.

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I spent about two hours at this museum which also included a whole large area all about the life of Churchill. He was truly a national hero in the same stature of Admiral Nelson to Great Britain. What was amazing was that immediately after the war, he lost the election and his position as a Prime Minister.

After this I walked to the always busy Trafalgar Square. Took some pictures while I was there.

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Another shot … of the National Gallery.

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Took the train to the other war museum — the Imperial War Museum. This museum is dedicated to the conflicts that Britain had fought in the modern times.

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There were a lot of exhibits of military vehicles and weapons. When I was in my elementary school days, I enjoyed building plastic kit models and had quite a few Airfix ones. Airfix was pretty big back then but I think they are no longer sell Airfixes anymore. Anyway, I remember very clearly my first Airfix model … it was the Matilda tank and here it was the model that I remember so much in detail. The double gun turret and the distinctive panels on the side.

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The American made Sherman tank was another Airfix tank that I made. This was the tank that was used by the US in their bloodiest engagement against the Germans during World War II.

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Anyone can guess what this bomb is? This replica of the real thing called Little Boy had it’s place in history.

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There were a lot of other exhibits some of which did not allow photography. The one that was the most moving was the permanent exhibit on the Holocaust. The exhibit described chronologically the events from the rise of the Nazis right up to after the war, To me, it was moving and I noticed that a lot of people were moved.

So, here it is … my post on my day at the war museums. Thanks for bearing with me. I promise, the next few blog entries will be about food. Cheers!

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London Series: Grapes Tandoori on Uxbridge Road

I think RR must be waiting for this blog entry. :-)

In a previous trip to London, I had an Indian dinner delivered from Sipson Tandoori. RR. whose late father founded the Sipson restaurant, found my posting on the internet. We got in touch and exchanged a few emails and she invited me to try the other restaurant also started by her father, the Grapes Tandoori. I did go to the Grapes Tandoori on the first night I was in London.

Getting from my hotel to the Grapes Tandoori, although not really far, still requires a a taxi ride. I really hate taking taxis in London. They have this minicab services which does not use meters and charges arbitrary. Well, for the short taxi ride of 5km, it costs me 14 Pounds. Sigh … the disadvantage for being a visible foreigner …

Locating Grapes Tandoori was easy. It was right on the rather busy Uxbridge Rd. The taxi driver did bring me to the wrong Grapes, the Grapes Pub which obviously did not resemble anything like an Indian restaurant.

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I got in early and there were only one other customer. Man, I must say that the service was attentive to say the least. I have never seen so many waiters in a restaurant, very unlike in Canada where a restaurant of this size would perhaps have 3-4 people max. Kind of unnerving, if you ask me. Because there were just two customers, the waiters were milling around my table and I do feel so … watched.

Started with a drink. Wanted a cocktail but I guess either it’s not big in England or they don’t have it in Indian restaurants. Anyone can tell me why?

Ordered the Sherry and Port which costs 2.50 GBP. I don’t really know what it is and when I asked the waiter about it, he told me he does not know either because he had never tried it before. I asked for recommendation but he could not either. Oh well, I just went ahead and ordered it.

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The waiters came by with a platter of condiments. I was really curious what it was but I guess I ran into some communication problem. :-) So, what I found out was that they were not spicy and one of them is onions. They do tastes good though.

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I also ordered a piece of Papadam. This is the best Papadam I had ever tasted. It is a big piece, thin and salty and crunchy. I had this dipped in the sauces they provided. A really nice starter. Costs 50p for this piece.

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For the main meal, I ordered the item that was asterixed and highlighted on the menu. Must be their special of special. It’s called the Murgh Massala which I pronounced it as mur-guh massala, is that right? Nice name. I get a choice of chicken or minced lamb. I chose the chicken version.

What impressed me was that it came served on top of a really hot metal plate. A good way to keep the dish constantly warm. Never seen food served this way before — I like it. Well, I had itchy hands and wanted to see how hot is hot … trust me, don’t touch it … it is really HOT!

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The Murgh Massala consists of chicken breast and some hard boiled eggs served in dry curry. The gravy was simply great, not spicy hot and wish it were but still, it was great. The serving too was large. Just by the looks of it, I know already that this is awesome with either rice or naan. This one costs 9 GBP I think.

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So, should I take it with Naan or with Rice? I ordered both. Heck, since I come all the way here already, I might as well order everything even though it was too much food for me. Oh … the garlic naan … it was fabulous and simply looked good. Why can’t I find Naan like these in Vancouver? It came warm, soft and fluffy. I had to quickly eat this before it got cold. This is so good that I could just eat this alone without anything else.

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Pilau Rice. It was nicely done and very flavourful. A bit of fried onions served on top. I like these kind of rice where the grains were separated and not clumpy like the way Chinese normally do it. Perfect with the Murgh Massala.

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I couldn’t do desserts after all these although I wish I could. To close off, they served me hot towels — whew! very HOT towels.

Total bill … 17.05 GBP and they threw in a free Grapes Tandoori chocolate! I left a tip of 2 GBP. BTW, do people normally leave tips in London Restaurants?

By the time I left, the restaurant was packed. Gosh, I have never seen so many whites in one place enjoying Indian dinners. Many people told me that the national dish of Great Britain is … Chicken Tikka Massala. I know what they mean now. :-) I noticed almost all my neighboring tables ordered Chicken Tikka Massala. Had Britain turned into a nation of curry eaters?

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RR, I want you to know that it was an awesome meal. I will definitely come again to try your other dishes the next time I am in London.

You know what my big problem was … the transport back to the hotel. The waiters could not help me call for a taxi which I find it kind of weird. They told me that if they call it will take 45 minutes, minimum to get one and that it was a busy night. So, I took a 5 minutes walk to the taxi call centre and got one in 3 minutes. Sigh … this time the taxi charged me 10 GBP back to the hotel and and an extra 2 GBP if he drops me in front of the hotel. So, 24 GBP for taxi, 17 GBP for the dinner and 2 GBP for tips.

Grapes Tandoori on Urbanspoon

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London Series: My Photography Gear

Since ChubbyPanda and LotusRapper commented about the topic I have a passion for yesterday, I decided to snug (sp?) in another blog entry … this time about the photography gear that I used for the trip to Europe.

I know, I know … most people in their right frame of mind would balk on carrying so much equipment. But then, I find it really relaxing taking pictures … taking my own sweet time and alone.

I have a simple dSLR — the Canon Rebel XT which I got for quite a bit of staff discount from the days when I was working for Best Buy/Futureshop. The Rebel XT is also known as the 350D or the Kiss in other parts of the world. Anyway, I learnt that Rasa Malaysia had just bought the same camera — see her post here. You absolutely must check out her shots.

The camera does almost everything I wanted from it. Frankly, to me the body of the camera is not the most important part of the photography gear. What is the most important is the lens.

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I brought along three lens for the trip. My favorite is the 17-40mm F4L — it is my so-called walkabout lens and the primary lens I used for my food shots. The better lens is the 70-200mm F2.8L, the long white one. This lens is a classic and simply the best, in my opinion, of all the Canon line-up — it is super fast with great bokeh. The problem is that this lens really make people notice you. It’s also a heavy lens at 3lbs … just the lens alone. The other lens, the 28-135mm IS USM is versatile but I used this lens the least.

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If you ask me, the most important accessory a photographer need to get is a good sturdy tripod. It makes a world of difference in making sharp pictures. I had the Manfrotto 190X. And to carry the stuff around Europe, I used the Lowepro Computrekker AW. I like this bag because it protects the gears very well from knocks and the weather. One thing bad though … this bag shouts “steal me, I have camera gears inside” like anything. I was very paranoid over this bag throughout my trip and kept it by my body all the time … even when I was seated, I made sure I have the straps wrapped around my legs. :-)

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The flash I use is the Speedlite 430X. It’s decently powerful and so important to take pictures of dishes in most dimly lit restaurants.

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All these came up to quite a bit to carry around for the entire trip — it was darn heavy to say the least. I remember how tired I was climbing Eiffel, St Pauls Cathedral, Sacre Coure and Arc de Triomphe during the trip. I agree, I am somewhat mad … but I enjoyed doing this.

So ChubbyPanda, if you want to get a dSLR, start with a basic body and a good lens. Be prepared for some sticker shock and just don’t tell Cat all the equipment you ever need because if she finds out, I bet she will doing everything in her power to stop you going down this path of madness. :-)

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Making Pictures Using High Dynamic Range Techniques

Laurie asked about HDR images in my first post on my London trip yesterday. Here is a very brief explanation on making HDR images.

HDR stands for High Dynamic Range and is a technique for manipulating digital photographs in a way that it shows a wider dynamic range of exposures. The simplest way to describe is this: you take three identical shots of a picture with different exposure settings and then use a software to tone map the images into a single image which combines the best of each of the three images. Know what I mean?

I just went out this afternoon to take some pictures to demonstrate this technique. Here is the typical picture I took with my camera with the setting set to “P” (auto mode). The picture is not bad. However, you notice the following … the tree at the back is under exposed and looked dark. The pine needles on the ground were over exposed giving a light orangey tone and the grass in the background was over exposed.

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By manipulating the picture I get the following results: The tree in the back, the pine needles on the ground and the grass in the background is now properly exposed. Can you see the difference? It’s kind of hard to see the real difference with this daylight shot. So, how was this done?

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Well, like I said, I take three shots of the scene with the following stops -2, 0 and +2. My camera is equipped to take such Exposure Bracketed shots. Basically, I take one shot with 2 stops under exposed, one at normal exposure and another with 2 stops over exposed … like this:

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I then used a software to generate and tone map the three images into one. I used a software called Photomatix (try googling photomatix and download a trial copy) to tone map the images. It’s really simple.

Here is another set of pictures taken a moment ago of my desk. See the difference. With the HDR Image you can see the house outside the window, the carpet below the desk and the natural warm glow of the table top. You may click on each of the images below to get a bigger size image.

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What is more dramatic is with shots taken at low light. See this one I took of the Eiffel — ain’t it gorgeous?

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But wait, there are a little bit more to it. A few quick remarks:

  • You will want to use a good sturdy TRIPOD to take identical pictures. Although the software is able to align, to a certain degree, hand held shots, nothing beats using a tripod.
  • HDR is good only for stationary pictures … i.e. if you have people moving in between the three shots, you will get “ghosts”.
  • Your camera should have the feature to fix the aperture. It is because you want all three shots to be taken at the same aperture (but with different time exposure). In other words, it should have a manual mode.
  • You want to set the ISO setting to something like 100 or 200. Noise at high ISO shows badly on HDR images.

So, Laurie, does this help? If you want to find out more, just google either “high dynamic range” or “HDR”.

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London Series: British Airways Inflight Meals

I went on a two-week trip in Europe a few weeks ago. During that time, I had amassed over 30 blog entries on the travel and the food I tried. This means that I’ll be blogging the next one month and Suanne will have a long hiatus from blogging … i.e. no recipes or cooking class for the next little while.

I had a scheduled 4-day training in London. I thought that I take advantage of the free flight there to visit a bit more of the parts of Europe that I had never visited before. Over the 16 days, I was in London and the cities in the “Low Countries” — Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam. It was a great trip.

I bought some new photographic toys for the trip. Besides doing the normal touristy stuff and trying out the food, I planned to have a great time taking lots of pictures. So, I went and get myself a new long lens, the Canon 70-200mm 2.8L. The lens is a classic among the extensive Canon lens lineup. I also got myself a new Manfrotto tripod and a new software that allows me to make HDR (High Dynamic Range) pictures.

The picture below is taken at the YVR Airport of the Spirit of Haida Gwaii. It is extremely difficult to produce a shot like this in a dark indoor but with the HDR technique, one could bring out the details all round.

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Enough of photography. I traveled for the first time on British Airways from YVR to LHR. Overall, it was much better than Air Canada. Trust me, if you travel in this sector choose BA over Air Canada anytime. It is an economy flight. During the 9 hours flight, they serve drinks, a main meal and a snack box.

The main meal is pretty normal, consisting of bread, salad, dessert, chocolates and coffee. British Airways does not publish their menu on the inflight magazine like other airlines. So, I had no idea what was really served except that there is a choice of chicken or beef.

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The bread as usual is nothing to shout about. Airline bread for some reason is just soft, dense and not crusty.

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The tomato and cheese salad is OK. I like the cheese though. It’s a tasteless type but am not sure what this type of cheese is called. What is this called anyway?

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The main dish looked unappetizing. The mash potatoes looked so flat. The beef, I think, is the pot stew beef. Taste wise, it is OK … I had tasted worse airline food.

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Here is the dessert …

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… and ended up with coffee and a bar of Kit Kat.

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About an hour before we landed, they came around and pass us the “All-Day Deli” snack box. It is meant to be the breakfast for the day.

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As the name implies, the All-Day Deli is a general purpose meal. It consists of a pastry, energy bar, yogurt and juice.

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For drinks, wine is served in mini bottles. I am not much into wine but did try their red wine (red wine with red meat and white with white, right?). I don’t know what great wine tastes like. I think this is the cheapo type … I did not like it a lot.

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I landed in London and headed to the city immediately after I checked into the hotel. How do you like this shot of the Big Ben? It’s a HDR shot. Under normal conditions, this shot would have been impossible. It’s a simple technique really. Let me know if you want to know more. Go on … click on the picture below and see the amazing details captured using HDR.

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This is it … day 1 of day 16.

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Radish Salad

This is a Korean Salad and yet another simple recipe to make. Radish Salad is one of the side dishes which is commonly found in Korean cuisine.

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Ingredients

  • 1/2 radish or more commonly known as daikon
  • Sea salt
  • Red pepper powder
  • Sugar
  • Chopped garlic
  • Ginger powder or fresh ginger, minced
  • Sesame seeds
  • Green onions

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Instructions

  • Slice the radish into fine strips.
  • Put some coarse sea salt into the radish and set it aside till it gets soft

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  • Squeeze the water out of radish.
  • Put some red pepper powder into the radish and mix until it gets red.
  • Add sugar, garlic and ginger to taste, mix well
  • Garnish with sesame seeds and chopped green onions.

Besides the Radish Salad, Minnie also prepared a Green Salad, which is not a Korean salad.

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The Green Salad dressing is made up of olive oil, white wine vinegar, sugar and some salad seasoning which is a dry mixture of herbs.

    Minnie served her dishes with a Korean rice. She used a mixture of white rice and black rice and an assortment of beans. The beans were soaked in water, overnight. The rice is cooked in a Korean pressure rice cooker. The rice came out to be quite sticky.

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    Minnie, thank you so much for sharing so many dishes with us. We are glad to have you in the community kitchen.

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    Korean Bulgogi

    Minnie demonstrated four dishes in the Gilmore Park Church community kitchen. She made Korean Bulgogi, Radish Salad, Green Salad and Korean Rice.

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    The Korean Bulgogi is very easy to make and it goes well with rice. Minnie did not have the exact measurement of her ingredients. She goes by taste along the way.

    Ingredients

    • Marbled beef, thinly sliced
    • Shiitake mushrooms, reconstituted and sliced
    • Wood-ear mushrooms, reconstituted and sliced
    • Onion, sliced
    • Green onions, cut into 1 inch length
    • Carrot, sliced into match stick size

    Marinates

    • Soy sauce
    • Sesame oil
    • Sugar
    • Ginger powder
    • Black pepper
    • Chopped garlic

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    More on following page. Click here to continue reading

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