Thursday, December 31, 2009

Rustic Minestrone

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I wish every meal I make is wonderfully delicious. But like every cook, I have good days and bad days. This recipe started as a food experiment gone horribly wrong. I saw a minestrone recipe on Food Network and thought the technique was worth trying. After a bit of tweaking, the soup base tasted fine. But I made the rookie mistake of adding the pasta too soon. By the time I was ready to enjoy the soup, the pasta had swollen to three times its original size and soaked up all the soup. It became limp, saggy pasta soaked in vegetable puree. Needlessly to say, it was FAIL of epic proportions. This is my second attempt at the recipe. It turned out much better.

You'll need:
  • 3 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 2 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, roughly chopped
  • 1 onion, roughly chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 3 stalks of thyme
  • 1 Bay leaf
  • 1/2 teaspoon of dried parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon of dried basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon of dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon of dried rosemary
  • 1/2 teaspoon of dried red pepper flakes
  • 1 28-ounce can of crushed or diced tomatoes
  • 4 cups of vegetable stock
  • 2 cups of dry red wine (I used two buck Chuck, it's fine)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar or Balsamic vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons of tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon of sugar
  • 2 cups of cooked (or 1 15-ounce can, drained) cannellini beans
  • 1/2 pound of cooked ditalini pasta
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • chopped parsley and/or basil as garnish
Add onion, carrots, celery stalks, and garlic into a food processor. Puree until the vegetables become a fine paste. Fry the paste with thyme and dried red pepper flakes in a large pot with olive oil over high heat for 5 to 10 minutes. It's okay if the vegetables becomes slightly burned. De-glaze pot with red wine. Add tomatoes, vegetable stock, Bay leaf, sugar, tomato paste, dried basil, dried parsley, dried oregano, dried rosemary, and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to boil then reduce to simmer. Cook until all the flavors melt together, or about 30 to 45 minutes. Add beans and cook for another 10 to 15 minutes. Add cooked pasta and garnish right before serving.

The pureed vegetables really give this soup a rustic feel. The laundry list of ingredients adds depth to the flavor, so the soup is tangy, sweet, savory and a little spicy. The small ditalini pasta is the perfect size for the soup. I served this soup with homemade potato bread. It's a warm and hearty cold weather soup.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Cheesy Gnocchi

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For Christmas, I got myself a potato ricer. I used the ricer to make gnocchi again. My last batch sat in the freezer too long and tasted like the plastic bag that it was in. It wasn't too much better fresh either -- heavy, gummy, and chewy. This time, armed with the proper tools, gnocchi tastes light and fluffy. The four cheese blend (Pecorino, Mozzarella, Emmental, and Gruyere) covering the gnocchi and baked to cheesy goodness doesn't hurt either.

For the gnocchi, I baked three russet potatoes, peeled them while hot and then pressed them through the ricer. This process produced a much superior product than boiling the potatoes and turning them into gummy paste using the food processor.


As a side dish, I blanched some Brussels sprouts and then tossed them quickly with chopped shallots, minced garlic, whole grain sweet mustard, and caraway seeds. All of a sudden the kitchen smelled like a Reuben sandwich. Weird, but delicious.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Cannellini Beans and Artichoke Dip

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Okay, I admit it, the recipe is just fancy beans on toast. But it's still very good and super easy. I whipped this up one night after a long day at work. It takes 10 minutes and requires almost no cooking. VB enjoyed it so much that I made it again a few weeks later. This would be a good recipe to entertain with as an appetizer. It's as simple as Beans. Toast. Done.

You'll need:
  • 2 or 3 large marinated artichoke hearts (thawed frozen artichoke hearts will also do), roughly chopped
  • 1 15-ounce can of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 3 or 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • juice of a small lemon
  • bread, sliced into 6 to 8 1/4-inch slices and toasted
  • loose arugula leaves, about 4 or 5 leaves per slice of bread
  • extra virgin olive oil for drizzling
  • coarse flaky sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
Saute garlic in a little bit of olive oil until fragrant, about a minute. Add beans and artichoke hearts. Cook until heated through. If you don't mind cold bean dip and raw garlic, you can even skip this step. I prefer to cook the garlic a little bit to take out the sting of raw garlic.

Put mixture into a food processor and add lemon juice. Pulse. While pulsing, drizzle in about 2 teaspoons of extra virgin olive oil.

Spread dip onto toast, top with arugula leaves. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.


As a side dish, we had a roasted beets and pear arugula salad with orange lemon vinaigrette. Fresh, easy and seasonal. It would be even better with some goat cheese on top.

For fans of the F Word, you can check out this Gordon Ramsay beans on toast with cheese recipe. It's very Michelin star fancy pants.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Baked Eggplant Parmigiana

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Over Thanksgiving, we had some pretty awesome eggplant parmigiana courtesy of an Italian American family that spent the holiday with us. Ever since then, I've been eager to make the recipe myself. This is a recipe that I pieced together from our dinner conversation. It's not quite as good as the one that we had on Thanksgiving, but not too shabby for my first attempt.

You'll need:
  • 2 large eggplants, cut into 1/4 inch slices
  • 2 eggs, beaten with a dash of water added
  • 1 1/2 cups of flour
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 2 24-ounce cans of diced tomatoes
  • 1 sweet yellow onion, finely diced
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon of sugar
  • 2 teaspoons of Italian dried herbs (a combination of basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme, and parsley)
  • salt and pepper to taste
In a large pot, sweat onions in olive oil until translucent, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about a minute. Add canned tomatoes, sugar, dried herbs, salt and pepper. Simmer until the vegetables fall apart or about 1 to 2 hours.

If you find eggplant bitter, salt both sides and let sit for 20 minutes. Then blot with paper towels to remove the water and salt. If not, then don't bother.

Dredge eggplant slices in beaten egg and then flour and place on a baking sheet sprayed with canola oil or olive oil. Bake in 450 degree oven for 15 to 18 minutes or until the eggplant slices are browned. Remove and let cool. If you want to be fancy pants about it, you can remove the skin, which makes a finer and more delicate product. I'm too lazy, so the skin stays on.

In a large oven-proof pan, add enough marinara sauce to cover the bottom of the pan. Layer eggplant slices to cover the pan. Add another layer of marinara sauce. Add the remaining eggplant slices. Top with sauce. Bake in 375 degree oven for another 15 to 20 minutes. Serve with Parmesan cheese on top, if you want.

The result should be almost cake-like with very little liquid. The eggplant should be very tender and the tomatoes should be sweet and not acidic at all. Sure, it's a pretty labor intensive recipe, but it's very delicious and darn healthy since the eggplants are baked, not fried.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Great Pumpkin Experiment

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So November was not a good month for updates. That doesn't mean I haven't been cooking. Here's a picture from the Great Pumpkin Experiment. I heard about the recipe from KCRW's Good Food, a fun and hunger-inducing weekly podcast all about food. The recipe is about a savory cheesy bread pudding that puffs up when baked inside a pumpkin. Naturally, I had to try it. As you can see, the bread mixture did not puff up as much as the recipe said it would. I blame the poor result on the fact that I substituted cream for half and half. That ought to teach me a lesson about cutting down on fat.

Although the result wasn't as visually impressive as I had hoped, the cheesy bread pudding was very delicious. Also, it was the first time that I've ever had pumpkin that's not in the form of pie filling from a can. Turns out, pumpkin has a texture that's similar to spaghetti squash and tastes nothing like pumpkin pie. But overall, a delicious dish that packs a wow factor (assuming that it puffs up)

The recipe is from the now defunct Gourmet magazine. You can find it here as well as a picture of the puffed up roasted pumpkin.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Vegetable Lasagna

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When I was searching for a vegetable lasagna recipe on the Interwebs, I found a comment to a recipe calling it a "cliche." I suppose it is sort of a cliche. Along with pasta with marinara sauce, vegetable lasagna is one of the vegetarian options that you'd expect to find at an Italian restaurant. For the home cook, making a lasagna is a ton of work that many people just don't have time for. So they go to their local Italian eatery for a ho-hum vegetable lasagna.

One good reason to make lasagna at home is the opportunity to control what goes in your meal. Restaurant lasagnas, even vegetarian ones, can be loaded with fat. Here, we chose low fat ricotta and mozzarella cheeses and whole wheat pasta, making this decadent dish more waist friendly. Of course this dish is loaded with vegetables -- zucchini, yellow squash, eggplant, mushroom, spinach. It's a lot of work, but so rewarding.

Well, so I've been told. I didn't make this, VB did. I woke up from my afternoon nap and there's a delicious dinner waiting for me. Life is good.

Oh, and we had this bruschetta too. Mmm, garlic-y cheesy bread....

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Sweet Potato and Chocolate Chili

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The cold weather makes me want to slow cook hearty stews. This one is very unique -- rich, sweet and spicy. If you're not into the sweet and spicy combination, this is not the dish for you. But if you are, this one will surprise you.
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 carrot, peeled and chopped
  • 2 celery ribs, chopped
  • 1 26-ounce can of diced tomatoes
  • 3 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into chunks
  • 2 15-ounce cans of black beans or kidney beans (or one can each)
  • 1 tablespoon of chocolate
  • 2 tablespoons of chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon of brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of cumin
  • 1 teaspoon of dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup of vegetable stock
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
In a large lidded pot, sweat onion, celery and carrot in olive oil with a dash of salt until vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes. Add diced tomatoes, vegetable stock, sweet potatoes, beans, chocolate, chili powder, brown sugar, cumin, oregano, and cinnamon. Turn heat to medium low. Cover and cook until beans and sweet potato chunks start to fall apart, about 45 minutes. Adjust seasoning. Serve on a bed of wild rice, with a dollop of sour cream and/or chives on top.

The dish was inspired by a recipe from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, by Mark Bittman. I added some spices and sweet potatoes to give this dish more complexity. Initially, it will taste sweet and rich. Then the heat from the chili powder will come through. It is probably not something that everyone will love. But it's just the thing for those who want a sweet and spicy kick for Halloween.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Butternut Squash Soup

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It's been a busy month. Between the moving and the traveling, I haven't had a ton of time to cook. Instead, I had a lot of chicken wings and pizza. After a while, it can get pretty tiring. So I decided to make some soup using butternut squash, which is commonly available in the fall. I wanted to showcase the natural sweetness of the butternut squash and enhance its delicate flavors. So I chose to use milder herbs and spices like thyme and turmeric that will complement the flavors of the butternut squash without overpowering it.
  • 1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and diced
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 medium carrot, diced
  • 2 celery ribs, diced
  • 1 large clove of garlic, minced
  • 2 sprigs of thyme
  • 1 large potato, peeled and diced
  • 1 small 1-inch knob of ginger, peeled and minced
  • 2 teaspoons of turmeric
  • 2 teaspoons of brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons of butter
  • 4 cups of vegetable stock
  • salt to taste
In a large lidded pot, sweat onion, carrot and celery with a dash of salt in butter and olive oil until the vegetables are soft, for 5 minutes. Add ginger, garlic and thyme and cook until fragrant, about a minute. Add butternut squash, potato, turmeric, brown sugar and vegetable stock. Cover and cook on medium low heat until butternut squash pieces are soft, about 30 minutes. Adjust seasoning.

While the soup is hot, blend vegetables together using a standard blender or an immersion blender until the mixture is smooth. Serve as is, or with sour cream or chopped parsley on top.

The soup has a velvety texture and sweet, mild flavors. You will get a hint of ginger, but mostly, it will taste like the butternut squash. Warm, hearty and vibrant -- it's the perfect soup for fall.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Tomato Cannellini Stew

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We unearthed a crock pot (also an ice cream maker... the plot thickens!) during the move. It's just the perfect tool to make a warm and hearty stew for a rainy night.
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 2 15-ounce cans of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 medium tomatoes, diced (I used some awesome heirloom tomatoes found at the local farmer's market)
  • 1 28-ounce can of diced tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons of sun-dried tomatoes, diced
  • 1 1/2 cups of vegetable stock
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • pesto (optional)
Sweat diced onion in olive oil until softened, about 5 to 10 minutes. Add all the ingredients to the crock pot (you'll need at least a 4 quart crock pot for this). Cook on high for 3 hours and low for 3 hours. Serve with pesto mixed in.

If you don't have a crock pot, sweat onions in a large pot until softened. Add the remaining ingredients. Cook on medium low heat until the beans are soft and start to break down. Stir occasionally. Serve with pesto mixed in.

This creamy and tomato-y soup is easy, but so delicious. It warms you for the inside out on a cold and rainy day. It takes just 5 to 10 minutes to prep. And, if you have a crock pot, it allows you to prep it, leave it and come home to hot stew.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Chickpea (Chole) Masala

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We're moving out and moving on! Soon, we will be in our new digs all the way on the other side of the Bay. We'll miss the Peninsula and everything it has to offer. But for now, the rubberneck week is hard to get through. To reduce the number of items that we must move, I've challenged myself to cook from the pantry and the freezer. You too can make this spicy and fragrant Indian dish if you have some pantry staples and a well-stocked spice rack. No trip to the grocery store required.
  • 2 15-ounce cans of diced tomatoes
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped into large chunks
  • 5 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 1 inch piece of ginger, peeled
  • 1 cup of dried chickpeas
  • 2 tablespoons of canola oil
  • 1 teaspoon of cumin seed
  • 3 teaspoons of ground coriander
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of chili powder
  • 3 teaspoons of cumin
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons of garam masala
  • 1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
  • 2 Bay leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper (or 1 green chili, seeded and minced)
  • 1/2 teaspoon of dried mango powder (optional)
  • salt to taste
  • chopped cilantro (optional garnish)
Soak dry chickpeas in water for 4 hours (or overnight). Cook chickpeas in a large pot of boiling water seasoned with salt for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until cooked but not mushy. Drain. Set aside.

Place ginger, garlic and onion in a food processor. Pulse until the mixture has a paste-like consistency. In a large skillet, heat up 2 tablespoons of canola oil. Add cumin seeds and fry until fragrant, about 1 to 2 minutes. Add onion, ginger and garlic mixture. Cook over medium heat until oil separates from the mixture. Add ground coriander, cumin, chili powder, cayenne powder (or minced green chili) and ground cinnamon. Stir to combine. Add diced tomatoes. Season with salt. Cook until oil separates again. Add garam masala, dried mango powder and cooked chickpeas. Stir to combine. Adjust seasoning if necessary. Cook for another 15 minutes over low heat. Garnish with chopped cilantro. Serve over some Basmati rice.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Garlic Rosemary Potato Pizza

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Potato pizza is nothing new. In fact, we shared a potato truffle oil pizza at Pizza Antica recently. I thought I'd make a home version of it, replacing the decadent truffle oil with something more economical but equally flavorful.
  • 1 portion of your favorite pizza dough recipe (try this one)
  • 1 pound of potatoes (I use baby red potatoes, but baby Yukon potatoes or fingerling potatoes will also work)
  • 1 1/2 cups of shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 3 sprigs of rosemary, divided
  • 4 cloves of garlic, divided
  • 3 2-inch strips of lemon peel
  • 1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • chopped parsley (optional garnish)
Place potatoes in a large pot filled with cool tap water. Make sure that the water is at least one inch above the potatoes. Cover and cook until water boils. Set timer and cook for 5 to 8 more minutes. Insert a paring knife into a potato. The knife should slide in with slight resistance. The potatoes should be about 75 percent cooked. Remove from heat and drain. Set aside and allow potatoes to cool. Once cooled, slice potatoes into thin slices.

Pour 1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil into a small sauce pan. Add 2 sprigs of rosemary, 2 cloves of crushed garlic, and 3 strips of lemon peel. Place sauce pan over low heat. Cook for 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and steep. Once the oil is cool, remove rosemary, garlic and lemon peels.

Roll out the pizza dough. Brush on garlic rosemary infused olive oil. Sprinkle on 2 cloves of minced garlic and 1 sprig of minced rosemary leaves. Top with shredded mozzarella cheese. Top with a single layer of potato slices. Brush the potato slices with more garlic rosemary oil. Bake in 500 degree oven for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the crust turns golden brown. Remove from the oven. Sprinkle with coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper. Garnish with chopped parsley.

The garlic and rosemary add wonderful flavors to the pizza. Because I roll the pizza dough super thin, the crust is crispy. Also, since not a ton of cheese is used, the pizza is relatively light despite the potatoes.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Mozzarella,Tapenade, and Roasted Bell Peppers On Foccacia

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I baked Foccacia for the first time. It was actually not as difficult as advertised. I followed the rosemary Foccacia recipe from Jack Bishop's The Complete Italian Vegetarian Cookbook. It was simple, delicious and didn't require a ton of work.

To complete the sandwich, I add roasted bell peppers, tapenade, mozzarella, and tomato slices. Then, I put the sandwich in a 275 degree oven on top of a pizza stone for 10 minutes. The low heat barely melts the cheese while the pizza stone keeps the bread crispy. The salty tapenade, creamy mozzarella, sweet roasted bell peppers and refreshing tomato slices are excellent together. Pair this sandwich with a simple side salad for a flavorful meal.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Summer Tomato and Olive Pasta

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Speaking of tomatoes, I thought I'd take advantage of the ripe summer tomatoes while they are available. This is tomato at its best -- simply prepared and delicious. And this dish takes about 15 minutes! It doesn't get better than this.
  • 3 large ripe but firm tomatoes, cut into large chunks
  • 15 pitted black olives, chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 15 basil leaves, julienned
  • 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 pound of pasta (I used angel hair here, but other kinds are also fine)
  • salt to taste
Saute minced garlic in a large skillet with 2 tablespoons of olive oil until fragrant, about a minute. Add tomato chunks. Lightly press tomatoes into the pan with the back of a spoon or a spatula. Cook until tomatoes begin to soften, about 2 minutes. Add chopped black olives. Cook for another 3 to 5 minutes. Add basil. Toss together until basil becomes wilted but remains green. Toss together with 1/2 pound of cooked pasta. Adjust seasoning if necessary. Generally the olives are fairly salty, so you may not need any salt at all. Serve with some olive oil drizzled over the top, if desired.

This is so simple but oh so good. The tomatoes really complements the salty meatiness of the olives. Basil adds some freshness to this excellent summer dish.

Roasted Tomato and Fennel Soup

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I find summertime tomatoes to be so irresistible. They are ripe, plump and sweet. I found some really amazing tomatoes at my local market and I thought they would make a flavorful soup.
  • 5 large tomatoes (preferably ripened on the vine), quartered and seeded (reserve seeds)
  • 1 large fennel bulb, cored and sliced
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoon of sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of tomato paste
  • 4 cups of vegetable stock
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons of butter, cubed
  • 2 slices of bread (I used plain whole wheat bread), cubed
  • 2 tablespoons of heavy cream (optional)
  • salt to taste
Place tomato chunks in an oven-proof dish and sprinkle with sugar. Roast tomatoes in 275 degree oven for 2 hours.

Sweat onion in olive oil until translucent, about 5 to 10 minutes, and then add minced garlic. Cook for another minute. Add sliced fennel and cook for another 10 minutes or until the fennel slices start to soften. Add butter and allow it to melt. Cook for another minute. Add reserved tomato seeds, roasted tomatoes, tomato paste, vegetable stock, and bread slices. Cook until all the vegetables are soft, about 5 to 10 minutes. Season with salt to taste. Blend the vegetables together into a smooth soup using a regular blender or an immersion blender. Add cream if desired.

The soup is velvety but light. The bread and fennel give this soup some body and texture without adding heaviness. The cream makes it even more luxurious. The soup is also incredibly tomato-y. Roasting intensifies the tomato flavors and makes them extra sweet. This is definitely one of the best soups that I've made. I dare say it's better than some of the tomato soups that I've had at restaurants.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Sambar

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Since our place smells like Indian food already and no amount of Febreze can change that, why not make the matter worse and cook up some more fragrant and delicious Indian food?

Sambar is a dish generally consists of split pigeon peas (toor daal), eggplant, green peas, winter melon, potato, onion, tomato, tindora, tamarind, and a laundry list of spices. I can't claim to be proficient in making Indian food nor do I want to spent 20 dollars on spices, so I got a box of sambar spices with an indecipherable recipe printed on the back. I don't know if the recipe was properly followed, but I do know that the result is an aromatic and hearty soup full of vegetables.


To top that off, we had homemade masala dosa with some store-bought chutneys and idli. Overall, a pretty delicious meal, even if we had help from a box of spice mix.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Indian and Middle Eastern Dinner Night

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We go out for Indian food with some frequency. I've really acquired a taste for it. I don't even miss the meat when I have Indian food. When there are enough spices, vegetables can taste darn delicious. To prove the point, I've cooked the most vile vegetable on earth -- the cauliflower. It's disgusting and I've hated it with intense passion for years. It's bland and bitter. When it's overcooked, it gets all gross and mushy. In my opinion, there's just no good way to eat it -- except the Indian way.

From the left going clockwise, I made aloo gobi masala (spiced cauliflower and potatoes), palak paneer minus paneer (spinach without paneer cheese), and soybeans with garlic and dill. To supplement our delicious dishes, we had Basmati rice and Naan on the side. The dishes were so flavorful that I forgot I was having cauliflower. That's a good thing.

If soybeans for an Indian meal sounds odd, it's because soybeans with garlic and dill is not an Indian dish. It's actually an Iranian dish. I wasn't quite sure how it would taste after reading the recipe (Really? Soybeans with dill and turmeric?), but it turned out to be surprisingly delicious with a mild sweetness from the onion and turmeric.

Monday, September 7, 2009

'Meat' balls with Homemade Tomato Sauce

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Sometimes we buy frozen meatless 'meat' balls to supplement our many pasta meals. So I thought I'd make some 'meat' balls at home for a change. But I think I sort of accidentally made falafel. In any event, these 'meat' balls are pretty good, especially with a thick and hearty homemade tomato sauce.

For the 'meat' balls:
  • 1 cup of dry chickpeas
  • 1 medium potato (I used a Yukon gold potato), peeled and cut into large chunks
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and cut in half length-wise with root attached
  • 1/2 of a medium onion, cut into large chunks
  • 1 garlic clove, smashed and peeled
  • 1 Bay leaf
  • 2 cups of parsley, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup of rolled oats
  • 1 tablespoon of chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons of paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon or to taste of cayenne pepper
  • salt and pepper to taste
Cook dry chickpeas in a large pot of seasoned water along with Bay leaf and 1 onion until chickpeas are well cooked. It may take anywhere between 45 minutes to an hour. With 15 minutes left in the cooking time, add potato chunks. Remove Bay leaf and onion. Reserve 1/2 cup of cooking liquid. Drain. You can also use 1 15-ounce can of cooked chickpeas to save time. But I prefer using dried chickpeas because you can infuse flavor during the cooking process.

Place cooked chickpeas and potatoes in a food processor, along with 1/2 of a medium onion, garlic, rolled oats, parsley, chili powder, paprika, and cayenne pepper. Pulse until the mixture can easily be formed into small balls. Do not over process, otherwise the 'meat' balls will be dense. If the mixture is too dry, add some of the cooking liquid. Adjust seasoning if necessary.

Using wet hands, form small balls of the size of ping pong balls. You should be able to make about 20 'meat' balls. Place 'meat' balls in an oven proof pan sprayed with canola oil and bake in 450 degree oven for 30 to 40 minutes. Turn the 'meat' balls half way into the cooking process.

For the tomato sauce:
  • 2 15-ounce cans of diced tomatoes
  • 1 medium carrot, diced
  • 3 stalks of celery, diced
  • 2 medium onions, diced
  • 1 Bay leaf
  • 1 tablespoon of tomato paste
  • 1 cup of dry red wine (preferably Italian)
  • 1 cup of basic vegetable stock
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons of dry Italian herbs (a combination of rosemary, oregano, basil, parsley, and thyme)
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon of sugar
  • salt and pepper to taste
In a large pot, saute carrots, celery and onion in olive oil until the vegetables are softened and slightly brown, about 5 to 10 minutes. De-glaze the pot with red wine. Make sure to scrap up bits from the bottom of the pot. Cook for about 2 minutes. Add canned tomatoes with all the juices, vegetable stock, tomato paste, Bay leaf, Italian herbs, sugar, salt, and pepper. Cover and simmer for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Stir occasionally.

Allow the mixture to cool. Using a standard blender or an immersion blender, blend together all the vegetables. The sauce can be canned or frozen into ice cubes for later use. I prefer canning because tomatoes can react to plastic and cause it to taste funny.

I've used this tomato sauce recipe many times to make baked pastas. It's rich, complex and flavorful. With a different choice of carbohydrates, this can easily turn into spaghetti with 'meat' balls or 'meat' ball subs.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Orzo Garden Salad with Lemon Thyme Vinaigrette

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It's hard to make a bad dish using summer produce as long as you keep it simple and use fresh ingredients. And that's what I've done with this dish -- just a simple and classic way to bring out the ripe flavors of fresh summer produce.

For the lemon thyme vinaigrette:
  • 1 shallot, chopped fine
  • juice from 3 lemons
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 3 sprigs of thyme
  • 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
  • salt to taste
  • lots of fresh ground pepper
For the orzo garden salad:
  • 1 pound of orzo
  • 3 medium tomatoes (preferably vine ripened), chopped
  • 1 large seedless cucumber, chopped
  • 3 cups of loosely packed baby spinach
  • salt and pepper to taste
Whisk to combine all the ingredients for the vinaigrette. If the vinaigrette does not emulsify, add 2 teaspoons of warm water and whisk. Set aside.

Cook 1 pound of orzo in seasoned water until al dente, about 8 to 9 minutes. Drain. Add tomatoes and cucumber and toss with half of the lemon thyme vinaigrette. Cover and let cool in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour. When the salad is cool, add spinach and the remaining vinaigrette. Adjust seasoning if necessary.

When making such a simple dish with very few ingredients, it's important to season properly and use fresh quality ingredients. I tried adding some cheese to the pasta salad but it doesn't need any cheese to be delicious. To me, this is the best kind of summer food -- simple, refreshing and easy to make.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Roasted Corn Chowder

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It's sad but true, summer is almost over. I know I will miss all the fresh fruits and vegetables that summer has to offer. To take advantage of summer while it lasts, I've made this delicious roasted corn chowder. It is adapted from a similar recipe that appears in Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison.
  • 1 quart of basic vegetable stock
  • 6 ears of corn, husks removed
  • 2 medium yellow bell peppers, diced
  • 1 large leek, green part removed and reserved
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 pound of potatoes
  • 3 sprigs of fresh thyme, stems removed
  • 3 tablespoons of butter
  • 2 cups of water
  • salt and pepper to taste
Place corn into a large hot skillet and sear all sides until some of the kernels turn dark brown. Remove and allow the corn to cool. After the corn becomes cool enough to handle, remove the kernels from the cob. Reserve the cob. Peel the skin of the potatoes and reserve. Dice the potatoes to small bite size. Slice the white and pale green parts of the leek and set aside. Reserve the dark green leaves of the leek.

In a large pot, reheat vegetable stock and add the green part of the leek, potato skin, and corn cobs. Simmer for 45 minutes. Strain and set aside.

In a large pot, saute chopped leek and onion in 2 tablespoons of butter until the onion softens, about 5 to 10 minutes. Add thyme, potatoes and vegetable stock. Simmer for 20 minutes or until the potatoes are soft. In the meantime, stew chopped yellow bell peppers in a pot with 2 cups of water and 1 tablespoon of butter for 10 minutes. Strain and set aside.

Slightly mash the potato pieces against the side of the pot using the back of a spoon. Add corn kernels and stewed yellow bell peppers. Simmer for an additional 5 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

I like how the slight smokiness of the roasted corn balance out the sweetness. It's refreshing, crunchy and creamy without any actual cream. This recipe makes a big pot of chowder and both of us happily enjoyed the leftovers.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Spicy Lentils Tacos

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We have some leftover corn tortillas from enchilada night, so the logical solution is to continue with our Mexican theme and make some spicy lentils tacos.
  • 1 cup dried lentils, rinsed
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 3 chipotle chilies in adobe sauce, chopped
  • 2 1/2 cups of vegetable stock
  • 1 tablespoon of chili powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon of garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 teaspoon of oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon of paprika
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon of ground cumin
  • juice from 1 lime
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 10 corn tortillas
  • salsa (optional)
  • cilantro, chopped (optional)
  • sour cream (optional)
  • grated Mexican cheese (optional)
Saute chopped onions and garlic in olive oil until onions become soft, about 5 to 10 minutes. Add lentils, chipotle chilies, chili powder, garlic powder, crushed red pepper flakes, oregano, paprika, ground cumin and vegetable stock. Bring to boil. Turn heat down to simmer. Cover and cook until the liquid is absorbed, about 25 to 30 minutes. Add lime juice, salt and pepper to taste. Fill tortillas with lentils, salsa, cilantro, sour cream and cheese.

This recipe is inspired by a similar recipe that appeared in Self Magazine awhile ago. The last squeeze of lime really brightens the flavors and keeps it from being too spicy. It's a fun and delicious recipe for a casual no-fuss Mexican dinner.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Sweet Potato Enchiladas

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The Internet is great, isn't it? It is the best source for recipes. But sometimes, the number of variations can be daunting, especially if you're looking for one good recipe for an unfamiliar dish. In times like this, I would often take ideas from a few recipes and make one original oddball recipe. This is one of those recipes.

For the enchilada sauce:
  • 1 8-ounce can of tomato sauce
  • 3 tablespoons (no, not a typo) of chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon of coco powder
  • 1 teaspoon of dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon of ground cumin
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced fine
  • 1 teaspoon of olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons of flour
  • 3 cups of vegetable stock
  • salt to taste
For the enchiladas:
  • 3 medium sweet potatos, peeled and cut into large chunks
  • 1 14.5-ounce of diced tomatoes
  • 1 15-ounce can of black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 10 corn tortillas
  • 2 cups of grated Mexican cheese (I used enchilado queso anejo, which is an aged pressed cheese rolled in paprika. Sharp cheddar, Monetery jack and/or mozzarella will also be fine)
  • salt to taste
  • chopped cilantro for garnish (optional)
Pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees. Spray sweet potato chunks with non-stick cooking spray and bake for 20 to 30 minutes, turning once at the 15 minute mark. Set aside. Turn oven to 350 degrees.

In the meantime, saute minced garlic in 1 teaspoon of olive oil over medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes. Add flour, chili powder, coco powder, dried oregano, and cumin. Cook for about 1 minute. Add tomato sauce and vegetable stock. Stir to combine. Bring mixture to boil. Turn heat down so the mixture simmers. Add salt to taste. Contine to cook, uncovered, until the liquid is reduced to half or about 20 to 30 minutes. Set aside and allow sauce to cool.

In a large skillet, saute minced garlic and jalapeno peppers in 1 tablespoon of olive oil, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add diced tomatoes and black beans. Cook until the beans are tender. Add roasted sweet potatoes. Mash the sweet potatoes with spatula. Add salt to taste. Mix well.

Ladle enough enchilada sauce to cover the bottom of a large baking pan. Wrap the sweet potato mixture with corn tortillas. Place the tortillas seam down into the baking pan. Line the baking pan with wrapped tortillas. Ladle the remaining enchilada sauce over the tortillas. Sprinkle grated cheese over the top. Bake in 350 degree oven for 20 minutes, until bubbly. Garnish with chopped cilantro.

The result was surprisingly delicious. The enchilada sauce is the star of the dish. The sweet and spicy enchiladas pair well with the sauce and the gooey cheese. I have to say, this is one of the best dishes that I've ever made.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Kabocha Squash with Stir-Fried Rice Noodles

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This is a classic Chinese stir-fried rice noodle dish that's common in Taiwan. It's simple, flavorful, and easy if you've got the right tools.
  • 1/2 of a medium Kabocha squash (or 1/4 of a pumpkin)
  • 4 fried firm bean curd
  • 8 dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 1 carrot, peeled
  • 3 celery stalks, minced
  • 10 ounces (or 2/3 of a package) of dried rice noodles
  • 3 cups of vegetable stock
  • 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • white pepper to taste
  • 3 scallions, sliced (optional)
Soak dried shiitake in hot water until softened, about 10 to 15 minutes. Once the mushrooms are softened, remove the stalks and slice the mushroom caps. Cut fried firm bean curd into thin 1/4 inch slices. Mince celery stalks, set aside. Soak rice noodles in tap water until softened, about 10 minutes. Drain and set aside.

In the meantime, peel Kabocha squash, remove the seeds, and cut into large chunks. Shred Kabocha squash by using a grater or a food processor. I highly recommend using the food processor. If not for the food processor, I'd still be grating that squash. Peel the carrot and shred with grater or food processor.

In a large skillet or a wok, heat up 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil. Add shiitake mushroom slices and fry for 1 to 2 minutes. Add Kobacha squash, bean curds, carrot, and stir. Add vegetable stock and cook until the squash is soft, about 10 minutes. Add rice noodles and cook until the liquid is absorbed, about 5 to 8 minutes. Add minced celery, salt, white pepper to taste, and scallion slices as optional garnish. Toss to combine.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Biscuits and Sausage Gravy

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Normally, I hesitate to eat meatless meat products like veggie dogs, veggie sausages, tofurkey, that sort of things. I don't mind eating vegetables, but I just can't wrap my head around soy protein and wheat gluten. For one thing, they're generally flavorless and strangely mushy to a carnivore's palate. I only eat vegetables on the condition that they taste good.

I'm slowly finding out that a carnivore's idea of being vegetarian is different from a vegetarian's idea of being vegetarian. Let me explain. I think of being a vegetarian as eating vegetables. The meatless meat products are often strange to me because I don't think of them as "vegetables" even though they are meat-free. Whereas, a vegetarian would often add mock meat items for variety and dietary reasons. It's hard for me to appreciate the mock meat items. Some of them are pretty good, but obviously they can't compare to the real deal.

That said, this vegan biscuits and sausage gravy recipe is pretty good. I was surprised that I couldn't taste the soy milk. Generally, I like using real milk and real cheese because soy diary products taste.... well, like soy. But in this case, using soy milk does not affect the flavors of the gravy that much. I even had seconds! That's a sign of good biscuits and gravy.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Ratatouille Pie

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Ever since I made that eggplant torte last month, I've been thinking about what other kinds of vegetable pies that I can make. Then the thought occurred to me, why not make a ratatouille pie? It's a classic dish with a flavorful combination of vegetables. I thought it's worth a shot.

Turns out, it isn't bad. I'd probably still prefer the classic dish over the pie, but the pie is still pretty delicious, even without any cheese. Now, this isn't something that can be whipped up after work, unless you plan to eat dinner at midnight. But the pie reheats very well if you make it ahead.

For the crust (or halve the whole wheat yeasted olive oil pastry recipe):
  • 1 teaspoons of active dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup of lukewarm water
  • 1/8 teaspoon of sugar
  • 1/2 of a large egg, at room temperature, beaten
  • 1/8 cup of olive oil
  • 1/2 cup of whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup of unbleached flour (more as needed)
  • 1/3 teaspoon of salt
For the pie filling:
  • 1 large eggplant, sliced into 1/4 inch slices
  • 3 medium zucchinis, sliced into 1/4 inch slices
  • 3 green bell peppers
  • 1 large yellow onion, sliced into 1/4 inch rings
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 1 28-ounce can of diced tomatoes
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon of herbs de provence
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • salt and pepper to taste
Sprinkle salt over eggplant and zucchini slices and allow vegetable to sit for 20 to 30 minutes. In the meantime, dissolve yeast in lukewarm water (between 80 degrees and 120 degrees) and add the sugar. Beat in the egg and olive oil. Combine mixture with all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour and salt until the dough comes together. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead it a few times. Place the dough into a bowl and cover the bowl. Allow the dough to rise for an hour.

In a large skillet, heat up a tablespoon of olive oil. Add minced garlic, canned tomatoes including juices, herbs de provence, salt and peppers to taste. Cook the mixture in medium heat for 20 to 30 minutes until it thickens. Remove from heat and allow it to cool.

Place the green bell peppers into an oven-proof skillet and under the boiler for 5 to 7 minutes. When the skin becomes charred, turn the bell pepper. Repeat until all sides are charred. Place the bell peppers in a bowl and cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap. Allow the peppers to sit for 5 to 10 minutes. Peel the skin from the bell peppers. Slice the bell peppers to remove the core and the seeds.

Blot eggplant with paper towels to remove excess salt and moisture. Rinse the zucchini slices and drain. Roast eggplant slices, zucchini slices and onion slices in 450 degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes.

Turn out the dough and knead it a couple of times. Allow the dough to rest for 5 minutes. Roll the dough out into rounds and line the pie pan. Layer roasted eggplant, zucchini, bell peppers, onions, in that order, into the pan. Mix the cooled tomato sauce with one beaten egg and layer the mixture on top. Spread the tomato sauce so that it covers the pie. Bake in 375 degree oven for 50 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow it to cool for another 20 minutes.

We paired the pie with some salad. It's really a meal in itself. It's delicious and healthy, although a little grated Gruyere on top never hurt anyone.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Brown Derby Grapefruit Cake

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Look at how pretty this cake turned out -- perfectly supremed grapefruit, smooth frosting without crumbs, evenly divided cake layers. Of course I didn't make it. The last time I tried to supreme citrus, it turned into a big puddle of juice.

This is the first cake that VB ever baked and it is also my birthday cake. It is moist, tender and juicy. The technical aspects were executed perfectly. It is the best birthday I've ever had -- not just because the cake is delicious, but also because my sweetie made just for me. The recipe can be found here.

Also, here's a picture of sunrise in Mexico.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Nopales in Chipotle Sauce

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We were off to Cabo del San Jose last week for a quick getaway. We stayed at a wonderful all-inclusive resort, sipped a lot of Pina Colada and stuffed ourselves silly. A week of poolside sun and delicious Mexican food later, neither of us wanted the vacation to end. So we re-created a small piece of Mexico at home with this nopales dish.

Nopales is a type of edible catcus. It's certainly something that I've never worked with. This recipe also calls for tomatillos, another ingredient that I've never used before. Thankfully, living in California gives me access to ingredients that may be hard to find elsewhere. I'm a novice when it comes to Mexican food, so I found and followed this recipe.

Even though I don't have an original recipe to share, here are a couple of things that I learned from preparing this meal:

Cleaning nopales is thorny business. I remove the spines and the nodes by running the flat side of my knife along the pod from different directions, sort of like scaling a fish. Nopales can be slimy, so the pods have to be rinsed frequently during the cleaning process. Finally, the edges are also removed. Clean nopales are then cut into 1/4 inch slices.

To roast tomatillos, first, remove the husks and clean the fruit. Then, place the tomatillos in an oven-proof skillet. I use my trusty cast iron skillet. Broil tomatillos for about 7 to 10 minutes until the skin turns slightly brown. Remove and allow them to cool.

To round off the meal, we wrap nopales in flour tortillas and add some vegetarian refried beans, salsa and rice. The nopales are crunchy, slightly bitter and tart from the tomatillo chipotle sauce. The chipotle adobe sauce adds smoky spice to the dish. Overall, this meal is a wonderful end to our Mexican vacation.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Prince's Pesto Pasta Salad

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It's the dog days of summer. For us, that usually means all the fans are circulating hot and humid air around, Tangerine passed out in the corner, baseball is on the tube, and we're not cooking. I can't even stand in the kitchen, let alone turn on the oven. So we end up eating salads a lot more than I'd like. But after attending East Bay's least vegetarian friendly barbecue on Saturday (vegetables = portabella mushrooms wrapped in bacon), I can't wait to have this salad.
  • 1/2 cup of pine nuts, lightly toasted
  • 2 cups of basil leaves, lightly packed
  • 4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, divided, plus more if needed
  • 4 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 1 pound of pasta (I used fusilli)
  • 3 Roma tomatoes, cubed (or 1 1/2 cups of grape or cherry tomatoes)
  • 1 bag of mixed greens
  • grated Pecorino cheese (optional)
  • salt and pepper to taste
Place peeled garlic cloves into 2 tablespoon of hot olive oil and lightly fry over low heat until just golden brown. Remove from heat and allow oil to cool. Meanwhile, bring a big pot of water to boil and cook pasta until just al dente. Drain pasta in a colander and rinse with cold water. Return pasta into the emptied pot. Any water on the pasta will evaporate from the residual heat of the pot.

Using a food processer, puree basil leaves, garlic cloves, garlic oil, and pine nuts. Drizzling in the remaining olive oil and process until the mixture has a paste-like consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste. Toss together mixed greens, tomatoes, pasta and pesto. Adjust seasoning if necessary. Add grated Pecorino cheese if desired.

This is different from a traditional pesto sauce because roasted garlic is used instead of raw garlic. If you like raw garlic, by all means use it. I tend to like the milder and nutty flavor of roasted garlic. Also, cheese is not incorporated into the pesto, making this a vegan optional dish. Finally, this pesto pasta salad is named in honor of the home run derby champion this year, Prince Fielder. It was well publicized when he became a vegetarian in 2008 and one of his favorite vegetarian dishes is pesto salad. In my opinion, it's a dish worthy of a home run king.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Indian Mixed Grill

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We have been bitten by the grilling bug ever since we bought a tiny grill and found an outdoor space for grilling. Eager to improve upon the lemon garlic marinate from last time, we bought a jar of Indian tandoori sauce at the local farmer's market and used it to marinate a rainbow of vegetables - cherry tomato, seitan, onion, red bell pepper, firm tofu, zucchini, eggplant, mushroom, and potato. Everything was delicious, except the potato. We didn't cook it far enough so that it could finish cooking on the grill at the same time as the other vegetables. So it turned out a little raw in the center. Live and learn, right? The best surprise from the experience was how good seitan tastes when grilled. It gets crunchy and crispy from the grilling, which makes it taste even more hearty.


We took home couple of skewers left over and paired them with some naan and spiced brown basmati rice. I got the idea for the rice from our local Indian buffet joint, Passage to India. Yes, it is the very same one that we visit at least once a week. At Passage to India, they serve a big pot of basmati rice that is cooked with spices like Bay leaf, cinnamon stick, cardamom pod, whole cloves and star anise. The rice is fragrant and delicious even though not much else is added to it. The only problem is I have to constantly pick out spices from my rice and inevitably end up biting into a cardamom pod nevertheless. To fix this problem, I put those spices in a tea bag and cooked the tea bag with the rice. At the last minute, I stirred in some frozen peas. When the rice became ready, I fished out the tea bag. The rice was still fragrant and delicious and I didn't have to floss cloves out of my teeth later.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Chickpeas and Lentils Tomato Soup

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Chickpeas are so versatile. In fact, yesterday we ate at Chick-O-Pea's, a Berkeley restaurant devoted to this great ingredient. Is there anything chickpeas can't do? They are great in salads, soups and as falafels and hummus. I find myself stocking up on cans of chickpeas all the time. Today, VB made this great middle eastern flavored chickpeas and lentils tomato soup. The cumin seeds make it warm and smoky and the other spices contribute to the complex flavors. We also had a side of grilled cheese sandwiches again. I can't get enough of grilled cheese sandwiches. Maybe we should start having them everyday.

The recipe for the soup can be found here.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Creamy Asparagus Soup

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There's something about the basic potato leek soup that makes me happy. Maybe it's the smell of leeks sauteing in butter. Maybe it's the creamy heartiness. I don't know. I've certainly made many versions of it before. This is a creamy asparagus soup that adds just two ingredients to the classic potato leek soup.
  • 2 medium leeks (pale green and white parts only), finely chopped
  • 2 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped into cubes
  • 2 bunches of asparagus, trimmed
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and mashed
  • 2 tablespoons of butter
  • 6 cups of vegetable stock
  • salt to taste
  • Pecorino cheese (optional)
Remove the green tips of the asparagus. Blanch and then soak in ice water. Set aside.

Saute leeks in butter until softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook for another minute. Add asparagus stalks, potatoes, and stock. Bring mixture to boil then reduce heat to simmer. Cook for 20 to 25 minutes or until the vegetables are soft. Puree mixture. Add asparagus tips and grated Pecorino cheese, if desired. Serve hot or chilled.

As a side dish, we had some cold pasta salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, black olives, green bell peppers, onions, basil and parsley tossed together in a simple vinaigrette. Nothing special, just an easy and refreshing summer dinner.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Independence Day Picnic

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For Independence Day, we head out to Stevens Creek County Park for an afternoon picnic. We grilled some corn on the cob and veggie kabobs (with onions, Brussels sprouts, green bell peppers, and tofu marinated in a lemon garlic marinate). Grilled corn always tastes great even without any butter or oil. The veggie kabobs were good, but next time we'll probably opt for some sort of barbecue sauce instead of the lemon garlic marinate.


Our personal favorite was the grilled portabella mushroom and red bell pepper sandwich. The portabella mushrooms were marinated with a little bit of Balsamic vinegar and olive oil. The mushrooms were topped with some arugula and blue cheese.


For dessert, grilled peaches and pineapple slices. I don't know what the fuss is about with grilled fruit. Ripe fruit is so delicious as is, grilling doesn't substantially improve it. I think the key is to use fruit that is slightly under ripen. Otherwise, the fruit becomes too mushy after grilling.

Overall, it was an excellent Independence Day. I certainly feel more patriotic on a full stomach. And now that we have a (small) grill and a place to go, we may head outdoors more often.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Minestrone

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All that cooking yesterday pooped me out. Thankfully, VB stepped in and made dinner so we don't end up at the neighborhood Indian buffet for the third time in five days. He made an earthy and flavorful minestrone with a side of classic grilled cheese sandwich. The minestrone recipe is courtesy of Sara Moulton of Gourmet magazine. The grilled cheese is a classic VB original with perfectly melted sharp white cheddar and thick slices of tomato. It's such a hearty and delicious dinner. I think I have to relinquish cooking duties more often from now on.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Eggplant Torte

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New York Times is one of my favorite sources for recipes and inspirations. This eggplant torte recipe came straight from the Recipes for Health feature. The only thing that I didn't do was the top crust for the torte. It's too pretty to be covered up.

Making this torte is a lot of work, but it's worth it. The crust is nice and light while the filling is cheesy, hearty and tasty. I can't wait to try the other vegetable pie recipes.

Nutella Swirl Toast

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One of my favorite fast, no-cooking breakfast is Nutella on toast. It's simple but so delicious. The creamy and chocolaty Nutella melting over fluffy warm toast is so good that I sometimes have it for lunch and dessert as well. Just the thought of it makes my mouth water.

What could possibly be better than that? Unless.... the Nutella is baked into the bread! It's so genius I wish that I had been the one who thought of it first. Unfortunately, I can't claim any credit for it. Happy Home Baker made a Nutella milk loaf using her breadmaker and posted tips for other bakers, like myself, who do not own a breadmaker. I followed those tips and made this wonderful Nutella swirl toast. I modified the instructions so that bakers who have a stand mixer can easily follow along.
  • 250 grams (or 2 1/3 cups) of bread flour or all-purpose flour
  • 25 grams (or 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons) of fine granulated sugar
  • 5 grams (or 1 teaspoon) of salt
  • 1 teaspoon of dry yeast
  • 143 grams (or 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon) of milk
  • 35 grams (or 1 large) egg, beaten
  • 38 grams (or 2 1/2 tablespoons) of butter at room temperature, cut into small cubes
In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, salt and dry yeast. Mix well and set aside. Combine milk and egg. Using the paddle attachment of a stand mixer, combine mixture with dry ingredients until barely mixed. Add butter. Process until the dough becomes tacky and elastic. Scrape down the side of the bowl. Using the hook attachment on medium speed, knead the dough until it becomes smooth and not sticky, about 10 to 15 minutes. Cover the dough and allow it to rest for an hour.

On a floured surface, roll out the rested dough into a large rectangle. Spread Nutella onto the middle of the rectangle. Be sure to spread Nutrella all the way to two side edges. Starting at the edge closest to you, roll up the dough into a log and seal the seams. Cut the dough into sections equal to the width of your loaf pan. Place each section, seam down, into the loaf pan with the cut sides against the lengths of the pan. Let dough rest for another 45 minutes to an hour.

Bake in 360 degree oven for 30 to 35 minutes until the top is browned and the Nutella caramelizes. Remove bread from the pan and allow it to cool on a wire rack.

The best part is the crunchy caramelized Nutella bits. It's like a warm cinnamon sticky bun but made with Nutella. Next time, I may add some chopped hazelnuts for some crunch and even more flavor.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Spicy Chickpea Salad

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This is a middle eastern twist on a Rachael Ray recipe. Someone out there just rolled his/her eyes at the mention of her name, but I've been quite happy with the few Rachael Ray recipes that I've tried. I like the original recipe and made it a couple of times. The main complaint that we both had was the addition of raw onions. After 5 minutes into dinner and for the rest of the night, all we'd taste would be raw onions. I like the recipe enough that I thought I'd tweak it and give it even more flavor.
  • 1 can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 stalks of celery, chopped
  • a small bunch parsley, coarsely chopped
  • juice from 1/2 a lemon
  • 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • 3/4 teaspoon of ground coriander
  • 3/4 teaspoon of ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon of ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon of ground cardamom
  • salt and pepper to taste
Just toss everything together. Make sure everything is well coated and the spices are evenly distributed so you don't end up with a mouthful of cayenne pepper. Let salad sit at room temperature for 30 minutes for even more flavor.

This salad has rich bold flavors but is refreshing and light. I love the combination of crunchy celery, sweet bell peppers and creamy chickpeas. The best part? No raw onions! Yay for fresh breath.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Spicy Tofu Stir-Fry

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We're on some sort of weird Chinese food streak. I like it, but I often feel that I'm not very good at cooking Chinese food. Whenever I feel stuck about what to cook or how to cook something, I draw inspiration from memorable restaurant dishes or what I've seen my mom and grandma do in the kitchen. This dish is inspired by a similar dish we had at Spices, but the technique comes from years of observing Chinese food being prepared.
  • 1 block of firm tofu, drained cut into small cubes
  • 1 red or green bell pepper, sliced into strips
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • 2 jalapeno peppers, diced small
  • 2 scallions, sliced diagonally
  • 1 cup of tapioca powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon of baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt, divided
  • 1 tablespoon of soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon of vegetarian oyster sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon of five-spice powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon of brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of balsamic vinegar
  • 2 cups plus 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil, divided
Add 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil to a large skillet or wok. Turn heat to high. Saute onion, bell pepper and jalapeno pepper together until the vegetables begin to soften, about 2 to 5 minutes. Add 1/4 teaspoon of salt, soy sauce, vegetarian oyster sauce, five-spice powder, brown sugar, and balsamic vinegar. Continue to saute until vegetables are soft. Set aside.

Mix together tapioca powder, baking powder and 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Blot tofu cubes with paper towel to remove moisture. Dredge tofu cubes in the mixture until evenly coated. Heat up 2 cups of vegetable oil in a small skillet. Fry coated tofu cubes in batches. Turn tofu pieces to make sure all sides are evenly fried. Set fried tofu on top of paper towels so excess oil can be removed. Add fried tofu to stir-fried vegetables. Toss together. Add sliced scallion pieces as garnish. Serve over some white rice.

We also had some garlic stir-fried greens on the side. Somewhat insulting to post a recipe for something like that. But here's a picture.


I think the most surprising ingredient in the spicy stir-fry tofu dish is balsamic vinegar. I felt the sauce needed a little acid so I grabbed whatever was the closest to me. Balsamic vinegar actually adds a little more sweetness to the spicy dish. Except the subtle sweetness, it is not really noticeable in the final product. The dish is spicy, sweet, well-balanced in flavors and has nice contrasting textures. Of course not up to the quality of the dish we had at Spices, but it is quite good for a first attempt especially given my aversion to frying. Next time, I would add some Szechuan peppercorns and more jalapeno peppers for even more heat.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Pan-Fried Tofu Bun

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There are a few basic types of dough common to Chinese baked goods. For example, the cold water dough used in the scallion twist recipe can easily turn into pan-fried tofu buns.

For the dough:
  • 2 cups (or 300 grams) of all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons (or 6 grams) of soybean powder
  • 1 teaspoon (or 3 grams) of baking powder
  • 1 cup (or 150 grams) of water
  • 2 teaspoons (or 6 grams) of dry yeast
  • 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon (or 30 grams) of sugar
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon (or 20 grams) of canola oil, divided
  • white sesame seeds for garnish
Sift together flour, soy bean powder and baking powder. Set aside. Combine water, dry yeast and sugar until sugar and dry yeast dissolve. Pour liquid into dry ingredients until barely mixed. Add 1 teaspoon of canola oil. Knead dough until it becomes smooth. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit for 10 to 15 minutes.

Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces. Roll each piece into thin flat discs.

For the filling:
  • 1/2 a block of extra firm tofu (or bean curd), drained and finely chopped
  • 1/4 of a head of napa cabbage, finely chopped
  • 2 scallions, finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons of soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon of sesame oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt, divided
  • 1/4 teaspoon of sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon of white pepper
Mix one teaspoon of salt with chopped napa cabbage. Allow cabbage to sit for 15 to 20 minutes. Wrap shredded cabbage with cheese cloth and wring out any excess moisture. Add the remaining ingredients.

Place a small spoonful of filling in the middle of the dough disc. Leave some room around the edges. Gather the edges with your fingers. Pinch together and twist. Press down to secure. Sprinkle some white sesame seeds on top.

In a large lidded skillet, add 3 tablespoons of canola oil. Turn the heat to high. When the oil is hot, add the buns. Turn the heat to medium and cook until the bottom is golden brown, crispy and not sticking to the skillet. Add enough water so that there is about 1/8- to 1/4-inch of water at the bottom of the skillet. Be careful when adding water to hot oil. Cover the skillet and cook until all the water evaporates and buns are steamed through. Add more water if necessary.

This recipe can easily be modified for carnivores. Replace tofu with ground pork and add some grated ginger and you've got pan-fried pork buns. For me, it is not worth the time and effort to make pork buns at home because they are readily available in many Chinese restaurants and Asian supermarkets. But vegetarian buns are harder to find, which makes this home-made version even more special.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Asparagus and Artichoke Risotto

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Sometimes, I'm just too lazy to run out to the market for ingredients. Today is one of those times. So I looked to my pantry and freezer for dinner ideas.
  • 1 cup of arborio rice
  • 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup of dry white wine
  • 10 pieces of frozen artichokes
  • 6 spears of frozen asparagus, chopped into 1-1/2 inch pieces
  • 1 medium onion, minced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 6 cups of vegetable stock
  • 1/4 cup of parsley, chopped
  • 1/4 cup of scallions, chopped
  • 1/2 cup of Pecorino cheese, grated
  • salt and pepper to taste
In a large pot, saute onion in olive oil over medium heat until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and stir for another minute. Add rice and stir to coat rice with oil. Add dry white wine and cook uncovered until the liquid evaporates. Add lemon zest and stir. Add 1 cup of vegetable stock. Partially cover the pot and turn heat to low. Allow the liquid to simmer until it evaporates. Stir frequently. Then add another cup of vegetable stock. Repeat the process.

Along with the third cup of vegetable stock, add frozen artichokes. Cook, partially covered, until liquid evaporates. Repeat the process. Add asparagus pieces along with the fifth cup of vegetable stock. Add lemon juice with the sixth cup of vegetable stock. After the sixth cup of vegetable stock evaporates and the rice is al dente, stir in Pecorino cheese, scallions and parsley. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with more parsley, scallions and/or Pecorino cheese on top, if desired.

Even though most of ingredients came from the pantry or the freezer, the herbs and lemon add freshness and balance to this dish. And I didn't have to trek out to the market for this satisfying meal.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Scallion Twist Two Ways

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It's been awhile since I baked bread. My kitchen scale was unfortunately on the fritz (again) so I couldn't try recipes from the five cookbooks that I bought in Taipei. Yes, I bought five cookbooks. One replacement nine-volt battery later, I'm now in business again and itching to get baking. My first recipe to try is scallion twist two ways.
  • 2 cups (or 300 grams) of all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons (or 6 grams) of soybean powder
  • 1 teaspoon (or 3 grams) of baking powder
  • 1 cup (or 150 grams) of water
  • 2 teaspoons (or 6 grams) of dry yeast
  • 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon (or 30 grams) of sugar
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon (or 20 grams) of canola oil, divided
  • 4 scallions (white and pale green part only), chopped small
  • 1 egg
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon of white sesame seeds
Sift together flour, soy bean powder and baking powder. Set aside. Combine water, dry yeast and sugar until the sugar and dry yeast dissolve. Pour liquid into dry ingredients until barely mixed. Add 1 teaspoon of canola oil. Knead dough until it becomes smooth. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit for 10 to 15 minutes.

Roll out the dough until it is about 1/4-inch thick. Brush 1 tablespoon of canola oil on top. Sprinkle salt and chopped scallions on top. Roll dough into a long strip and seal the seam. Trim off the ends. Cut the dough into 3/4-inch pieces. Take two pieces and turn them sideways so that the scallion pieces are shown and facing up. Using a pair of chopsticks, pinch the two pieces together in the middle so that the dough forms four petals. Twist two petals at where the chopstick pinches. Let sit for 5 minutes.


For baked scallion twists, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Scramble one egg with a dash of water and brush onto the top of the scallion twists. Scatter sesame seeds on top. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes until the bread is brown.

For steamed scallion twists, omit the egg wash and scatter sesame seeds on top. Steam in a steamer or rice cooker for 10 to 15 minutes.

The scallion twists are soft, pillow-y and just a little chewy, like Chinese steamed buns. Personally, I prefer the steamed version better because I can really taste the creamy sweetness of the bread. The baked version is more fragrant because the sesame seeds become aromatic after toasting. Either way, I will have an excellent breakfast tomorrow.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Linguine with Brussels Sprouts Barigoule

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From Gourmet, March 2009 issue.
  • 1/2 pound of Brussels sprouts, trimmed and quarted lengthwise
  • 2 leeks, trimmed and sliced thin
  • 1/2 of a Savoy cabbage, cored and sliced thin
  • 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons of butter
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2/3 cup of dry white wine
  • 4 cups of water or vegetable stock
  • 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon of fresh thyme
  • 3/4 pound of dried linguine
  • 1/4 cup of parsley, chopped fine
  • salt and pepper to taste
In a 12-inch skillet, cook leeks and cabbage in 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and 2 tablespoons of butter. Add a dash of salt. Cook over medium heat until the vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic. Add wine and simmer until most of the liquid is evaporated, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add water or vegetable stock, lemon juice, 1/2 teaspoon of thyme, and the remaining tablespoon of butter and olive oil. Cover and cook until the cabbage is tender, about 15 minutes. Stir in Brussels sprouts and simmer, covered, until tender, about 5 minutes.

Cook linguine in boiling water until the pasta is just short of al dente. Add linguine and 1 to 2 cups of pasta-cooking water to the vegetables and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes until pasta is al dente. Stir in the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of thyme. Add salt and pepper to taste. Toss with chopped parsley and some grated Parmesan cheese, if desired.

The classic wine, lemon and thyme combination is clean and flavorful. The best part is Tangerine gets to have her favorite vegetable - Brussels sprouts! I just hope she doesn't barf it all over the carpet later.