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.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Tunisian Vegetable Stew

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This is a modified recipe from one of my favorite cookbooks, Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home.
  • 1 medium onion, sliced thin (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1/2 of a small Savoy cabbage, sliced thin (about 3 cups)
  • 1 large green bell pepper, sliced thin
  • 2 teaspoons of ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric
  • 1/4 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper (or to taste)
  • 1 28-ounce can of diced tomatoes
  • 1 16-ounce can of chickpeas, drained
  • 1/3 cup of raisins or currants (optional)
  • 1 cup of vegetable stock
  • 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice
  • salt to taste
  • toasted sliced almonds (optional)
In a large pot, saute onions in olive oil until softened, about 5 minutes. Add sliced cabbage, sprinkle with a dash of salt and continue to cook for another 5 minutes. Add sliced bell pepper, ground coriander, ground cinnamon, cayenne pepper and turmeric. Saute for another minute. Add canned tomatoes, chickpeas, vegetable stock and currants or raisins. Cover and simmer for about 15 minutes. Add lemon juice and salt to taste. Top with sliced almonds if desired.

This stew is everything that vegetarian soup should be - flavorful, fresh, complex and delicious. It has a little bit of everything; it's sweet, tart, spicy, savory, crunchy and creamy. Although raisins and currants are optional in this recipe, they add another layer of flavor and bursts of sweetness. You can also top it with crumbled feta cheese, but I'm very happy with this recipe even without the cheese.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Nachos with Lime and Black Bean Dip

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We have a lot of leftover food from one of our taco nights. It doesn't take a culinary genius to realize that taco night can turn into nachos night pretty easily. I've also got nachos in the brain because I've been craving those gross orange Velveeta nachos that you'd get at movie theaters. Since we haven't made it to a movie theater for Up 3-D, the next best thing is to make some nachos at home (minus the Velveeta "cheese", of course).

First, the lime and black bean dip:
  • 1 15 ounce can of black beans, drained
  • 1/2 of a 6-ounce can of tomato paste
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon of cumin
  • 1 teaspoon of dried oregano
  • 2 teaspoons of hot sauce (I used Sriracha sauce)
  • juice of 1 lime
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • chopped cilantro or green onions for garnish (optional)
Sweat chopped onion in olive oil over medium low heat until the onions are translucent, about 5 to 8 minutes. Add drained black beans, tomato paste, cumin, oregano, hot sauce, salt and pepper. Mix together. Cover and allow to cook until the beans are soft, about 8 to 12 minutes. Squeeze lime juice over the top. Mix well. Garnish with cilantro or green onions, if desired.

To assemble nachos, I put some blue corn tortilla chips in a oven-proof dish and top with about 1/2 cup of shredded cheddar cheese, some black bean dip and bake in 350 degree oven for 5 minutes or until the cheese is melted. Add pickled jalapeno peppers, soy sour cream and some green onions. Yay for nachos!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Fresh Cherry Pie

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I have new found respect for grandmothers everywhere. Making a pie is hard work. I made this pie using two portions of this basic flaky pie crust recipe and this fresh cherry pie recipe. The hardest part for me was rolling out the dough and transferring it to the pie pan without cracks. I find rolling the dough in between two pieces of parchment paper or plastic wraps helps tremendously.

Also, unless you've got a mean masochistic streak, please use a cherry pitter. I couldn't find one after going to four different stores, so I had to use a paper clip. It was a big pain in the tush. If VB didn't help me out, I'm probably still standing by the sink pitting those dang cherries.

All that hard work yielded one tasty pie. The crust is flaky and the filling is sweet and tart. I would recommend using butter-flavored shortening so that the crust is even more buttery. The best part? It's an excellent excuse to eat ice cream. Cherry pie a la mode, anyone?

Monday, June 1, 2009

Select Photos from Greece

Pin It Here's the set of photos taken in Greece. I spent most of the time on Santorini Island, which was truly charming and beautiful. Yes, I rode a donkey. In case you're wondering, I didn't taken any pictures while riding the donkey because I needed both hands to hold on for dear life. I was also too busy complimenting/calming the donkey in English. I figured he had a better shot of understanding English than Chinese. But it was probably all Greek to him.

You can find other pictures in my Flickr photstream.

1. Santorini Island, Greece, 2. Santorini Island, Greece, 3. Santorini Island, Greece, 4. Sunset, 5. Donkey on Santorini Island, 6. Temple of Olympian Zeus, Athens, 7. Olympics Stadium, Athens, 8. Athens Acropolis, 9. Athens Acropolis, 10. Athens Acropolis, 11. Athens Acropolis, 12. Santorini Island at Night, 13. Santorini Island, 14. Donkeys on Santorini Island, 15. Colorful Boats on Santorini Island, 16. Colorful Boats on Santorini Island, 17. Blowfishes, 18. Red Beach, Santorini Island, 19. Red Beach, Santorini Island, 20. Black Beach, Santorini Island, 21. Black Beach, Santorini Island, 22. Syntagma Square, Athens, 23. Syntagma Square, Athens, 24. Flowers on Santorini Island, 25. Church on Santorini Island, 26. Santorini Island, Greece, 27. Church on Santorini Island, 28. Even the Bikes are Blue on Santorini Island, 29. Santorini Island, Greece, 30. Santorini Island, Greece, 31. Church on Santorini Island, 32. Donkeys on Santorini Island, Greece, 33. Santorini Island, Greece, 34. Santorini Island, Greece, 35. View from Fira, Santorini Island, 36. Santorini Island, Greece

Indian Dinner Night

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I'm a total novice when it comes to cooking Indian food. So when VB said he wanted Indian food, I had to get some help fast. Enter the ladies at

With their help, I made baingan bhurta (roasted eggplant), bhindi masala (spicy okra) and chapatti bread with a side of brown basmati rice. The most technically difficult to make was definitely the chapatti bread. It's important to keep the heat at medium or medium low so the bread doesn't burn. Practice certainly helps. The last few pieces came out much better than the rest.

Now I have to Febreze down my apartment so it doesn't smell like someone blew up my spice rack.