define: confit

this specialty of France is derived from an ancient method of preserving meat (usually goose, duck or pork) whereby it is salted and slowly cooked in its own fat. the cooked meat is then packed into a crock or pot and covered with its own cooking fat, which acts as a seal and preservative.

With Thanksgiving just having passed, I had seen so many turkey recipes that called for the bird to be cooked in duck fat. This then made me think of defining confit for everyone who has seen/ heard of it, but never knew what the heck it was. Personally, confit doesn’t really interest me, because the thought of eating something cooked in its own fat is, well… not the most appetizing. However, I’ve seen it so frequently on menus at various restaurants, so someone important must love it! Go ahead, give it a shot, and let me know what you thought! btw, that awesome rhyme was so not intended, but I like it :)

P.S. it’s pronounced con-fee.

Posted in Define: This, Dish

define: raclette

a swiss dish consisting of a chunk of raclette cheese that is exposed to heat (traditionally an open fire) and scraped off as it melts… comes from racler, french for “to scrape.” it’s served as a meal with boiled potatoes, dark bread and cornichons, or other pickled vegetables.

There’s no better time to enjoy this dish than in the autumn & winter months. Just like all the holiday decor, it, too, creates that cozy/ warm/ fuzzy feeling inside and truly satisfies any comfort food craving this time of year!

I decided to share this definition with you, because I just saw this awesome little raclette maker in Crate & Barrel’s holiday gift guide (which you’ll find on page 54!) It’s really such a simple concept, but so, so delicious! If you haven’t tried it before, I suggest you do so before the weather warms up again (which could be sooner than you think… courtesy of global warming.)

P.S. it’s pronounced rah-klet.

Posted in Comfort Food, Define: This, Dish

Salted Caramel Buttercream

I have been talking about making salted caramel buttercream to pair with chocolate cupcakes for 2 months now, but I never got around to actually doing it, until this past week. You can ask my sister! Seriously, I borrowed her electric mixer two weeks before we left for our trip home (mind you, that was back in the first week of September!) So, I have no idea why it has taken me this long, but I’m glad I finally did it… because I’m never doing it again!* Hah.

You see, I don’t have much of a sweet tooth - I never have - so I don’t bake on a regular basis, nor do I feel the need to experiment with pastries & desserts. From a young age, I have always thought of baking as kind of the boring part of cooking, since you don’t have the liberty to mess with your proportions/ ingredients, without sacrificing the flakiness of your pastry, or  how well your soufflé will rise (totes been there before and it was so not cool). Don’t get me wrong, I love desserts… I just don’t love eating them very often, or making them myself.

Anyway, I thought since I acquired all these awesome baking skills while working at ACPC (and can literally bake a cake with my eyes closed) I would give the buttercream a whirl. The recipe I used & adapted was from here. Note that I said “adapted” again… of course, I did not follow the recipe. Well, only because it was meant for caramel buttercream, and I wanted to make salted caramel buttercream. Oh, I also thought it was asking for way too many sweet ingredients, and I just couldn’t fathom why on earth the buttercream would need to be that sweet.

Oh, so before you read the recipe below, I should warn you that these quantities are whack. The book claims it’s good for 24 cupcakes, but homegirl couldn’t be any more wrong. I made it as directed and then literally only used 1/4 of what I made (and ended up giving the other 3/4 to my sister to freeze for another time!) If the same happens to you, don’t say nobody warned you!

Salted Caramel ButtercreamSalted Caramel Buttercream

2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 pound (about 3 3/4 cups) confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1/2 cup prepared dulce de leche
1 tsp pure vanilla extract - I decided to go with vanilla essence instead, but of course I didn’t use it. lol
sea salt, coarsely ground, to taste

Using an electric mixer, beat the butter on high until light and fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Reduce the mixer speed to low and gradually add in the sugar, then the dulce de leche, vanilla (if you decide to use it) and salt. Beat until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.

Pipe the buttercream onto cooled cupcakes as you wish, and garnish with sea salt on top. Here’s where I used ground sea salt but wished I used it in the rock form instead, because it would’ve looked a whole lot cooler for the photo.

*So, coming back to why I’m never making this again: (1) it was the sweetest thing I have ever tasted, and oh my god, it was nauseating, and (2) I swear I inhaled at least a half cup of confection sugar! A little advice: you might want to wear a medical mask, or hold your breath forever, to prevent this from happening to you. Also, please don’t ask for the chocolate cupcake recipe because - who are we kidding?! - you know I didn’t make that from scratch.

And there you have it: the most positive buttercream experience you will ever read about, lol. Enjoy!

Posted in Comfort Food, Desserts, Recipes

Israeli Couscous

The greatest thing about food is all the “togetherness” that it brings. Families & friends bond at the dinner table. They laugh, argue (not just over who gets the last piece of garlic bread!) and learn new things about each other with every meal. New family members are celebrated with fancy dinner-dances, and who can forget the comfort you get from devouring your grandmother’s signature dish. Mothers’ show their love through a well thought-out meal after a long day, and little kids have the chance to experience new ingredients & flavors, all while secretly expanding their palates.

Do you see what I mean? SO much happens when food is involved.

One other thing that I love about food, is being able to share & swap recipes with my loved ones. Not only does the recipe you’re given instruct you on how to recreate a dish, but it also allows you to reminisce.

That being said, this particular recipe was adapted from one of my favorite dishes by Mum Khaneja. She introduced the hubso & I to Israeli couscous this past summer (during our trip home for her birthday weekend) and we automatically hit it off! Because of the instant attraction, I so eagerly wanted to share this recipe with my mum… and finally got the chance bring her some couscous when we  recently visited HK. She hasn’t gotten round to cooking it though, because – funny enough – I forgot to give her the recipe. Hah.

Anyway, this one’s for you, Mum!

Israeli_CouscousIsraeli Couscous w/ Veggies

1 pkt Roland’s whole wheat Israeli couscous – I use this one in particular
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 yellow onion, julienned
3 cups baby spinach
3/4 cup carrots, shoestringed
1/2 cup baby bella mushrooms, sliced
4-8 oz sugar snap peas, washed & trimmed – I love them, so tend to go overboard here!
1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
salt & pepper, to taste

Prepare the couscous as directed on the packet. After this is done set the pot aside, covered, and grab a wok/ non-stick sauté pan. Heat the oil and sauté the garlic over medium-high heat for about 1 minute, but not until it’s browned. Add the onions and cook until slightly browned & translucent. Then add your carrots, sugar snap peas & mushrooms, and cook thoroughly for about 3-4 minutes (you’ll want the sugar snaps to become a bright vibrant green!) Season with salt/ pepper as you see fit. Next, combine the couscous with your sautéed veggies and make sure you leave any remaining liquid in the mix (this is where all the flavor is). Sauté for another minute or two, until all components are well incorporated, and turn off the heat. Fold in the spinach so that is just begins to wilt.

Serve & enjoy hot. You can have this as a side dish at a BBQ (think lamb chops, sausages, etc. yummmm) or throw in your choice of meat to create an entree-size meal.

This recipe yields about 4 (side) servings.

Posted in Dinner, Lunch, Recipes, Side Dish, Vegetarian

define: velveting

a technique in chinese cuisine for preserving the moisture of meat while cooking. it provides a soft or “velvety” texture to the meat of any entree. this technique is applied to raw meat before cooking, and involves pre-coating the meat with a mixture of oil, egg white, cornstarch, and sherry or rice wine.

Have you ever made a stir fry so enthusiastically but were left disappointed because your chicken ended up super dry & rubbery? If your answer is yes, don’t worry… so have I (sad story, I know). Well, cry no more, my friends, because now you know what you were missing!

So let me keep it real for you – don’t even bother with the egg whites, and the oil, and all that fancy stuff… the most important ingredient here is cornstarch. I mean, think about it: why would you waste your time with the extra stuff when all you’re trying to do is make a quick (yummy) meal after work?!

If it makes you feel any better, I don’t entertain the fancies. I just sprinkle on a little bit of salt & pepper and generously coat the chicken with cornstarch (I prefer to massage the cornstarch in because the last thing I want is lumps in my food. Uhhh… ew). Next, marinate the chicken in your stir fry sauce for a good 20 minutes at room temperature; and then when you’re ready, throw the meat into a wok with some veggies and you’ve got yourself some juicy, moist Kung Pao Chicken! Woo!

P.S. I cheated today. I googled the definition because my dictionary didn’t know the definition.

Posted in Define: This, Technique

Little Tea Sandwiches

I’ve always been fond of high-tea and everything that this particular dining experience brings to the table (I love using that phrase!) The sandwiches are the perfect combination of sweet & savory ingredients, along with unique pairings of exciting flavors. The little guys are stacked beautifully on a 3-tier tower and are accompanied by a pot of your favorite tea… who wouldn’t love this?!

Little Tea SandwichesWith high-tea on my mind, I decided to make 3 of my favorite little tea sandwiches for a friend’s potluck picnic happening this weekend. The ingredients aren’t expensive and the preparation process was very simple so I don’t really have a “recipe” for you guys… but I do have this amazing list of 50 tea sandwiches to share with you!

Peanut Butter & Banana

whole wheat bread, sliced
banana, thinly sliced
creamy peanut butter - I liked to use Skippy 

Spread the peanut butter on one side of both slices of the bread, and pile on the banana slices (I go a little crazy here because I love banana, but feel free to do as much as you like). Close the sandwich and slice into 4 squares with, or without the crusts on.

Cucumber & Basil

white sandwich bread, sliced
english cucumbers, thinly sliced
fresh basil leaves
avocado, mashed
3 tsp whipped butter - I used a little more butter since I was making a larger quantity
parsley, fresh or dried
a couple of dashes of lime juice
garlic salt & pepper, to taste

In a small bowl combine the butter, avocado, parsley, garlic salt & pepper. Mix thoroughly to ensure all ingredients are incorporated well, into a smooth-ish spread. Apply the spread onto one side of both slices of bread, and layer the cucumber slices on. Sprinkle lightly with pepper and place the basil leaves on top. Close the sandwich and slice into 4 squares with, our without, the crusts on.

Ham & Brie

deli low sodium ham, thinly sliced - I prefer the Boars Head brand
brie, sliced length ways
dijon mustard
medium pretzel roll

Spread the dijon mustard on the inside of a split pretzel roll. Place one slice of brie on the bread, then pile the deli ham and close the sandwich. Slice into 5 pieces.

Serve each sandwich with your favorite cup of tea & enjoy!

Posted in Recipes, Snacks

Curry-Mustard Salmon

Oh man, it’s been quite a while since I last posted a recipe! I promise you won’t be disappointed with this one; it’s one of my most favorite ways to prepare salmon!

This is a recipe that I’ve adapted from something my sister’s husband makes. He does most of the cooking in their home, and he’s really good at it (side note: he makes the most delicious open-face enchiladas, suuuper yum!) so I can totally see why the sister sticks to baking. So, not too long ago when I was over for dinner at their place, the brother-in-law cooked up this killer salmon entree, and I was all like ‘OMG, best salmon ever.’ Seriously, it was so good that I still remember the meal: what we drank, what he made as sides, etc. (oh, and still have the photo I took of the table!) That night I distinctly remember going home thinking I could totally make my own version of his recipe… and that I did! So here we have us some curry-mustard salmon a la Kirti.

This recipe is good for 2 people, but if you’re cooking for 1, or for 3+ you can always use your judgment & modify quantities accordingly.

Curry Mustard SalmonCurry-Mustard Salmon

2 6oz. salmon fillets
1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp deli mustard - I like to use Grey Poupon
1 tsp curry power
1 tsp honey
a pinch of paprika
a pinch of garam masala
1 tsp sesame seeds, ground
1/2 pkt kraft shake’n bake extra crispy
salt & pepper, to taste

In a small bowl, combine oil, mustard, curry powder, paprika, garam masala, sesame seeds & honey. Mix well - before you add the honey the consistency will be a little bit grainy, but afterwards it should smoothen out a little.

Position an oven rack about 6″ from the top broiler and preheat. Place the salmon fillets on a foil wrapped baking tray (this is more for a speedy cleaning process than for the salmon. I mean without the aluminum you’ll be scrubbing the pans like you’re Cinderella). 

Place the salmon fillets on the tray and generously coat with the marinade you just whipped up in the bowl. Let the salmon marinate for about an hour, covered, in the fridge, on the bottom shelf. Once this is done, sprinkle your shake’n bake over the tops to coat each fillet.

Broil the salmon until golden brown and just opaque in center, about 10-12 minutes tops. You want to keep a close eye on your fish, though, since it’s so close to the heat you don’t want the breadcrumbs to burn, or even worse, your salmon to dry out from overcooking!

Ok wait… I have a confession: I don’t actually use the broiler when making my salmon! The husbo & I have a NuWave Oven, gifted to us by his parents, so I use that and cook my salmon to perfect in a mere 7 minutes! If you’ve ever wondered if that thing works, trust me it does, like wonders~~~ and nobody paid me to say that!

Now the salmon is ready to serve with a side of your choice. I did a mixed green salad tossed in a sesame dressing, and oven roasted butternut squash & sweet potatoes, which I have so kindly included the recipe for.

Oven Roasted Butternut Squash & Sweet Potatoes

1 large sweet potato, peeled & cubed
1/4 butternut squash, peeled & cubed
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp garam masala
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil - I think… I usually do a generous drizzle so use your discretion
salt & pepper, to taste

Preheat your oven to 375℉.

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients and toss, until the squash & sweet potato cubes have been generously coated with olive oil and seasonings. Allow to marinate, covered, at room temperature for at least 30 minutes.

Cover a baking tray in aluminum foil and spray with baking spray (this will prevent the cubes from sticking to the foil & burning as they cook.) Evenly spread out the cubes on to the tray & place onto the middle rack of the oven. Cook for 25 mins, or until soft in the center and brownish on the outside. I would suggest you check in at the 15 mins mark and rotate the pan. At this point you can also toss the cubes around a little, to get as much of an even cook as possible.

Remove from oven carefully and scoop onto your plate. Enjoy while hot… but please don’t get so excited & burn the inside of your mouth.

Posted in Dinner, Recipes, Salmon

Is it expired?

Is It ExpiredAhh, the infamous question…

The husbo & I often ask each other this during our periodical fridge sweeps. He’s usually quick to come to a conclusion, but me? I like to ask follow up questions. Does it smell bad? Is it moldy? What does it taste like? Is it furry?

Dude, I cannot tell you the number of times I have had the ‘expiration date’ discussion with people… everyone always has a different opinion and, honestly, I never know who to believe. In the past, I’ve heavily relied on my senses – tasting, sniffing, prodding & poking to make sure everything is “ok”. It’s worked out pretty well… though I’ve definitely had my fair share of sour milk sips & nasty cheese sniffs… yuck.

About a week ago, I came across this article and thought it would be a good idea to share it with you guys; it’s very telling. It sets the record straight and details the difference between Use By & Best By vs. Sell By. So the next time you get into a discussion re: expiration dates (oh, because I know how popular of a topic it is), you’ll know just the thing to say to make people believe you!

Posted in For Your Kitchen

define: mis en place

a french term referring to having all the ingredients necessary for a dish prepared and ready to combine up to the point of cooking.

This term isn’t new to me, by any means, since it’s something that every student learns in “culinary 101″ but I chose it because while I was describing a small food business to the husbo, I threw the word around in conversation, only to have him look at me like I was speaking a foreign language! ok, so technically I guess I was… but you get my drift. It then dawned on me that if he didn’t know what it meant, then other people probably don’t either.

It’s a term that is very commonly used in professional kitchens, but isn’t limited to them. Don’t be afraid to be like, “hey man, I can’t feed your cat after work ’cause I have to do my mis en place for breakfast tomorrow… you know I’m sooo not a morning person.” Lol. I don’t know…

P.S. it’s pronounced meez-on-plass.

Posted in Define: This

Hong Kong: Asia’s World City… of Food

Hong Kong SkylineAs you read this, the husbo & I would have literally just arrived in Hong Kong for our 2 week family holiday! And if you happen to be reading this while at HK International Airport (who knows? maybe you are!) come say hi; we’re at Arrival Hall B! Lol.

From the day we finalized our travel itinerary, I started to compile my list of things to eat, new restaurants to visit, and food to purchase for when we return. Ha. Needless to say, our entire trip totally revolves around food (and family… but more food) and I’m not ashamed.

While all the food is super important – the top, top priority on my list is to buy a camera! My friend Tamara (of Alexandria Cake Pop Company, yayyy shameless promotion!) has been kind enough to lend me her camera to start up my blog & get a few photos out there, but now I really need one of my own, so I can document all the food on our trip… and continue to do so when we get back to DC!

I’ll be back later next week with updates of our food adventures in the 852!

p.s. the photo is from Maurizio Peddis, he has some awesome sets on flickr. Check him out!

Posted in Food Adventures

define: frico

an italian food, which consists of shredded cheese, potatoes, flour & eggs; baked or fried until crisp. common cheeses include parmesan, mozzarella, or montasio.

If you are a MasterChef fan, then you should already know what this post is inspired by…

This week, the last 3 contestants were fighting for a place in the Top 2. Luca Manfe (who also happens to be our favorite) took inspiration from his Italian roots and created a beautiful entree that eventually earned him his spot in the finale: pancetta wrapped veal accompanied by frico.

This is the first I’ve ever heard of frico, and oh my god it looked amazing. Cheese + potatoes? Yes please! I couldn’t help but notice a resemblance to the hash browns that we served at the restaurant I used to work at in New York. I’m not even going to lie – I ate a slice every time I worked the morning shift; which, you should know, was everyday for 6 months! But back to the frico… the recipe I found seems simple enough, and I’m really hoping it’s as easy to make as it is described!

Posted in Define: This, Ingredient, Italian

Masala Dabba

If you’re Indian then you’re probably already well acquainted with what I’m about to say, and if you’re not, well…then just keep reading, ok?

Masala DabbaA masala dabba (pronouned ma-sa-la dub-bah, aka. the dubs) quite simply translates to “spice box”. It is a staple in all Indian kitchens, and – honestly - you can’t make a single Indian dish without its contents. Speaking of its contents, this tends to vary from kitchen to kitchen (because no two chefs are alike) but there will always be a few things that everyone has: cumin, coriander, turmeric & salt. There are variations when it comes to the actual box, but the basic components are pretty much standardized: stainless steel round box, 7 little compartments, and metal spoon(s).

I think any Indian kid can associate, when I say that I would watch my mum take the dabba out, scoop up a combination of spices and throw them into the pot, releasing a puff of smoke – as if she was a sorceress making a potion in her cauldron. Ha! Then almost instantaneously, the kitchen exhaust would go on to suck up the heavy aroma before it infiltrated the apartment.

I like to imagine the passing down of the spice box, from mother to child, is almost like a right of passage for Indians, lol. Unfortunately, my mum never got to do this with me (so sorry, Mum!) because when I was younger I used to very anti-Indian. Anti-Indian cooking, anti-Indian music, anti-Indian everything. I thought I was too cool for it.

So where did I get one, you ask?  Well, it’s the husbo’s! He got it from his mum a while ago, and of course it was never used… until we got married, so thank you, Mum Khaneja!

I’ll be honest, when I first started cooking I didn’t cook any Indian food & never touched the dubs (I mean, the whole process of Indian cuisine was very, very intimidating to me) but as I experimented in the kitchen more and more, I found the courage to tackle it! I quickly realized that there’s absolutely nothing to be afraid of, because once you understand what each spice does for a dish, you’ll be doing a little bit of hocus pocus of your own.

Posted in For Your Kitchen, Indian

Taco Tuesday

By pure coincidence it is always a Tuesday (or Thursday) when I decide to make tacos for dinner. Today’s Taco Tuesday – however – was more exciting than usual because I made fun accompaniments: guacamole (using the jalapeño & cilantro from the balcony garden, woo!) and a roasted corn & black bean salsa.

I first tasted tacos as a 9-year-old; my mum used to make them as a snack, and it was the best thing to eat after a long day at school!  So, obviously, this means that when it comes to Mexican food, tacos are my absolute fave! (particularly the yellow corn, crispy kind from Old El Paso).

For something that is so yummy, I find it really odd that most restaurants only have soft tacos on their menu. I have yet to find somewhere that actually has good crispy tacos (and trust me, I have looked!) which is why I just prefer to make my own at home. The recipe below can be made with any type of ground meat (beef/ pork/ turkey) or even Smart Ground for all you veggies out there, but at this household we like ours with turkey.

TacosGround Turkey Tacos

1/2 lb 99% fat free ground turkey
1/2 pkt Old El Paso Crunchy Taco Shells
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 yellow onion, diced
1 can diced tomato
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp cumin
1 paprika
1/2 cup water
2 tbsp fritos jalapeño cheddar queso (optional)
salt & pepper, to taste
shredded mexican blend cheese, to garnish
head iceberg lettuce, shredded, to garnish
shoestring carrots, to garnish

Heat oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add onion; cook until translucent & slightly brownish. Add garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Add the tomato and cook for additional 3-4 minutes, until mushy. Push to one side of the pan.

On the other side of the pan, add the ground turkey break up meat with the backside of a spoon. Cook until meat is just cooked through, about 4 to 5 minutes. Stir in all the dry seasonings, salt & pepper and cook 1 minute. Add water and simmer on low heat, stirring occasionally – do this for about 10 minutes. Fold in the queso (while this part is optional, I totes recommend you add it for an extra kick of heat & flavor…and yumminess!). Allow the meat to simmer on super-low heat, covered, for an additional 5 minutes or until you’re ready to serve.

Heat the tacos as directed on the taco shell packaging. When this is done (should take no more than 20 minutes, including the time to pre-heat your oven). Portion out the meat mixture into each taco, garnishing with lettuce, carrot & cheese. Eat immediately; otherwise your tacos will get soggy!

Corn & Black Bean SalsaRoasted Corn & Black Bean Salsa

2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1 can golden corn kernels, drained & rinsed
1 can black beans, drained & rinsed
1/4 medium red onion, diced
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
1/3 jalapeño, diced
juice of 1/2 lime
salt & pepper, to taste

Heat 1 tsp oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the kernels of corn and cook. Refrain from stirring the corn too much, as you want the corn to get that brownish char. As the kernels brown, they will begin to pop – this is when you should stir thoroughly (to prevent it from burning!)

Allow the corn to cool on a large plate for about 20 minutes. Once the corn has cooled, combine all the ingredients in a bowl. Chill in the fridge for at least 20 minutes before serving.

GuacamoleGuacamole

2 hass avocados
1/2 medium red onion, diced
1/3 jalapeño, diced
a handful of cilantro, coarsely chopped
a pinch of garlic salt
pepper, to taste
lime juice, to taste

Combine all the ingredients (except avocados) in a bowl.  Add garlic salt & pepper to taste and allow the flavors a chance to marry for about 10 mins at room temperature. Mash the avocados with a fork so there are a few avocado chunks and then gently fold in the other ingredients. Serve immediately.

This recipe is good for 2 people… or just 1, if you’re a gordo, teehehe

Posted in Comfort Food, Mexican, Recipes, Turkey

define: salamander

a culinary broiler characterized by very high temperature overhead infrared heating elements powered by either electricity or gas. primarily used in professional kitchens for broiling. also used for toasting, browning of gratin dishes, melting cheeses onto sandwiches, and caramelizing desserts such as crème brûlée.

not to be confused with this little guy

I first came across this piece of equipment while working in a restaurant at an upscale New York hotel. The salamander was used to brown the cheese that garnished the French Onion Soup, and to cook the Miso Salmon to absolute perfection. It literally took just a couple of minutes for this fiery beast to bring these dishes to golden brown goodness. To mimic the results of a salamander, you can use the broiler function on your toaster oven, or even in the regular oven. Obviously, the temperatures in these appliances do not get as intense as they do in their industrial counterparts, but for a novice chef, like me, it does the job.

Posted in Appliances, Define: This, Equipment

Fruitful Chores

IMG_4696_copy

The other day, the husbo & I were chatting about the strawberries in our garden and I couldn’t help but notice that I was getting really irritated with the conversation. This isn’t the first time I’ve noticed this feeling, but in the past I was able to easily ignore it & move on with life. This time, however, it was gnawing at me and I couldn’t stand it…

“I hate eating fruit! It’s such a chore!” I blurted.

He looked at me, incredibly confused, and I instinctively felt the need to justify myself.

I’m not quite sure why exactly I feel this way, but I have a theory. As a child, my mum would tell me to eat my fruit, which of course, meant that I would’t eat it. The initial, affectionate request of, ‘Beta, please eat your fruit… it’s good for you’ turned into ‘Can you please eat your fruit? It’s been sitting there for an hour & it’s going to spoil’ which then eventually turned into a stern & serious, ‘If you don’t eat your fruit, you cannot go to the park and play with your friends’. 

Ugh.

Just like I had to make my bed, tidy my room and set the table for dinner… I ate the damn fruit. I ate it because I had to.

Naturally, I blame Pavlov. Ha. I mean, hellooo! I was obviously classically conditioned to associate the eating of fruit with the doing of chores!
Ok… all jokes aside, I don’t really hate fruit. Over the years (and the disintegration of my food fussiness) I’ve definitely found ways to enjoy them all. For example, I try eating “exciting” fruits, such as pomegranate, lychee, mango, pineapple and cherries, more often. I also like to add a little bit of pizazz to the boring ones: eating bananas with saltines & a smidgen of low-fat peanut butter or nutella (yum!), and slicing the crispy apples & pears as thin as possible (who knew that could change the experience!). I put green grapes in the freezer for about an hour before eating them, and sprinkle a pinch of sugar on strawberries, blueberries & blackberries that are a little tart.

So you see – if you’re anything like me – there is hope! The only thing to remember is the moral of the story: please eat your fruit, it’s good for you ;)

Posted in Fruits

define: degorging

the process of drawing out a vegetables moisture before cooking. it is a method often used to remove bitterness (due to a buildup of toxins) from an item.

So I have to admit, I’ve only ever done this with eggplant but you can do this with any sort of root vegetable (potato, turnip, carrot, etc.) It’s super easy: cut the vegetable into slices (or cubes) and let it soak in heavily salted water for about 5 minutes. Oh, and don’t forget to rinse the veggies throughly before cooking, otherwise your food will be super salty and that’s no fun for anyone!

Posted in Define: This, Technique

Feeling Peckish

When I was little I used to get hungry a LOT, and the running joke in my family was that I needed to be fed every hour. At one point, my mum seriously thought I had parasites or some strange stomach virus that caused perpetual hunger. Omg, touch wood I don’t.

Now I would love to tell you that things have since changed and I eat like a regular person… alas, I cannot tell a lie.

My family, friends, and husband (oh! in-laws, too) know all too well that this beast of a stomach cannot be tamed… unless fed! Ha. It is beyond silly when I think about it, but I’ve just come to accept that food will always be a big part of my life, and ain’t nothing wrong with that. Also, it really doesn’t help that growing up in Hong Kong you are surrounded by a culture that, quite literally, lives to eat! A prime example is one of the first things a person asks in polite conversation – “leih sihk jo faahn mei ar?No prizes for guessing what my answer always is!

Anyway, because I am constantly peckish I very much enjoy snacking! These days it’s generally something on the boring healthier side: carrot sticks, sliced fruit, granola bars, etc. but I’m not gonna lie, it’s challenging to find something that will really satiate me.

Dude, when I’m in Hong Kong my snacking is on a whole’nother level… legit, it’s out of control.  Ja Leung, Ga Dan Zai, Yue Dan, Dan-Dan Mein, Calbee Hot & Spicy chips (aka. chili chips, holla!), Vita Lemon Tea, Hello Panda, Pocky, Pretz, Egg Tarts, McWings, that peanut butter waffle thing …ahh, I could literally go on forever. So now you can only imagine my dismay when I moved to the US  and had to say goodbye to all my “friends”…

Hello PandaAll of that changed the day someone introduced me to Super 88!  I must’ve squealed with delight because I had gone two loooong years without anything good to eat, in Providence. Then when I moved to NY, I was smart enough to realize that Chinatown was the place to be. Dim sum restaurants, Hong Kong supermarkets… even street food! It. was. great.

The same goes for living here in Arlington, VA. I quickly Yelped the local Asian grocery and the Indian store (can’t forget about the Haldirams!) so we would be all set. It’s a little bit of a journey to get out there, do your shopping and head back, but it’s totes worth it.

Just like most stories I like to tell, this one ends on a good note! I’m happy to tell you that snack time has been revived, and I’ll even say that it’s better now than ever… with a little bit of this and a little bit of that.

 

Posted in Asian, Snacks

The Balcony Garden

With the exception of a 5 year period, my family has always lived in a high-rise flat. That, however, has never stopped my mum from keeping a small herb garden. I’m not gonna lie, as a kid I thought it was kinda weird that she would care for her plants and talk to them affectionately. But now, as an adult, I totally see what all the fuss was about… there’s something very soothing, very therapeutic about tending to a plant (total granny status right here).

In Spring 2012, the husbo & I put together our balcony garden and, really, it started as a casual activity, just to spruce up the outdoors with some fun flowers. We then discovered some easy-to-manage veggies at a local Mom & Pop hardware store, and ended up with full spread of tomatoes, cucumbers and jalapeños! I wasn’t around much last summer to enjoy the crop (that makes me sound like such a farmer, lol) but the husbo constantly iMessaged me photos and couldn’t stop talking about the juicy, crispy cucumbers. This year I made it a point to stick around for the summer and really tend to the garden because, heck, I want to eat homegrown food, too!

Balcony Garden

Up here on the 17th floor, Mother Nature & I are homegirls. She has been very kind to the plants; providing them with just the right amount of sun, rain & wind, and for that, I am thankful. I’m even going to go as far as saying we have better results this year. More fruits, more veggies and more excitement!

So without further ado, let me introduce you to the gang…

JalapenosStrawberriesBaby BazCukeVines

Jalapeños

These are our hermanos. There are about 6 -8 of them growing, and in about a week I am going to pick one! I’m just waiting for them to mature a tad more, so they can really develop their flavor & heat. Once that happens, I’m gonna throw them into some guac and it’s going to be great.

Strawberries

Dude, let’s not even get me started on how excited I am about these guys. I think it’s only because we were I was so skeptical when we bought them… I mean who grows strawberries in their apartment?! We literally went weeks without seeing any progress and the husbo had to remind me to be patient. Then, this past Sunday (all of a sudden) we find these babies! They’re still so tiny and delicate (we noticed a bird took a bite out of one, grrrr) and seriously need a lot of TLC before anyone can enjoy them! That’s talking to you, you damn bird. But eeeek, I cannot wait!

Basil

We actually have two basil plants (Baz & Baby Baz) both of which were purchased from our local grocery store’s fresh herb section. I felt so bad about using & abusing the plants (they’re only intended for one-time use) so I put them into tiny, and I mean tiny, bowls and changed the water every day. Needless to say they did well for themselves, up until recently… the leaves would yellow quickly and they just seemed so blah. That’s when we decided to let the little guys go outside, and I cannot tell you what a good idea that was! Literally within days the plants spruced up and flourished among their new friends.

Cilantro

The cilantro was also purchased from the grocery store, but this time we went ahead and just directly planted him outside. I was worried the birds would go crazy and pick on this guy, but he’s done really well for himself and has grown into a great big bush.

Cucumbers/ Yellow Squash 

Honestly, we have no idea what is going on here. All we know is that the plants we purchased we labelled cucumbers and they were all in one little section… so they better be something good. These are sneaky little guys, though, they wrap their vines around anything they can get a grab of. We planted them in the same pot as the jalapeños and they weren’t  playing nice, so the husbo moved the vines towards the railing. As I mentioned earlier, we’ve grown these before and sort of know what to expect, so we’re patiently just waiting for the cucumbers (or whatever they are) to make an appearance. I’m thinking another 3 weeks? We’ll see.

Last, but not least, let me introduce you to the Kardashians carnations…

Carnations
Yes, I said Kardashians (I thought it was clever and who the hell doesn’t love them a Kardashian?!) We originally had four: Kris, Kourtney, Kim & Khloe, but over time Kris unfortunately (?) died, Kim plumped up big time and Khloe thinned out. What about Kourtney, you ask? Well, Kourtney – she just stayed the same… boring. If you didn’t already know, carnations are perennials, which means they are dormant in the winter and then come back to life in the warmer months. Much like the famous sisters, these girls add so much sass to the balcony, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

All right kids, so that’s the balcony garden for you. Now, if there’s one thing I’d like you to take away from all this, it’s that I  very much encourage you to grow something of your own, in your home. I mean, it’s a great activity for your & your signification other to do together, and I hear it’s good feng shui. So go buy yourself a plant, now.

Posted in For Your Kitchen

define: this

If you’re like me, then you probably repeatedly pause, rewind & playback unfamiliar terminology that you hear on your favorite cooking competition. You grab your iPhone, pull up google and immediately search for it. But sometimes simply typing “define: _____” doesn’t work and you’re left to continue browsing. FAIL. That’s why I just turn to my handy dandy food dictionary: The New Food Lover’s Companion. I swear, it’s the Bible of the kitchen. I purchased it during my freshman year of college and it’s taken the #1 spot of favorite books ever since.

Here, I will share definitions of techniques, ingredients, etc. – so that the next time you’re at a fancy restaurant, the menu will make so much more sense and you’ll totally impress your friends.

Posted in Define: This

Veggie Chili

A bowl of chili is another one of those foods that I had never tried before moving to the US. I guess even if they did have chili in Hong Kong I still wouldn’t have tried it, seeing as I used to be a vegetarian until the age of 16.

Because of my veggie roots (totally didn’t realize that would be a pun… until I typed it, ha.) I prefer to make my chili sans viande. I substitute the ground beef with Smart Ground, and honestly don’t even realize the difference! The soy protein has all the substance ground meat brings to the table, even a hint of that delicious smoky flavor.

Veggie Chili

Veggie Chili

1/2 packet smart ground
1/2 yellow onion, diced
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1/2 yellow bell pepper, diced
1/2 can black beans
1 can diced tomatoes, undrained
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup water
1/3 jalapeño, minced
1 tbsp cayenne (optional)
2 tbsp ground cumin
2 tbsp  paprika
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
salt & pepper (to taste)
2 tbsp mexican blend cheese (optional)
sour cream, for garnish (optional)

Heat olive oil in a medium sauce pot over medium-high heat. Add the onions, sprinkle with salt, occasionally stir & allow the onions to cook until they have softened, about 5 minutes. Add the jalapeño and garlic, cook for another 2 minutes, until fragrant.

Add the smart ground and crumble while incorporating it into the mixture. Let it brown for 3 minutes. While stirring you will notice that the smart ground is drying out, so add the water and continue to stir. Add the tomatoes, bell peppers, black beans, and season with a little more salt & pepper. Add the cumin, paprika and cayenne; stir to fully incorporate the seasoning throughout.

Increase heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low – at this point, I like to fold in 1 tbsp of cheese to thicken. Gently simmer, covered, until the vegetables are soft and the flavors have fully developed, about 15 minutes.

Make sure you taste the chili and season with more salt & pepper if you think it needs it. Serve and garnish with cheese, sour cream and thin slices of jalapeño. Obviously the jalapeño is optional (depending on your spice tolerance) but if you’re looking for a great photo-op, it really makes the colors pop.

Posted in Comfort Food, Dinner, Recipes, Vegetarian