Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Berry Sauce

I started my day off at 9 a.m. and went straight to studying and of course while I was studying I was simultaneously watching the Food Network. Dangerous! Because this gave me, what I call, the "cooking itch", the need to make something and pretend like you're on a cooking show, so you talk to yourself while cooking.
Basically, the less embarrassing version of this story would be..."out of hunger and rummaging through my pantry..." I found plain yogurt, granola, frozen strawberries, blueberries, and raspberry jam...thus resulting in making a berry sauce for a PARFAIT!

Berry sauce recipe:

1/2 frozen strawberries
1 handful of dried wild blueberries
1/4 cup ginger ale
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon raspberry jam

Put the frozen strawberries, ginger ale, and balsamic in a small pot and let come to a boil.
When it boils turn down the heat to a medium until the strawberries look completely defrosted.
Add the dried blueberries, honey, and raspberry jam. Let it come back up to a boil.
Add lemon juice, and turn down to a simmer and let simmer for about 10 mins or until the liquid has reduced by 1/4 or until it looks like a syrup.

let cool.

serve with ice cream, yogurt, or whatever you like to have berry syrup/ sauce with!
It's so good! It's amazing what things you can concoct right out of your pantry!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Peanut Butter

I don't know what it is with me lately--I've been infatuated with peanut butter! I think it might have something to do with a conversation I've had recently with a group of my friends who were reminiscing about favorite childhood foods. Some were familiar favorites like ants on a log, pb&j with three slices of white bread, UNCRUSTABLES!, peanut butter and oreoes, peanut butter and condensed milk sammies...but a common theme was peanut butter. Then one of my friends excitedly exclaims "Peanut butter and apples!" and everyone all of a sudden escalates to the same caliber of excitement and says, "O my God! Yes! Peanut butter and apples! MmmM"...and I, being the food lover that I am, sheepishly sits on the they continue to express their joy.
Then I finally interrupt, "Apples and peanut butter? What?" As if to make a joke.
To their surprise, I had never had apples with peanut butter.
"But you've had ants on a log?" (peanut butter and celery with raisins, my personal favorite childhood DIY finger food), they ask.
We all laugh as one of my girlfriends quickly jumps up and rushes to the kitchen bringing out a box of pre-sliced apples, a large jar of ooey-gooey peanut butter, and a butter knife and quickly assembles a "peanut butter and apple hors d'oeuvre" for me.

Man...I could not believe I've missed out on this all my life! I've been hooked ever since! And I'm reliving my peanut butter infatuation that I had had growing up.

Since then I've been trying different things to dip in peanut butter. So far, I've found that granny smith apples taste the best with the peanut butter because the tartness and crispness of the apple really balances out the sticky richness of the peanut butter. And to my surprise, which may seem a bit alarming, is that sliced mangoes that are slightly less than ripe are also delicious with peanut butter. I'm seriously working in peanut butter into every afternoon snack. YUM!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Marking My Calendar

I'm going to use this post as a "SAVE THE DATE" reminder.

MARCH 27, 2010 Redondo Beach, CA is holding it's 2nd Ever Clam Chowder Cook Off! MmmmMMM yum! And it's calling my name!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Gastro Pub

What am I doing at a gastropub? Well, for starters, I'm not particularly interested in beer, it's just not my drink, and the closet gastropub to Irvine, is the one in Orange--about 30 mins north. So really, why go out of my way to a place that's not only far, but specializes in beer? THE FOOD!

I'm talking Haven Gastropub.

Forget about the average Joe food you find at ordinary pubs, we're talking GASTROpub, it's down home comfort food with a non-pretentious upscale twist.

Let me start by saying..."Mmmm...Steak Frites!" The butcher back in France who decided to keep the hanger steak all to himself was a genius! Haven's version of this French classic makes my mouth water. They make a mean medium rare steak (my own preference ofcourse) with this rich, savory, chocolate sauce...O MY GOD...did I mention that this makes my mouth water? And their pomme frites are among the best I've had. I guess you could call them shoe string fries, but they're crisp and cooked to perfection and then sprinkled with salt, pepper, and rosemary AND it's served with their house made ketchup...which tastes like it has...applesauce (?) in it. SO good.

I got to tell you, their truffle mac and cheese is killer as well! It's like this rich, creamy, silky white cheese sauce topped with more cheese and bread crumbs. SO, you know what that means? Yup, stretchy cheese, creamy cheese, AND a crisp nutty top. I seriously ran my spoon across every corner of that bowl to get all the sauce I could. I would have licked it clean if I weren't in public...(ok so it WAS a pub...and you're usually allowed to be as crazy and embarrassing as you want, but the "gastro" that comes before the word pub means you have to hold back a little bit. But no one's stopping me from using my side order of pomme frites to sop up the sauce).

And, ok, get this...HELLO! it's affordable! A no brainer for me when I'm looking to spoil myself without dreading the bill.

Great food, extensive beer list (if you're a beer connoisseur), and great atmosphere! Spotted Pig, New York...HERE I COME!

Westlake Beef Soup: Getting Back to My Roots

Growing up, I really hated soups. Other than your everyday can of Progresso Calm Chower, soup was out of the question.

Now being much older, there's nothing like a great bowl of warm soup to get you through a rainy California day.

I've been trying to get in touch with my Chinese cooking culture and I've been trying to cook with new ingredients that I love to eat, but are deathly afraid of cooking. I guess it's not so much about cooking it that scares me, its more about how to prep it, and what to cook it with that has me scrambling from asile to asile with a cart full of new ingredients and ideas through the Asian Markets.

Bamboo shoots, with sliced beef, and what we in Chinese call "drumstick mushrooms"

Steamed fish with soy sauce, green onions, and ginger

Stir fry crab with green onion and ginger

Chinese roast pork

Different ways of cooking tofu

These have all been tested in my kitchen these past few months.

But what does this all have to do with the title, "Westlake Beef Soup"? Don't worry, I'm about to tell you.

I forgot to mention, that although I hated soup when I was younger, there was a culinary discover that I stumbled upon at the age of 10. Westlake Beef Soup. I guess it was my love for cilantro that got me hooked!

Everytime we went out to eat at a Chinese restaurant, that's what I wanted.

During my visit back home to San Francisco after my second year of college, my uncle who had just come from Hong Kong was staying with us for a few months. He is a great cook; he can recreate virtually anything you eat in a Chinese restaurant at home. So ofcouse, when he heard about my love for the soup, he replied, "It's so much cheaper if you just make it at home!"

WHAT?! I...ME?...I can make this at home? For some reason it never really occured to me that I could recreate this childhood memory on my own stovetop with extremely affordable ingredients. And it was fast! TEACH ME!

My uncle, who seemed to find cooking very theraputic and cooked for us everynight of his stay, joking laughed at me and said, "You need to learn how to cook something so easy?"

Why, yes...yes I do!

This isn't the exact recipe he taught me, this is a slight variation--but I promise it's very tastey.

Again, I must remind you that I'm a master at "eyeballing" so these are rough measurements.

Here goes:

2 boxes of good quality organic beef broth

1/4 pound lean ground beef (I buy the little packages of lean ground beef from Trader Joe's and I usually 1/2-3/4 of that package, if that gives you a better idea of measurements)

1 inch chunk of fresh ginger root (smacked with your knife to release some of the juices)

1 1/2 tablespoons of fresh ground ginger root finely shreded with you knife

1/2 block of soft or medium firm tofu (don't used silken, because it will break up when you stir the soup)

1/4 cup of frozen peas

2 eggs (beaten)

2-3 tablespoons of soy sauce

1 tablespoon of sesame oil

1/2 tablespoon of sugar

2 1/2-3 tablespoon cornstarch

1 large handful of chopped cilantro (roughly 1/8 cup)

salt (to taste)

ground white pepper (to taste)

In a small bowl mix ground beef, sesame oil, soy sauce, sugar, a pinch of salt, 1 tablespoon of cornstarch, and shreaded ginger together. Let sit/ marinate as you prep the other ingredients.

In a large pot, add 1 inch piece of ginger and broth and bring to a boil.

Once your broth comes to a boil, add the marinated ground beef bit by bit (the goal is to get pea sized minced beef in the soup)

Let it come back to a boil.

Make a "slurry" with the remaining cornstarch and and a tablespoon of cold water and stir into the soup.

Add the tofu and peas, and let it come back up to a boil.

Add salt and ground white pepper to taste.

Remove from heat and gently pour in beaten eggs in a slow and steady stream making concentric circles in the pot. Cover for 5 mins.

Remove the cover and add cilantro before serving. Stir gently too mix in the cilantro.

Makes roughly 5-6 large servings.

So it turns out that Westlate Beef Soup IS really easy to wonder my uncle scoffed at me! I had always been timid about trying to recreate Chinese food that I've eaten in restaurants, but now...not so much!



Recently, I've been exploring new ways to eat healthy--BIG flavors without the guilt.

If I were one of the "7 Deadly Sins", I, sadly but surely, would be gluttony--I eat, and eat, and eat and I can go on all day with out stopping. I like eating realtively healthy (although I do have a tendancy to indulge), but I'm definitely not willing to sacrifice flavor.

Thus, my new love for larb. It's so amazing how incredibly easy it is to make and how pocket friendly it is! I've been visiting my local Asian market a whole lot more since this discovery.

I'm absolutely obsessed with foods of Southeast Asia. How can you not be infatuated with the sweet, the spicy, the tangy, and the lip licking umame of fish sauce all in one dish?

Larb, (which can also be spelled larp or laarp) is common in Southeast Asian cuisine like Northern Thai or Lao cooking, and its a kind of ground meat salad. I know, I know...ground meat salad? It doesn't sound all that appetizing to all palates but I urge you to give it a try--especially if you have a love for Southeast Asian flavors and want to include some dishes from that region into your healthy eating repertoire.

Here's my version of the recipe (these are rough measurements because I'm a fan of "eyeballing", bad habit, I know!)

1 stem of lemongrass (peel the the outer layers and then cut into 1/4 inch rounds)

2-3 tablespoons of mint leaves, chiffonade

4-5 tablespoons of cilantro, chopped

1inch chunk of fresh ginger root ( I peel it, then smack it with my knife to release some of the juices)

2 large chicken breasts (You can buy pre-ground chicken breast, but I like to ground it myself at home)

1/4 of a read onion finely minced

1/4 cup of good quality organic chicken broth

2 limes juiced

3 kaffir lime leaves (if available, sometimes I can't find these either, so I just leave them out)

5 green thai chilis (chopped they're SPICY so add them to taste)

1 head of either ice berg lettuce or green cabbage (I either make lettuce cups with the ice berg, or I cut the cabbage head into eigths)

1/2 tablespoon of sugar

Fish sauce (to taste)

Thai fried chili paste (optional)
In a pot, add your chicken broth, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, chilis, the juice of one lime, and ginger and bring to a boil. Let it boil for about 3 minutes.

(you may fish out the lemon grass, lime leaves, and ginger if you'd like, but i just leave them in)

Add the ground chicken breast. Using a wooden spoon or silicone spatula break the ground chicken up in the boiling broth.

When the chicken looks relatively cooked stir in the sugar, let simmer on a very low heat.

Prep your lettuce cups or cabbage. (If using iceberg, I gently remove the leaves from the head and place them in very cold water so that they retain thier cup shape, I aslo generally used the inner leaves closer to the core, as they are more crisp and refreshing)

In your serving bowl mix chopped cilantro, mint, and red onion. Add in the chicken mixture that has been simmering for several minutes.

Add fishsauce (I usually put 3-4 tablespoons), lime juice, and chili paste to taste.

Serve with lettuce cups or cabbage and a side of the chili paste for those who love it spicy!

Makes roughly 3 servings.

It's a great "build it yourself" meal, so I usually serve it to my guests family style--larb in a giant bowl and lettuce on the side!

It's so easy and delicious, this will be one you keep in your recipe box for years of healthy eating.