Tuesday, December 16, 2014

SPICED MAPLE ROASTED PECANS



Spiced Maple Roasted Pecans
makes: 4 cups

- 4 cups raw pecan halves
- 1/3 cup Grade B maple syrup
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp water
- 1 tsp powdered nutmeg
- 1 tsp powdered cinnamon
- 1 tsp powdered all spice
- 1 tsp powdered cloves
- 1 tsp powdered cayenne pepper
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
  2. Put the pecans in a single layer on two baking trays and roast for 10 minutes or until they are slightly darker and fragrant. Remove from the oven.
  3. In a wok (or a wide pan), mix together the powdered spices, salt, and maple syrup and cook on medium-low until the mixture bubbles and smells fragrant.
  4. Add the roasted pecans and water and fold everything together until the pecans are completely coated with the maple-spice mixture. Cook for 4-5 minutes.
  5. Transfer the pecans to two parchment or wax paper lined trays. Spread them out into a single layer and leave them alone for at least 30 minutes (the pecans can be served immediately but they'll be a bit sticky. I usually leave them out on a table to dry out for 24 hours).
  6. Transfer to a container and refrigerate or leave at room temperature.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

SWEET POTATO RISOTTO, MINT + WALNUT GREMOLATA



Sweet potato risotto is a terrific seasonal variation on risotto. The sweet flavour and creamy texture of the sweet potato complements the risotto really well. Walnuts and sweet potatoes are in season in the autumn - and they pair exceptionally well in this savoury risotto-gremolata combo. A sure favourite!

Risotto is prepared with any Italian starchy, short-grained rice - the most common rice varieties used for risotto are carnaroli or arborio. To properly cook risotto you stir hot broth into the uncooked rice a ladleful at a time and cook slowly. As the liquid is nearly absorbed, add in the next ladleful. This slow cooking and stirring releases the natural starches in the rice and makes the risotto creamy, velvety and irresistible... well, that and the cheese!!

Risotto is best served immediately or soon after cooking because it will become clumpy if made in advance. A properly cooked risotto makes a soft, creamy mound without running across the plate. It also should not be too hard, crunchy, or gummy.

Gremolata is an Italian condiment of chopped fresh herbs, lemon zest, garlic, and a bit of olive oil. In the spirit of other similar condiments like pistou, persillade, any kind of pesto, Indian chutneys, etc. it's simple but packs a punch of brilliant fresh flavour! Ossobucco with gremolata and risotto is a classic Milanese meal! Here I've made it seasonal and vegetarian - I usually serve this risotto with roasted cauliflower or roasted chicken with kale (photo below).


Sweet Potato Risotto, Mint + Walnut Gremolata
makes: 4-5 cups (a typical serving of risotto is 1 cup)

- 2 cups peeled and diced sweet potato 
- 2 cups carnaroli or arborio rice
- 5-6 cups vegetable or chicken broth
- 1-1/2 cups dry white wine (like a Pinot Grigio)
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 small white or yellow onion, diced
- 1 tbsp. butter
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
- 1 tbsp. freshly ground pepper
- 2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
- salt, to taste
  1. Heat the olive oil in a large pan. When it's hot, add the onion and garlic and sauté on low heat for 1-2 minutes so the onion doesn't brown. Add the sweet potatoes and red pepper flakes and continue to sauté.
  2. Heat the broth in a saucepan, and adjust the heat so it remains at a simmer.
  3. When the onion is translucent, add the rice and sauté for 3-4 minutes, stirring frequently so that the rice doesn't brown or stick to the pan.
  4. Once the rice is coated with oil, add the wine and cook for a few minutes, stirring frequently, until the wine is absorbed.
  5. Add 1 cup of the hot broth to the rice and stir until it is absorbed. Stir constantly so that the rice doesn't scorch or stick to the pan. Add the next cup of broth as soon as the rice has absorbed the broth but don't wait till the rice is dry - you should see a sheen of liquid in the rice.
  6. Continue adding broth by the cup and stir while the liquid is absorbed, then add more broth when the rice is almost dry. The rice will start getting a creamy consistency as its starch is released. Cook the rice this way until until the rice is tender but still firm to the bite - without being crunchy or tasting raw. If you run out of broth before the risotto is done, use hot water to finish cooking, stirring while it's absorbed.
  7. Stir in the pepper, butter, and cheese, and season to taste with salt. Serve garnished with a tbsp. of gremolata (recipe below) and a grind of black pepper.
Mint + Walnut Gremolata
makes: approximately 1/2 cup

- 2 tbsp. lemon zest (zest from one lemon) 
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed into a paste
- 1/4 cup finely chopped walnuts
- 1/2 packed cup mint
- 1/2 packed cup parsley
- 1/4 cup olive oil
  1. Finely chop the parsley and mint.
  2. In a bowl, mix the chopped parsley, mint, and all the other ingredients. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

RAW SOUP, OR SAVOURY DINNER SMOOTHIE


I love this mildly earthy raw soup at any time but especially at dinner when I don't want the sweetness of fruits, and need a quick dinner after the gym. 

Raw Soup, or Savoury Dinner Smoothie
makes: 32 oz.

- 1 small beetroot, peeled and cubed
- 1 cup cucumber chunks
- 2 small zucchini, cubed
- 1 capsicum (any colour), trimmed and cut into chunks
- 1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes (or tomato chunks)
- 1 packed cup red amaranth (sometimes also called red spinach) or other greens
- 12-15 sprigs cilantro (or parsley)
- 1 tbsp. fennel seeds (optional)
- 1 lemon, juiced
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 2 - 3 cups water

1. Put all the vegetables, fennel seeds if using, lemon juice, salt, and 1-1/2 cups water into a blender jar. Blend everything till smooth. Add water to adjust consistency and enjoy! This will keep in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours.

Monday, December 8, 2014

EASY PUMPKIN PECAN CAKE (AND A CHURCH WITH A STORIED PAST)


This is an easy cake full of autumn flavours... the warm spices, buttery pecans, and gorgeous pumpkin colour make it irresistible! It takes almost no time to prep and makes the kitchen smell *amazing*! You can use walnuts or almonds instead of pecans.

Pecans are native to the US and Mexico, and are the only type of tree nut that grows naturally in the US. The thin-shelled variety that we all know and enjoy was developed in the mid-1800s by an obviously brilliant slave gardener in Louisiana, using grafts from a wild pecan variety with large, thin-shelled nuts. Pecan trees with large and small nuts are very commonly seen throughout the Louisiana countryside, even in parking lots! Free pecan picking!


I used Louisiana pecans that came from the tree in the photo below. I was back in  western Louisiana for a few days and went to one of my favourite places: the St. Augustine Catholic Church (behind the tree). It's a small church in Isle Brevelle, LA, a small town - mostly  Creole community - of descendants of French and Spanish colonials, Africans, Native Americans, and Anglo-Americans. The area is calm and extremely beautiful with tree-lined roads winding along the Cane River. The church was established by Nicolas Augustin Metoyer, a freed slave and son of former slave Marie Thérèse Coincoin (read more about her here), and is the first church built by and for free people of colour in Louisiana. After being freed, the Metoyer family went on to own their own plantation - now known as Melrose Plantation - and the church is on land that was then a part of the Metoyers' plantation. Behind the church is a cemetery with headstones dating back to the 1800s, and a handful of recurring last names including Metoyer.

The parking lot is lined with several mature pecan trees and pecan season is October through December. In November, I was in luck! There were pecans all over the ground under the trees... I enjoyed a lot of them while walking around near the river, and brought a lot back to CA. Something local, something natural, something edible: my favourite type of souvenir!

 


Easy Pumpkin Pecan Cake
makes: 12-14 servings

- 1 cup oil (any neutral oil: safflower, grapeseed, or other)
- 3 eggs
- 1 (15 oz.) can pumpkin puree (or 1-3/4 cups pureed roasted pumpkin)
- 1 tbsp. vanilla extract
- 2 cups sugar (I use demerara but any sugar will do)
- 2-1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda 
- 2 tsp. apple pie spice (or an equal parts mix of allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon)
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup coarsely chopped raw pecans

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F / 175 C. Grease one 10-in. bundt pan (or any other cake pan).
  2. In a large bowl, cream together the oil, beaten eggs, pumpkin and vanilla. Sift the flour, sugar, baking soda, apple pie spice, and salt together.
  3. Add the flour mixture to the pumpkin mixture and mix until just combined. Stir in the pecans and pour the batter into the prepared pan.
  4. Bake for 55 min. to 1 hour, or until a tester (I use a bbq skewer) inserted in the middle comes out clean. Let the cake cool in the pan for 5 minutes then turn out onto a plate and dust with confectioners sugar.
  5. Serve plain or with ice-cream, whipped cream, or warm custard.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

WARMING BUCKWHEAT, BEAN SPROUTS, AND SWEET POTATOES

After a number of weeks of travelling for work and eating out, I came back to SF looking forward to my regular workouts and home-cooked meals. I got that, and a week of cold rainy gloomy weather! I wanted to make something that's high on the feel-good factor - inside and out. Something that's not raw, not bread, not any grain, not eggs, definitely not meat, and something that makes the whole kitchen smell divine and home-y. Enter this dish...


This perfect-for-cold-rainy-weather dish takes very little time but is nourishing and big on flavour. And, the sweet potatoes, mung bean sprouts and buckwheat combination will keep you full without weighing you down. If you're diabetic or otherwise watching your sugar, use cauliflower instead of sweet potato.


Buckwheat is amazing! Contrary to the name, it's not related to wheat and in fact it's not even a grain. It's a seed - like quinoa. It's delicious, easy to cook, light on the digestive system, gluten-free, low glycemic index which makes it suitable for diabetic diets, and is a complete protein since it contains all essential amino acids. And if you must have a gilded lily: like artichoke flowers, buckwheat flowers smell incredible and make a luscious honey with floral notes. It's the bees knees!

Mung beans sprout really fast and since they're a small bean, they're easy on the stomach even when sprouted for just a day. Growing sprouts is really easy, and if you haven't grown them before, you can see my post here on growing sprouts.

Warming Buckwheat, Bean Sprouts, and Sweet Potatoes
makes: 4 main servings

- 1/2 cup buckwheat
- 2 cups mung bean sprouts (or sprouts from any other small bean/legume)
- 2 cups cubed sweet potatoes
- 1 small onion, diced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 tsp. minced ginger
- 1 tsp. black pepper, freshly ground
- 1 tsp. cayenne powder
- 1 tsp. turmeric
- 1 tsp. coriander powder
- 1 tsp. cumin powder
- 1 tsp. garam masala (or any curry powder)
- 2 tsp. mustard seeds
- 3 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. coconut oil (or ghee, or any neutral oil - *not* olive oil)
- 1-1/2 cups water
- 1 tbsp. ghee
- 1 tbsp. lemon juice
  1. Preheat the oven to 425 F/220 C. Rinse the buckwheat well and soak in a bowl in plenty of water. In a small bowl mix all the dry spices except the garam masala and mustard.
  2. In a large bowl, toss together the sweet potatoes, 1 tsp. salt, 1-2 tsp. spice mixture, coconut oil, and 1 tbsp. water so that the sweet potatoes are evenly coated. Transfer to a baking tray and bake for 25 - 30 min. or until the sweet potatoes are cooked.
  3. While the sweet potatoes are baking, heat the ghee in a deep pan, saucepan or Dutch oven on medium heat. Add the mustard seeds and when they start to pop, turn the heat to medium-low, add the onion, garlic, and ginger and saute until the onion is mostly translucent.
  4. Add in the spice mixture and bean sprouts. Stir well and cook for 3 - 4 minutes. Drain and add the buckwheat. Turn the heat up to medium-high, stir everything well and cook for 1 - 2 minutes. Add the garam masala and 1 cup  of water. Cover the pan, turn the heat down to low or medium-low and cook for 12 - 15 minutes. Take the lid off, give everything a quick stir - if you can still see water, turn the heat up to medium-high and cook the water off.
  5. Turn off the heat and mix in the the sweet potatoes, lemon juice and remaining salt. Taste and adjust salt if needed.
  6. Enjoy this delicious warming dish on its own or with a quick salad of diced cucumbers mixed into 1/2 cup of yogurt! Refrigerate leftovers for up to a day - max 2 days.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

ORANGE PEAR TURMERIC REFRESHER


This is a really refreshing combination of flavours, and a total energy boost! This is one of my favourites during citrus season. I've previously talked about turmeric and it's benefits. It's an immunity booster, and excellent for preventing - and curing - sore throats. Perfect during flu season or when the seasons change! 

Orange Pear Turmeric Refresher
makes: ~ 24 oz.

- 3 oranges, juiced
- 1 pear, cut into large chunks
- 6-8 sprigs parsley
- 1 lime, juiced
- 1/2 in. piece of turmeric, skin scraped off
  1.  Blend everything till smooth. Enjoy!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

SPICY SICHUAN DRY-FRIED GREEN BEANS


I love string beans in all colours and forms. Green string beans are the highlight in this classic Sichuan dish, lightened up a bit. The beans are usually deep-fried for this dish, but dry-frying works really well and is less messy than dealing with a large container of oil. Adjust the spice level to your needs... the dried red chillies are of course edible, and perfect if you wish to have an inferno in your mouth! :-)

Spicy Sichuan Dry-Fried Green Beans
makes: 4 servings

- 1 lb. (~1/2 kg.) green beans, washed, trimmed, and cut into 3 - 4 in. pieces
- 6 - 8 dried red chillies
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 in. piece of ginger, minced
- 1 leek, halved and sliced
- 1 tsp. whole Sichuan peppercorns (optional)
- 3 tbsp. safflower oil (or any neutral oil, not olive oil)

Mix into a sauce:
- 1 tbsp. rice wine (sake is fine if you don't have Chinese rice wine)
- 1 tbsp. sesame oil
- 2 tbsp. chilli bean sauce (any chilli bean sauce is fine if you don't have the Sichuan kind)
- 1-1/2 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. sugar
  1. Pat the green beans completely dry with a towel.
  2. Heat a large skillet without oil and add the green beans. dry-fry the green beans for 4-5 min. stirring constantly so they don't burn. Add the oil into the pan and continue to dry-fry for 7 - 10 mini. or until the green beans start to wrinkle. Transfer the green beans to a bowl and set aside.
  3. Return the skillet to the heat and add the dried peppers, leeks, garlic, ginger and Sichuan peppercorn (if using). Stir fry until aromatic. Add the sauce and stir well. Turn the heat to high and add the dry-fried green beans. Mix well and remove from the heat. Adjust salt to taste.
  4. Serve hot with rice and a cucumber salad to cool things down.