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Archive for September, 2009

I love stuffed vegetables for its juxtaposition of the fresh, unadulterated veggie “bowl” alongside the flavorful, scrumptuous filling. It’s a yin-yang balance that if done well, tastes bold and pure at the same time.

This time, I decided to try my hand at 2 new ventures: 1. stuffing zucchini and 2. making a recipe using quinoa.

Zucchinis make great stuffed vegetables because of how evenly they cook in the oven. You don’t have to do much to it – a quick brush with olive oil to bring out its mild squash flavor. It’s high water content gives you that satisfying juicy crunch. Also, since they’re oblong shaped, they don’t teeter totter in the oven like peppers and tomatoes, which means you don’t have to worry about your filling spilling out while baking in the oven.

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Lately there has been much popularity over Quinoa – a type of 100% whole grain that comes from the seed of a leafy plant. It’s been around for thousands of years and has been widely used by the Incas of South America. Aside from being super-nutritious and gluten free (remember when Top Chef Masters’ Michael Chiarello made a Quinoa-based noodle for the gluten-intolerant Zoe Deschanel?), it has a slightly nutty flavor. And, as I discovered, it beautifully soaks up other flavors you infuse into it. Baking it in the oven for a little bit will also give your zucchini boat a crispy-top filling!

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Ingredients:

  • 4 large zucchinis
  • 2 cups quinoa – washed thoroughly
  • 4 cups veggie stock
  • Tomatoes
  • Spinach
  • Tomato Paste
  • Dried Basil (for flavoring)

Filling the Boat:

  1. Cut each zucchini in half, and scoop out the centers to make little “boats”. Brush with olive oil, sprinkle with salt & pepper and set aside
  2. Cook the Quinoa in stock until it comes to a boil. Lower heat to a simmer until all the stock has been soaked up by the quinoa.
  3. Add in tomato paste and dried basil leaves to flavor.
  4. Chop up the tomatoes and and spinach. Add to the Quinoa blend.
  5. Scoop up the quinoa mixture and carefully fill up the zucchini boats * Note: Don’t be afraid to make the blend extra flavorful, since we’re not doing much to flavor the zucchini itself.
  6. Bake in the oven at 350 for around 20 min.

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Variations:

  • Instead of zucchini, use eggplant, pumpkin, or butternut squash (next on my list to make!)
  • Try making boats with (fresh raw) cucumber. Mix in some smashed chickpeas or hummus into the quinoa mixture and serve with some dill yogurt
  • Feel free to play around with different filling ingredients – celery, carrots, nuts, mushrooms, raisins
  • Give the quinoa blend a twist with soy sauce, peanut dressing, tahini sauce, hummus (as mentioned above), or Worchestershire sauce.

Stuffed Zucchini on Foodista

Quinoa on Foodista

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This week, I went to check out the Bon Appétit Supper Club (http://www.basupperclubandcafe.com), a pop up restaurant located conveniently in Midtown Manhattan ~10 blocks away from my office! I am a huge fan of the “pop-up” phenomenon – the thrill of catching a limited engagement just makes you feel so…”in the know”.

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The Bon Appétit Supper Club is only open to the public from 11AM to 3PM this week only, and it features simple cafe dishes (sandwiches, soups, desserts) from top chefs like Rick Bayless, Cat Cora, and Daniel Boulud. There are also cooking demos, book signings, and Q & A sessions throughout the day to keep you entertained.

I snuck out during lunchtime to try to get a taste of all the culinary delights. 

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As you can see, the space was set up just like any other NYC lunch spot, but the difference is that for the same price (under $10 a pop) you get food designed by renowned chefs! I headed straight for the sandwich section and snagged a yummy vegetarian sandwich with marinated peppers, zucchini and smoked ricotta by Nate Appleman. It was really simple,  yet the pepperonata (made with fennel, capers, red pepper, and red wine) gave it such a complex savory flavor that I was sad to finish it off.

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Next I hit the dessert section for a treat. And with all the selection under the $3 mark, it was indeed a hard decision to choose only one! I settled on a fluffy looking Venetian Apple Cake by Gina DePalma, and it certainly did not disappoint. The muffin/cupcake texture was moist, with just the right amount of sweetness and a bit of cinnamon spice. It tasted like a hybrid of apple pie, carrot cake, and pumpkin bread – deliciously appropriate for fall!

The Dessert Section

The Dessert Section

All in all, a wonderful break from the daily grind! I caught a glimpse of Daniel Boulud, who came in for his book signing at 1:30, but alas, had to rush back to the office for a meeting and could not stay 😦
You can read more about the event from High Low Food Drink’s blog here. They were able to get a picture with Chef Boulud (I feel my eyes turning green). Anyway, they gave a great recap with some fun pictures. Check it out! http://highlowfooddrink.blogspot.com/2009/09/bon-appetit-supper-club-and-cafe-our.html

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This week, the Quesadilla goes international to the Mediterranean and the Far East in search of cultural twists on flavors.

Quesadilla Caprese:
First stop was Italy. Caprese salad, composed of juicy tomatoes, floral basil, and fresh mozzarella is often used as a meal starter to whet the appetite. The taste of Insalata Caprese reminds me of dining Al Fresco on a breezy summer evening, and with this sudden onset of fall, I was suddenly craving that feeling. The sweet corn & flour tortilla served as the perfect transition to take this from an appetizer to a more filling meal. Top off the quesadilla with some marinara sauce, and it transforms into Magherita Quesadilla!

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Ingredients:

  • Fresh Tomatoes (Plum, Heirloom, Beefsteak), sliced
  • Fresh Mozzarella, sliced
  • Fresh Basil, coarsely chopped (to bring out flavor)
  • Large Flour Tortilla
  • Marinara or Vodka Sauce (optional)

Put it together:

  1.  Heat up a pan with just a little bit of olive oil. Lay down a piece of tortilla
  2. Spread out the Mozzarella and Tomatoes, alternating slices, and then topping off with chopped basil
  3. Cover with second piece of tortilla and brush some olive oil on top
  4. When you hear sizzling, flip to cook the other side, and continue flipping/cooking until both sides turn a crispy golden brown.
  5. Brush on marinara or vodka sauce, and cut into 6 or 8 slices.

Six Treasures Quesadilla:
Next destination for the quesadilla – my home country of Taiwan. I remember Taiwan only from the eyes of a toddler, so my knowledge of Taiwanese food derives from the home cooking of my lovely, and also often experimental mother. Her strategy for food creation involves pairing up ingredients she finds in the fridge, concocting complementary sauce/seasonings, and adding in heaps of love. Since Six is a lucky number in Chinese culture, I decided to choose 6 colorful veggies to create a savory blend for this quesadilla.

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Ingredients:

  • Six Treasures (Shitake Mushrooms, Leeks, Spinach, Carrots, Bean Sprouts, Bamboo Shoots)
  • Large Tortilla
  • Satay/Stir Fry Sauce (soy sauce, minced ginger, black vinegar, red chili pepper sauce, and a dash of sweet chili sauce)
  • Peanut Sauce (optional)

Compiling the Treasure Chest:

  1. Stir fry/saute all the veggies, stirring in the sauce until veggies are cooked and well-seasoned. Set aside.
  2. Brush pan with a little olive oil, and lay down a piece of tortilla. Spread out the 6 treasures on the tortilla and top with another piece of tortilla. Brush on with more olive oil.
  3. Keep flipping and cooking until quesadilla becomes crispy and browned.
  4. Top off with peanut sauce, cut into slices and enjoy!

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Variations:

  • Try these alternate “treasures”: celery, cabbage, firm tofu, water chestnuts, baby corn, eggplant, eggs, red pepper
  • Use Plum or Sweet & Sour Sauce for a sweeter tang
  • Use black bean sauce for a more earthy, salty flavor
  • Fry the veggies in some rice, and wrap it all up in the tortilla like a burrito
  • Feel free to use herbs like basil, parsley, or cilantro

Thus concludes today’s journey. Stay tuned for our next experimental adventure!

Insalata Caprese on Foodista

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3 weeks until the long awaited NYC Food & Wine Festival sponsored by Food Network!

Foodfest

 Tickets are selling out fast but you can still get some at  http://www.nycwineandfoodfestival.com/2009/ 

I will surely be there lingering around Chelsea Market for goodies, attending a celeb chef demo (stay tuned for who it is!), and playing the starstruck foodie, hoping to catch Bobby Flay for a picture (In case you didn’t know, I have a huge crush on Bobby and his bold southwestern flavors). Wish me luck!

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This past Sunday, Brian and I went to check out the Brooklyn Cheese Experiment, a cookoff sponsored by Theo Peck and Nick Suarez, featuring 17 amateur chefs battling for the title of Cheese Champion, and 6 home brewers seeking the honor of having brewed the Best Beer. Winners were determined by audience votes and a panel of judges including Andrew Knowlton from Bon Appetit, among other cheese and beer gurus.

The event was well publicized, but maintained it’s Brooklyn lowkey cool, with good music, great venue at the Bell House, and enthusiastic foodies.

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The cheese dishes included a sampling of Mac N Cheese and Lasagnas, puffed pastries, a yummy ricotta cheesecake, an Indian dish, and fancy creations requiring torching, including a never-seen-before “Sushi & Cheese Polenta”.

My favorite was a toss-up between Bonnie Suarez’s frefreshing Tomato Basil Ricotta Soup with a crispy savory Parmiggiano, Piave & Provolone Cracker and the “Polenta Cheese Sushi by Noah Berland, creatively replacing rice with polenta, fish with mozzarella cheese, wasabi with a garlicky basil pesto, and soy sauce with some balsamic vinegrette, complete with a torching demo.

Tomato Soup with Cheese Cracker

Tomato Soup with Cheese Cracker

Polenta Cheese "Sushi"

Polenta Cheese "Sushi"

Although the soup had the best presentation, and was perfectly executed, my vote went to Noah Berland for the inventiveness of his “sushi”. Considering that I call myself an “Experimental Chef”, I feel a special kinship with those who like to take a little risk and do something I’ve never come across before.

Brian was partial to the “Righteous Burn” – Asian marinated beef on mini waffles torched with Swiss and Gruyere cheese. Since it wasn’t Herbivore friendly, I couldn’t taste it for myself, but I trust his judgment, and you’ll see that his tastebuds weren’t far off at all..

Team Pirates’ Booty - Righteous Burn Cheesesteaks

Team Pirates’ Booty - Righteous Burn Cheesesteaks

The home brews were also very impressive (I mean seriously, how many beer-makers do you know?) ranging from IPAs to wheat beers, to the “309” made with yeast and described by the girl as “funky tasting”… After making our round, we both unanimously voted for the Propeller IPA, which reminded us a lot of the Magic Hat beers. The guys were charismatic and knowledgable, explaining the brewing process and letting us smell the diferent type of hops they laid out on the table.

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And the final results?

Cheese:
Judge’s Picks:
1. Bonnie Suarez – Tomato Soup with Cheese Crackers (I sooo predicted that!)
2. Knafe Nabulysa w/Akkawi & Rose Water Syrup (which they ran out so I never had the chance to try!)
3. Fig & Blue Cheese Gruyère Puff (Also ran out by the time I got there – it was only 1 hr after the event!)

Audience Picks:
1. Team Pirate’s Booty – Righteous Bun Cheesesteaks (Looks like my sous chef does have good taste)
2. Bonnie Suarez – Tomato Soup with Cheese Crackers
3. Rebecca Lando – Homemade Ricotta Cheesecake w/Sea Salt Dulce de Leche (Actually it was so good I took 2 extra bites of it. I’m glad it placed 🙂

Beer:
Unanimous Judge and Audience pick for the Propeller Pale Ale!

What a decadent way to spend a lazy afternoon, stuffing ourselves with cheese and beer!  As we left, my wonderful and ever-loyal sous chef asked me if I was going to enter next year, claiming “Your food is much yummier. You could totally take them on!” Honestly he gives me too much credit, because that place was filled with rising culinary talent…but alas, the seed has been planted and the competitive spirit evoked, so don’t be surprised if you see some upcoming experiments featuring CHEESE!

I’ll conclude with other highlights and photos taken at the event:

“Stinky Slider” stuffed w/Morbier, on a Camembert Biscuit w/Roquefort Mayo.

“Stinky Slider” stuffed w/Morbier, on a Camembert Biscuit w/Roquefort Mayo.

Mac & Cheese with cinnamon bread crumbs

Mac & Cheese with cinnamon bread crumbs

Indian Paneer Cheese Dish

Indian Paneer Cheese Dish

Ricotta Cheesecake with Sea Salt & Dulce de Leche.

Ricotta Cheesecake with Sea Salt & Dulce de Leche.

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As a New Yorker, the date 9-11 will always stir up deep emotions inside of me. It was the day the world turned a bleak and surreal black, white, and gray. And so I dedicate this blog post in memory of those we lost, and their loved ones who survived, hoping that this Pick-Me-Up Guacasalsa dish, so dear to my heart, will bring forth some color and good cheer.

This love affair and marriage of Guacamole and Salsa results in a kaleidoscope of beautiful colors and a refreshing blend of crisp, citrusy flavors. It is my go-to concoction when I need a crowd-pleaser, and my inspiration-potion on days when I feel “blah”.  The magic of this dish is that you never ever get sick of eating it. It teases your palate and lures you to come back for more. Garden-fresh veggies like juicy tomatoes, crunchy bell peppers, creamy avocados, and plump corn kernels fuse together in a symphonious medley.

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Ingredients:

  • corn Kernels (fresh, frozen, or canned)
  • 2-3 large ripe tomatoes
  • 2-3 bell peppers (red, orange, yellow, or green)
  • 2-3 avocados
  • basil
  • cilantro
  • juice from fresh limes
  • a bit of sugar
  • red chili pepper flakes
  1. Dice all veggies into petite-cut sizes
  2. Finely chop the basil and cilantro
  3. Mix well, and add some salt & pepper, chili flakes, and fresh squeezed lime juice until desired acidity and heat is achieved
  4. Add some sugar to balance out the acidity
  5. Serve with tortilla chips the traditional way, use as filling in omelettes (yes, delicious!), serve as a side dish in lieu of salad, or take a spoon and enjoy it “in the nude”! 

Variations:

  • Add black beans for smoky richness
  • Easily swap in lemon for lime (or a combination of both)
  • Substitute lemon/lime for balsamic vinegar and honey for a fruitier, sweeter taste
  • Replace cilantro with parsley, or play with a mix of oregano and rosemary for a warmer, more robust flavor

Happy Munching!

Avocado Salsa on Foodista

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Despite the short rainy summer NYC had seen, the weather gods decided to bestow a wonderfully sunny and breezy weekend to welcome us into Autumn.  The City was deserted as many set out for the beach, and others escaped into the ‘burbs, longing for relief from the hustle & bustle of city-life, and some quality time with family & friends.

So off to the Suburbs Brian and I went, to take comfort in the smell of freshly mowed grass, the relief of having that ONE extra day off, and the delight of rocking away our everyday worries on the porch swing, while engaging in a non-stop food-fest.

My family’s go-to BBQ favorite has always been the veggie shish kebab, made with my mother’s special Satay sauce for an Asian twist. It lends a lot of versatility, since everyone can build their own skewers with their favorite combination of veggies and protein.  It’s also super-easy and quick to make, gives off bold bursts of flavor, and is fun to eat (like a lollipop)!

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Crisp, sweet veggies that soak up flavors work best – mushrooms, zucchini, eggplant, potatoes, and bell peppers are all good choices.  Other ingredients you can use include: carrots, tomatoes, cucumber, onions, broccoli, butternut squash.

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We chose a combination of mock meat easily found at any Chinese grocery store. May Wah http://www.vegieworld.com in NYC Chinatown has a great selection – mostly soy-based or made from cool ingredients like yam flour.   You can also find veggie chicken strips/nuggets in the frozen section of the local store. We also used some extra firm tofu flavored with chinese 5-spice. If the idea of “mock animals” scare you, ingredients like tempeh and seitan are great substitutes too.

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Arrange the ingredients on skewers – alternating between veggie & protein

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And the final touch before working the grill – The Sauce:

  • Heat up some soy sauce in the saucepan. When warm, add a little water and cornstarch, and stir very quickly until the consistency thickens
  • Add minced ginger and Chinese “Sa Cha” (BBQ) Sauce

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This sauce has a slightly spicy kick to it and is more savory than sweet.  I like to add more crushed red peppers or chinese red pepper sauce to dial up the heat even more. If your palate craves sweet tanginess, you can always add some sweet & sour/sweet chili sauce, or mango chunks.  And of course, traditional BBQ sauce straight out of the jar works perfectly fine too – I’m just biased towards my family recipe 🙂

And there you go – tasty, mouthwatering kebabs infused with veggie goodness and bursting with flavor!

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