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Archive for January, 2010

Today is Burn’s Night, a Scottish holiday celebrating the brilliant poet Robert Burns, most known for his poem Auld Lang Syne. A few posts back, I wrote about New Beginnings, but today, my post is about Endings. Auld Lang Syne is a song often sung to celebrate the New Year, but also sung at funerals to commemorate a loved one passed. As I return from my beloved Grandpop’s funeral in Taiwan, there is not a more perfect night for me to dedicate in his honor my version of Auld Lang Syne, and my twist on the Vegetarian Haggis – the traditional dish served on Burn’s Night.

Haggis:

I encountered the mystifying Haggis during my recent trip to Edinburgh, and what I learned almost made my stomach turn! Haggis, according to Wikipedia ” is a dish containing sheep’s ‘pluck (heart, liver & lungs), minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, stock, and traditionally simmered in the animal’s stomach for approximately three hours.” Thankfully most restaurants serve a vegetarian version, and I was curious to see how they would translate something like this into a vegetarian dish. I was gravely disappointed. What I ate was a soggy, flavorless pilaf, served on a bed of mashed potatos, garnished with oatcakes, and heavily reliant on the whisky sauce to give it flavor (it’s only redemption).

So I invented my own interpretation, taking out the oatmeal altogether, substituting leeks for onions, adding fennel for an added kick of flavor, and throwing in pine nuts for the added crunch. I also served it on a bed of shoyu spinach, and instead of oatcakes, I finished off the dish with a side of jalapeno cornbread. The result, a much more flavorful and healthy version with a combination of complementary texture and taste.

For the Haggis:

  • 1/2 bulb of Fennel, finely chopped
  • 1 medium Leek (use only the white, or pale green tender sections), minced
  • 1.5 cups of Red Lentils
  • 2 Carrots, minced
  • 2-3 Tbsp of Red Kidney Beans
  • 4-6 Mushroom (of your choice), sliced thinly
  • 1-2 cups of Stock
  • 1 handful of Pine Nuts
  • 1 pinch of Tarragon
  • 1 pinch of Oregano
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Butter, to cook
  • 1 Egg, Beaten

For the Spinach:

  • 5-6 oz Spinach, chopped
  • 1 handful of Toasted Sesame Seeds
  • A drizzle of Shoyu (Soy Sauce). (I used Ponzu, which is a citrus based soy sauce – it’s been my favorite Asian cooking sauce lately. The subtle citrus flavor makes the dish light, yet still gives dimension)

For the Cornbread:

  • 1 cup Flour
  • 1 cup Stone Ground Cornmeal
  • 1 cup Milk
  • 1 stick of Butter
  • 1/3 cup of Xagave Nectar
  • 1 Jalapeno, finely chopped
  • 1 handful Corn Kernels
  • 1 tsp Baking Soda
  • 1 tsp Salt
  • 1 Tbsp Cayenne Pepper

Healthy Haggis

  1. To make the Haggis, cook the leeks and fennel in butter until soft and buttery. Add in carrots and saute for a few more minutes until soft. Throw in mushrooms, lentils, beans, spices and stock. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes, until lentils are soft but not yet mushy.
  2. Place into an oven-safe dish. Mix in the beaten egg, and bake at 375 for around 20 minutes, until the Haggis Hardens.
  3. To make the Spinach, simply saute the spinach with some salt & pepper, a drizzle of soy sauce, and then sprinkle on some sesame seeds.
  4. For the cornbread. Mix in the wet and dry ingredients separately. Slowly combine the dry and wet ingredients, mix in the corn kernels and jalapenos, stick in the oven at 375 for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown. 
  5. Spread out a bed of spinach on a plate. Spoon out the Haggis mixture over it, and cut a pieces of delicious golden cornbread on the side!

Auld Lang Syne (Once Upon A Time)

I lived with my grandparents for the first 2 years of my life. Because I am their first grandchild, they threw every ounce of their energy into caring for me and showered me with all the love they had to give. My grandma – the forthright, candid, sincerely outspoken firecracker, and my grandpop – the calm, gentle, quietly agreeable nurturer. I never once saw him lose his temper, and I was told that even in his final days, he never complained of any pain he suffered. To think that I wasn’t able to make it back to see him during his last moments just completely breaks my heart. So here’s to you Grandpop. I hope you know that I loved you very much and think of you in my heart everyday.

Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne

You gave me your quiet gentle love
With unconditional patience time after time 
You woke up many nights to soothe my cries,
since auld lang syne. 

We two have strolled the country roads
from morning sun till dine
But seas between us broad have roared
since auld lang syne.

And now we are separated by heaven & earth
But I will hold on to all you have left behind
For your strength and courage will never fade
since auld lang syne.

*You will never be forgotten. This is an ending for us, but a new beginning for you.

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Once in awhile, you experience that magical feeling. Your eyes grow big with wonder, your heart beats slightly faster with anticipation, and your mind soars high up with unbridled imagination. I’m not talking about the Abracadabra kind of magic. No, this is the kind of magic found in childhood wonder. Like the first time you flew a kite and watched it sail across the sky, the time you lit up sparklers on 4th of July, your first home run, or the first time your tongue makes contact with the most exquisite sip of wine (hopefully, this was a bit past your childhood). You become raptured by the moment, bewitched by its spell.

And that’s the kind of magic I found in these Enchiladas. My heart sang cheery songs while I chopped and mixed, my feet danced a happy jig as I sprinkled and seasoned, and my tummy did cartwheels and somersaults as my mouth savored the fusion and harmony of flavors.

Spicy Seven Pepper Sauce:

  • 1 Poblano Pepper – broiled, peeled, and chopped finely
  • 1-2 Jalapeno Peppers – broiled, peeled, and chopped finely
  • 2 Chipotle Chiles
  • 1-2 Tbsp Ancho Chile Powder
  • 1 Tbsp Cayenne Chile Powder
  • 1-2 Tbsp Red Chili Pepper Flakes
  • 1 Tbsp Smoked Spanish Paprika
  • 1 can/1 large Diced Tomato, with juice
  • 1 tsp Cumin
  • 1 handful of Cilantro, finely chopped
  • Juice of 1-2 Limes

Get Saucy:

  • Combine all ingredients (except Cilantro) together in a pot. Simmer for 30-40 minutes until the smoky aroma fills the air, and the spice stings your eyes :). Add Cilantro.
  • Take a hand blender and pulse until desired smooth/chunky texture achieved.

For the Enchiladas:

  • 1 package of corn tortillas (about 10 pcs)
  • 8-12 oz of cheese (I used Monterey Jack, but Cheddar/Harvarti (sharper taste), or Mozzarella (milder taste) would work just as well)
  • 2 handfuls of Cilantro, washed, and chopped
  • 1 can/1 large Diced Tomato
  • 1/2-1 pkg of Baby Bella Mushrooms (or any other that strike your fancy)
  • 1 large Zucchini, chopped into little square cubes
  • 1 handful of Sweet Corn
  • 1 Poblano Pepper, broiled, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 Bell Pepper (Orange/Yellow/Red), chopped into little square cubes
  • 1/2 White Onion, finely chopped
  • 2 jalapeno peppers, chopped
  • Pinch of dried basil
  • Pinch of dried rosemary
  • Pinch of dried oregano
  • Pinch of dried parsley flakes
  • Pinch of Chili Pepper Flakes
  • Some Chives
  • Butter, for cooking
  • Salt & Pepper to taste

Now Get Enchanted:

  • Make the Filling: In a pan, saute onion in butter. Add in Bell Pepper, Poblano Pepper, Jalapenos, Mushrooms, Corn, and Zucchini. Season with Salt & Pepper.
  • Add in the Tomatoes and cook until all the flavor of all the vegetables blend together in perfect harmony
  • Season with herbs and spices above (Parsley, Basil, Rosemary, Oregano)
  • Finally, stir in 1/2 of the Cilantro and all the chives. Drain any excess liquid
  • Now, assemble the Enchiladas. Spread some of the Enchilada Sauce (above) into a baking pan. Spoon some filling into a tortilla

  • Tightly roll each filled tortilla and place side by side in baking dish

  • Repeat until dish is filled and top with the remaining Enchilada Sauce. Sprinkle generously with cheese and stick in oven

  • Bake at 375 for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle the rest of Cilantro on top

  • Now, take a fork and dig in!

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This is a story of new beginnings, unexpected surprises in life, and the power of love.

As I write this blog post, I am sitting in our newly purchased apartment – a West Village loft that is cozy, majestic and perfect in every way (at least in our eyes). I stretched out many a brain cell trying to determine which dish I should make for the new kitchen’s maiden voyage, and it finally hit me – I am making the dish that started it all.

What is “IT” you ask? Is IT the love Brian and I have found in each other? Is IT the exhilaration and fulfillment I have discovered in this blog? Is IT what started my Experimental Culinary Pursuits? IT is all of the above. You see, on the Valentine’s Day of 2008 I decided to surprise Brian with a homemade lasagna. It was our first Vday together as a couple and I told him that I was going to introduce him to the yummiest food he’s ever had in his life. I guess he agreed, because he said “Wow, this is so good that we should just cook EVERY weekend!” Except for by “we”, he really meant “me”. And so the experiments began. We discovered that shopping the aisles of Food Emporium and Trader Joe was as thrilling as shopping in Bloomingdales & Sephora, that kitchen gadgets could be just as addictively collectible as cosmetics and Wii games, and that Irma Rombauer wasn’t kidding about the Joy of Cooking. All this, culminating into one fateful day in August of 2009, when  Experimental Culinary Pursuits (the blog) came to life, bringing me joy and satisfaction I never knew I could feel, introducing me to an amazing community of foodie friends, and challenging me to be a better cook every single day.

So here it is, no bells & whistles; just one simple delicious dish that changed my life.

Give Love:

  • 1 box of Lasagna Sheets
  • 1 pkg of Baby Spinach (or 10oz frozen spinach)
  • 1/2 cup-1 cup of Ricotta Cheese
  • 8oz Mozzarella or Italian Cheese blend
  • 1 handful of Parmesan Cheese
  • Marinara Sauce (1 chopped tomato, 1tbsp tomato paste, 1 can of diced tomatoes, 1-2 tbsp chopped fresh basil, 1 cup red wine, 3-5 tbsp red pepper flakes, 1/2 stick of finely chopped carrots, garlic, onion, dash of tarragon, squeeze of lemon, pinch of salt & pepper, pinch of sugar – all simmered and pureed to smooth or chunky perfection, depending on your taste)
  • 1/2 Eggplant, sliced 1/8 inch
  • 1-2 Zucchinis, sliced 1/8 inch
  • 1 Squash (I used Delicata this time), sliced 1/8 inch
  • 1/2 – 1 Bell Pepper cut into french fry sized pieces
  • Dried Basil Flakes
  • Oil for cooking
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Love (and the oven) Makes the Lasagna Go Steamy & Tasty

  1. Saute all the following veggies (Eggplant, Zucchini, Squash, Bell Pepper) in oil, salt & pepper and some Dried Basil Flakes until cooked. Set aside.
  2. In separate pan, saute Spinach in oil & salt & pepper until wilted and mix with the Ricotta Cheese. Set aside.
  3. Make the Marinara Sauce while you’re at it (see above).
  4. Layer the Lasagna – Sauce, Lasagna Pasta Sheets, Ricotta/Spinach Mix, Lasagna Sheets, Sauce, Veggies, Mozzarella Cheese, Lasagna Sheets, Sauce, Cheese, and finish off with a sprinkling Parmesan Cheese)
  5. Stick it in the Oven and bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes, until cheese is bubbly.

And a Bonus Picture:

This was taken the first night Brian and I met. Yes amazing, I took a picture with a guy at a party when I didn't know if I'd ever see him again? Also, Brian wants me to me disclaim that he was 10-15lbs heavier back then and now looks much skinner and handsome 🙂

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Happy 2010! Hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season filled with food, festivities, and lots of love. My own Holiday has been chock full of excitement, ranging from wholesome over-eating with the family, to drunken debauchery merry-making (I hope none of my Mother’s friends are reading this) with friends, to a romantic New Years Eve with live music by the fireplace at Caffe Vivaldi with the Mister. So riding on the high of this seemingly non-stop vacation (please never stop!) I thought I’d start off the new year with one of my favorite exciting experiments of 2009. May I present…

The Battle Of the Gnocchis


If you type into the Google Machine “Pumpkin Gnocchi“, you’ll find lots of wonderful recipes by recipe sites and food bloggers with slight variations on how to make the gnocchi. You’ll also see that it is usually complemented with a lemony, buttery Brown Butter Sage Sauce. So I thought I’d change things up by bringing 2 new challengers into the game, and see if they can claim the title of sauce king over the reigning Butter Sage.

But before we begin the competition, I’d like to introduce you to the Pumpkin Gnocchi. A close relative of the classic Potato Gnocchi, Pumpkin Gnocchi is a delicious wonder with golden good looks and a sweet personality. She delights almost everyone she meets and is surprisingly easy and fun to make! Today, she has volunteered herself to be served with the 3 sauce competitors. To create Pumpkin Gnocchi, all you need are:

  • 1 can of pureed pumpkin (I used a 15 oz can)
  • 2 cups of flour (plus a little extra when you’re rolling the dough)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/4 cups of grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 pinch of nutmeg
  • 1 pinch of cinnamon
  • A generous sprinkling of salt & pepper
  • Cooking Oil

Making the Gnocchi: Combine the flour and pumpkin together, add the spices and seasoning, fold in the egg, and finally the parmesan cheese to give it a pop of flavor. On a floured surface, roll dough into long, 1/2 inch ropes, cut into 1 inch pieces. In a pot, bring lots of water to a boil, add in some cooking oil to prevent sticking, and slowly drop the gnocchi and cook in batches until they float on top (it’s very quick – maybe 3-5 minutes). And there you go, easy, delicious, foolproof gnocchi! So without further ado, let the games begin!

Reigning Champion: Brown Butter Sage Sauce

This sauce is a complete classic. The lemony flavor of the sage and savory butter melts together with the Pumpkin Gnocchi to create an irresistible combination. It’s the quickest sauce to make and does not fail to please.

Round 1: In a saucepan, melt 1 stick of Salted Butter in low heat, chop up 4-6 Sage Leaves and cook in the butter until the aroma of sage fills your nose. Add 1-2 Tbsp of the Starchy Water used to cook Gnocchi to thicken the sauce, and pour over the Pumpkin Gnocchi. Garnish with Parmesan Flakes and additional Sage Leaves on top.

Contender #1: Spinach Pesto Sauce

This Spinach Pesto Sauce is nutty, flavorful, and so well-balanced that it puts anyone who comes into contact with it in danger of overeating! He boasts of healthy ingredients that bring out the sweetness of the Pumpkin Gnocchi. He takes slightly longer to prepare but is well worth the short wait!

Round 2: In a mini food processor, pulse together 1/4 cup Olive Oil, 1-2 scoops of Pine Nuts, 1 handful of Chopped Basil, and a sprinkling of Salt & Pepper until it reaches a fine consistency, but not slushy.  In a saucepan, heat some cooking oil, and saute the Spinach until cooked. Add in the pesto mixture, cook for another 1-2 minutes, and pour over the Pumpkin Gnocchi.

Contender #2: Smokey Marinara Sauce

This Challenger is a bit of a free spirit and wild card. Never one to conform to tradition, he encompasses different cultural flavors and brings his big hearty taste and spicy smoky flavor to the competition.

Round 3: In a saucepan over medium heat, pour in 1 can of Diced Tomatoes (I used Trader Joes Diced Tomatoes with Green Chiles). Add in 1-2 finely chopped Jalapenos, a generous pouring of Red Wine, and a few shakes of Ancho Chili Powder, Chipotle Chili Powder, and Cayenne Chili Powder. Simmer for 5-10 minutes and pour over Pumpkin Gnocchi.

The Verdict:

So did the Brown Butter Sage Sauce reign as the incumbent, or did one of the challengers take the crown? Brian and I sniffed, tasted, and devoure. And after careful deliberation, Brian ruled that the Butter Sage Sauce was still the best, affirming why it remains the most popular accompaniment. I on the other hand, could not stop eating the Spinach Pesto Sauce and deemed that one the winner. We both agreed that while the Smoky Marinara Sauce was delicious, its strong flavors overpowered instead of complemented the Pumpkin Gnocchi. So the final verdict is that: While the Brown Butter Sage Sauce remains a strong contender, there’s a new sauce in town that threatens its throne! Which will it be? You decide!

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