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Archive for the ‘Appetizers’ Category

It’s been an unusually hot summer in NYC this year, which is just fine by me.  As a native from Southern California, I welcome the bright sunny days and the warmth of the summer heat on my skin. But add in the humidity of the east coast, and I just can’t take the heat of slaving away over a hot stove all day. So we’ve been eating light to stay cool and and keep our tummies flat for bikini season.

But just because you’ve lightened up on your meals doesn’t mean you can’t still eat like a princess. Here are 2 wonderful, low calorie dishes that are still bursting with flavor.

“Drunken” Peaches & Strawberries Salad:
When I was about 3 years old, my grandmother took me to a fruit farm in the Taiwanese countryside, and I ended up stuffing myself with all the strawberries my 3 year old belly could fill. Through my berry stained lips, I exclaimed, “Strawberries are my favorite food in the world!” Since then, not much else has changed. Strawberry is still my favorite flavor for ice cream, candy, and jam. So when summer comes, I get giddy to savor them in their ripe juicy splendor. Its tangy-ness pairs well with the nectar sweetness of summer peaches, and together, they make for a delectable salad perfect for a summer evening on the porch.

What You’ll Need:

  • 4-6 cups of Arugula
  • 1-2 peaches, peeled and cubed
  • 1-2 cups of strawberries, stems removed, and halved/quartered
  • 4 oz of fresh mozzarella, diced into cubes
  • 1 cup almonds (or pecans/walnuts/cashews)
  • beer (for carmelizing almonds)
  • cayenne pepper
  • rum (for soaking fruit)
  • 1/2 cup agave nectar (Xagave brand makes a great one)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 tbsp good balsamic vinegar

The Sweet Taste of Summer:

  • Combine 2 oz rum, 10 oz water, and 1/4 cup of agave nectar. Soak peaches and strawberries for about 15-20 min
  • In a frying pan, toast the almonds for a few seconds. Drizzle in some beer over the nuts. Add the remaining 1/4 c. of agave nectar and a pinch or 2 of cayenne pepper. Toss until everything is well mixed and continue until nuts are carmelized and sticky and beer has evaporated. Set aside.
  • In a large salad bowl, toss together arugula, peaches, strawberries, mozzarella, and almonds.
  • Combine olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Drizzle over the salad and toss until everything is combined.
  • Enjoy the salad with the remaining bottle of ice cold beer!

Spicy Chilled Avocado Soup:
Growing up in Los Angeles, we had many friends and neighbors who were lucky to have avocado trees in their yards. Every few weeks during peak season, they would drive over bearing a whole box of them, and because I had the privilege of eating them too often, I am embarrassed to say that I grew up not liking avocados. But after moving to NYC, all I wanted was avocados – I wanted them in my salads, I wanted them in my omelettes, and today, I want them in my soup! This soup is smooth, velvety, and luscious as can be, with robust flavors and a surprising spicy bite to it. Every spoonful reminds me of the lazy Californian summers of my teenage years.

What You’ll Need:

  • 2 avocados, coarsely chopped
  • juice from 1/2 lime
  • 1-2 tsp of lime zest
  • 3 tbsp of curry sauce (I used Trader Joe’s Red Curry)
  • 4 oz of creme fraiche
  • 1 cup of milk
  • red chili pepper flakes
  • salt & pepper to taste

California Dreamin’

  • Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Can’t get any simpler than that!
  • Tip: Avocados are quite creamy, so depending on how thick you prefer your soups to be, you can feel free to adjust the amount of creme fraiche/milk proportions. I ended up adding a tad more milk to thin out the texture.

Now stop sitting in front of your computer – go whip up some summer meals and enjoy it al fresca with a nice bottle of beer/glass of wine!

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In our pursuit of the ultimate delicious bite, it’s easy to get caught up in the hype of fancy gourmet ingredients and showy culinary jargon.  When you spend so much time reading about the latest food trends and discovering new techniques, your mind becomes seduced by the exotic. You spend weeks hunting down that elusive vegetable you saw on someone else’s blog, and you pay $45 for imported spices you don’t even know how to pronounce. But submitting to this seduction is not bad at all – we are after all, chefs, and chasing after the bizarre and unknown is our way of pushing our limits and challenging ourselves to be better.

But once in awhile, we can’t neglect that solid good dishes can come out of simplicity, whether it’s something straight from the farm, or straight out of the package. Yes, I’m talking about packaged goods. I may be biased because I work in the industry, but if you only knew the amount of labor and scrutiny we give to each innovation, you would appreciate that although they take the fun out of making things from scratch, they truly simplify your life and if you pick the right brands, your food will end up just as good.

So the recipe I want to introduce you to today is a twist on the popular Spinach Artichoke Dip – Spinach Artichoke Party SQUARES – made from mostly packaged goods. I first had the honor of tasting this simply delicious dish when I visited Brian’s parents for Thanksgiving 2 years ago. Their friend Connie, whom I knew as a superb chef, brought over these party squares and I was shocked/suprised to see the components of the recipe, because it tasted so sophisticated and complex that you would’ve never guessed that the hero ingredient is Lipton Vegetable Soup Mix.

It’s a great party pleaser dish you can whip up in an instant, when you feel in the mood to ditch the exotic and return to the simple. After all, everyone would rather hang out with the down-to-earth fun-lover over the stuffy highbrow bore.

Spinach Artichoke Party Squares:

  • 1 package Lipton/Knorr Vegetable Soup Mix
  • 1 cup Crème Fraiche (can be substituted with a combo of mayo or sour cream)
  • 2 packages Pillsbury Crescent Rolls
  • 10 oz box Chopped Spinach, drained
  • 14 oz can Artichoke Hearts
  • 4-8 oz can Water Chestnuts
  • 4-6 oz grated Monterey Jack/Havarti/Fontina/Mozzarella cheese
  • 1 handful of grated Parmesan Cheese

Party On!

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Combine soup mix, mayonnaise and sour cream and set aside.
  3. Unroll crescent roll dough and press into a baking dish, making sure to seal perforations and press dough up sides of baking pan to form a crust. Bake 10 minutes or until very lightly browned.
  4. Meanwhile, drain spinach and squeeze out as much moisture as possible. Chop spinach, artichoke hearts and water chestnuts.
  5. Mix in the soup mix, crème fraiche, and grated cheese.  Spread evenly over partially baked crust. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.
  6. Bake another 10-12 minutes or until heated through. Cut into squares and get the party started!

 

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Merry Christmas Eve everyone! Like I mentioned in Figgy Goodies Part I, the Holidays can be a super-hectic time, with all the gift-shopping, tree-decorating, and dare I say…potluck parties! Picture this Holiday Scenario X:

Brian: Honey, what are you making for the potluck party?
Me: What potluck party? We just went to 4 this past month!
Brian: You know, the one my
Boss is throwing? I told him you’re an awesome chef and you’ll be making something that’s going to charm their pants off.
Me: Er…when is it?
Brian: In 2 hours.
Me: Shit…

It’s during times like this when I turn to panic saving tricks. Things like ready-made crust/dough/sauce will save tons of time when you find yourself in this Holiday bind! I suddenly remembered that a few weeks ago, the kind folks at MyBlogSparkoffered me vouchers for the Pillsbury Crescent Recipe Creations. We’re all familiar with the cute-sy crescent rolls that magically appear in the oven, but these flaky, buttery wonders can also be used for dishes like this Baked Brie with Figs, Dark Chocolate, and Almonds. It’s a simple, elegant dish that will impress your guests but only takes half an hour to whip up.

What You’ll Need:

  • 1 package of Pillsbury Crescent Rolls or Crescent Recipe Creation (seamless dough sheets)
  • 1 wheel of Brie (*note: I used a wedge, because the truth is, Brian’s Boss lives in Italy and we didn’t really have to go to his potluck party that night so I didn’t think it would be good for our digestive systems to consume a whole WHEEL of Brie. Yes, the scenario above was for dramatization purposes!)
  • 1 handful of Figs, cut into tiny little chunks
  • 1 handful of Almonds, crushed.
  • 1 handful of Chocolate shavings (I used Valrhona dark)
  • 1 egg, beaten

And Bring us Some Figgy Baked Brie:

  • Mix together the figs, almonds, and chocolate

  • Cut the Brie in half. Then cut horizontally into the cheese and stuff the fig/chocolate/almond goodies inside
  • Take the package of Pillsbury Crescent Rolls (If you have a pkg created for the rolls, there will be perforations. Make sure you seal them). Wrap over the Brie like you would with any pastry dough.
  • Brush the top with the egg mixture, stick it in the oven and bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes.
  • Bring to your holiday party and delight everyone’s’ tastebuds with the juicy figs & nutty almonds mingled in the gooey goodness of melted chocolate & brie!

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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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