Roasted Figs with Buche de Chevre & Balsamic Glaze

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There was a skinny fig tree in front of my childhood home — the original home, the only one that appears in my dreams, that I have hopelessly yearned for since the day I left for America.

Throughout my childhood, I remember tasting a sweet ripe fig only once. I grew up in the years of extreme food scarcity and no child could wait until the figs were ripe to harvest them. My brother and I began picking them earlier each year because we wanted to get them before the other children in the neighborhood could steal them. We tried to leave the raw figs in the rice sack or in the sun for them to ripen, but the figs stayed hard no matter how long we waited. 

One day, I was idling by the 2nd floor window daydreaming, which was something children often did in that era. A gentle breeze ruffled the leaves of the fig tree and a pinkish purplish bulb caught my eye. A ripe fig! I had never before seen a fig like this, rufescent and drooped from the slightly wilted stem. I nearly killed myself trying to pluck it with the help of a clothe hanger. I quickly stuffed it in my mouth before anyone could see me. There are no words that can describe the intense and shocking burst of pleasure as my teeth sunk into the flesh of that fig.

As I prepared these roasted figs today, I felt a nostalgic tug in my heart — a nameless longing. Was I twelve or thirteen? What was I daydreaming about? The neighbor boy with a “bad reputation” to play badminton with? The faraway lands I secretly read about in forbidden hand copied books? Or was it food? I was always a little hungry in those days and food was never far from my thoughts.

Not in my wildest dreams would I have imagined roasting dozens of ripe figs in an oven — a wonderful contraption I didn’t know existed until I came to the US.

As I used to daydream by the window, I now do by the oven. These roasted figs are sumptuous. They are great as appetizer, dessert or a snack. I used Buche de Chevre which was absolutely exquisite, but goat cheese will also taste great with it. The balsamic glaze is an important ingredient that is not optional in my mind. It is a perfect finishing touch to complete the dish.

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Roasted Figs with Buche de Chevre & Balsamic Glaze

Figs

Brown sugar

Buche de Chevre

Balsamic Glaze

Pinch of salt

Pine nuts

Mint leaves

Olive oil spray

Preparation:

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Rinse the figs and pat them dry, then cut off the stems and, without cutting through the base, halve them from top to bottom.

Spray a baking pan with good olive oil. Dip the cut side of the fig in a dish of brown sugar. Line the figs cut side up in the baking pan.

Bake until the sugar is bubbling and the figs is heated through, about 15 minutes.

Sprinkle broken cheese on top. Drizzle with balsamic glaze. Top with pine nuts and mint leaves. Serve warm.

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Cabbage Nectarine Salad

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My nectarines were of the perfect ripeness today — succulent but not too soft. I used them to make this simple cabbage salad and it turned out absolutely delicious — sweet and tangy with a hint of mint — a summery transformation of a cool weather vegetable. I used a sweet mulberry vinegar, but I imagine cider or white vinegar will work perfectly with it too.

Cabbages are one of the most nutritious vegetables, but few ever talk about them. They just seem so common place and boring. However, the seeming blandness is why I love them — they are versatile. I have often stir fried them or used them in Chinese pork vegetable dumplings. I have also pickled them or made salads with them.

As you can see here — cabbages are beautiful.

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Cabbage Nectarine Salad

Ingredients:

1 small head of cabbage, outer leaves removed and shredded (about 6 cups)

2 to 3 nectarines, thinly sliced (about 2 1/2 to 3 cups)

3/4 cup toasted walnuts

2 tablespoons mint leaves, chopped (optional)

Dressing:

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons mulberry vinegar

1/2 teaspoon salt

Preparation:

Gently toss together sliced cabbage, sliced nectarine, mint leaves with the dressing. Let sit for 10 minutes for the juice from the nectarine to release into the salad. Add walnut before serving.

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Fresh Corn Salad

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I woke up with a pang of sudden realization that the last day of August was upon us. To live summer to its fullest potential I loaded the grocery cart with lots of seasonal produce: berries, nectarines, peaches, figs, fresh corn and watermelon. I am going to hold on to my favorite season a little longer by enjoying an abundance of summery food. 

Fresh corn is one of Peter’s favorite foods. Though he never tires of eating the simple corn on the cob, I decided to give hime some variety today by making this simple and refreshing corn salad. It went deliciously with the grilled chicken.

This is a summer must eat dish.

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Fresh Corn Salad

Ingredients:

4 ears fresh corn

2 tablespoons minced shallot or red onion

1 tablespoon minced red and greenn jalapeño (seeded)

2 to 3 tablespoons minced cilantro

2 to 3 tablespoons finely diced tomato (seeded)

Juice from 1 large lime (about 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons)

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Scant 1/4 cup roasted pine nuts (optional)

Salt to taste

Preparation:

Cook the corn. I microwaved them one by one with a layer of husk on, each for 3 minutes. Using a bread knife, cut the kernel off the corn.

Mix the minced red onion or shallot, jalapeño, lime juice, olive oil and salt in a bowl and let sit for a minute or two for the onion to lose the sharp sting.

Mix the rest of the ingredients except for the pine nuts.

Taste it to adjust the flavors.

Add pine nuts before serving.

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Peach Matcha Panna Cotta

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This peach matcha panna cotta is not only yummy, it is light, healthy and good for you. Matcha is a super food that boasts a long list of health benefits that range from memory boost to body detoxification. I bought my matcha from Davids Tea. It is infused with peach flavor and slightly sweetened — perfect for making dessert.

The ingredients of this panna cotta is deceptively simple — milk, Greek yogurt, peach matcha powder, xylitol and gelatin. I made the dessert the night before and served it with sliced ripe nectarine as breakfast for Peter. A great way to begin the weekend!

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Peach Matcha Panna Cotta

Ingredients:

2 cups of milk (4%)

1 cup full fat Greek yogurt

2 to 3 tablespoons peach matcha powder (I used 2 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon, but if you like the matcha flavor more intense add another teaspoon or two.)

1/4 cup xylitol or sugar

1 pack unflavored gelatin (1 1/4 ounce packet)

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Preparation:

Pour 1 cut of milk into a sauce pan or small pot. Sprinkle the gelatin powder evenly on top of the milk and let stand for a few minutes. Turn stove on to low and heat the milk with gelatin as you slowly stir until the gelatin is melted. Don’t let milk boil.

Blend 1 cup of milk, 1 cup of yogurt, 1/4 cup xylitol and peach matcha in a food processor until smooth. Add the melted gelatin to the processor and blend until well mixed.

Oil the container before you pour the mixture if you will invert the panna cotta onto a plate to serve. You can also pour the mixture into the bowls or cups and serve directly from them.

Leave in the fridge for 2 hours or longer.

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Linguine with Salmon & Cilantro Jalapeño Pesto

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Yesterday I saw the most beautiful and the freshest wild sockeye salmon at Costco, but even the smallest package was more than two pounds. I suppose that’s the only drawback to shopping at Costco — everything is in bulk. I roasted the fish for dinner last night. The fish was so fresh that all the ingredients that I needed was salt, pepper and olive oil. Simply preheat the oven to 475 degrees. Wash and dry the fish with paper towel, rub generously with olive oil, salt and pepper; roast the fish for 10 minutes. Peter and I ate as much as we could without bursting and there was still plenty leftover.

Leftover seafood can turn fishy if you reheat it. I usually use it in a salad or just eat it like cold cuts. Today I mixed the leftover salmon in a linguine with pesto sauce. Linguine with pesto sauce is an easy dish that I have often cooked.  It is so simple that even Audrey can prepare it without any help from me.  As I was about to make the pesto sauce, I thought to myself why not be creative and try something different? We live in such a diverse city where cultures constantly influence each other and, as the idiom goes, variety is the spice of life. So I changed my usual pesto sauce to a cilantro jalapeño tahini “pesto.” I can imagine this pesto also as a dip for vegetables or as a sauce to pour over grilled chicken.

Peter and I loved it, but if cilantro jalapeño pesto sounds too adventurous or simply is not your thing, try my basic pesto sauce.

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Cilantro Jalapeño Pesto

Ingredients:

2  to 2 1/2 cups cilantro (a small bunch)

1/2 cup tahini

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

1 clove garlic

1/2 teaspoon or more salt

2 tablespoons olive oil (I used the oil that I had fried the garlic chips in)

1 jalapeño, seeded (or more if you like it more spicy)

Preparation:

Puree all ingredients in a food processor.  Sauté the jalapeño in a little oil makes the sauce even more flavorful, but using it raw is fine.

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I made some crispy garlic chips to sprinkle on the pasta. They added extra flavor and a little crunchy texture to the dish. The way to make perfect garlic chips is to use large garlic cloves, slice them into thin slivers, line them up in a single layer at the bottom of a small non stick pot. Put the pot on medium heat and pour just enough oil to submerge the garlic slices. Let the chips fry to a golden color before scooping them out and lay them on a piece of paper towel. Garlic chips burn easily and you should watch over it while they fry.

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Beautiful Beet Sandwich

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Beautiful Beet Sandwich

Peter called in the the middle of the day and said he had a little free time and could we have lunch together. My husband knows there is always food at home. Having been hungry when I was growing up made me anxious when the food supply is low — my two large fridges in the kitchen are always full.  We live 5 minutes from his hospital and usually it means he can easily go back to work 24/7 at a moment’s notice. But today is one of the rare occasions that living close afforded him a quick stolen lunch at home.  I had just made Angela her favorite massaged kale salad when Peter called, and there was left over beet in the fridge from yesterday.

Ten minutes later Peter was home and this tricolored lunch was already waiting at the table as if I had been expecting him to come home all along. I almost felt like a magician. This very satisfying vegetarian sandwich could definitely last him until dinner.

If I didn’t already had the kale salad, I would have used arugula or cucumber. Or I could substitute pine nuts with pistachio nuts, or walnuts.

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Ingredients:

Cooked beet, sliced

Kale salad, click here for recipe

Goat cheese

Pine nuts

Avocado, sliced

Lemon juice or balsamic glaze

Salt and pepper to taste

Bread slices

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Preparation:

Spray goat cheese on bread and sprinkle pine nuts.  Toast in the toaster oven until the crust is crunchy and the cheese soft. Layer sliced cooked beet. kale salad and avocado slices. Drizzle with lemon juice or balsamic glaze or both.

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Open Sandwich with Smoked Salmon, Fresh Pesto and Pickled Onion

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I made a quick run to Costco to buy bulk food for a friend, who is hosting a large party tomorrow in Tahoe. Angela is in up there in Tahoe at a writers’ workshop and I will be driving there first thing in the morning to attend some of the panels. Instead of succumbing to the temptations of buying oily chips and the sugary drinks for the road trip, I prepared the most delicious sandwiches using the multigrain bread with seeds that was freshly out of the oven from Costco. I used home made fresh pesto simply because it is the easiest thing to do and it tastes so much better than what you can buy from a store.  For lunch today, I made an open faced version of the sandwich that reminded me of the ones I had in Budapest last summer when I was filming Marco Polo. But the resemblance stops when it comes to flavor and texture. My smoked salmon pesto sandwich is so delicious and healthy that you should definitely try it. Or if you are a vegetarian, try my favorite vegetarian open sandwiches by clicking here

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Open Sandwich with Smoked Salmon, Fresh Pesto and Pickled Onion

Ingredients:

Fresh multigrain bread from Costco or any other bread of choice

Wild Alaskan smoked salmon

Cucumber slices

Fresh pesto, click here for recipe

Pickled onion, click here for recipe

Pine nuts

Olive oil spray

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Preparation:

Spray the sliced bread with a little olive oil and toast it until crust is crunchy. Spread the bread with pesto, layer with cucumber slices and then salmon. Top with smoked salmon and sprinkle with pine nuts.

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Spicy Thai Peanut Dip

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There was a large pile of unopened mail waiting for me at home upon my return from China a week ago. It took me a few days to sort them all out.  It’s quite a chore, but sometimes there are pleasant surprises within the pile.  A couple of days ago, I opened a package and found a bottle of Pic’s Really Good Crunchy Peanut Butter and a bottle of dry roasted peanuts from New Zealand.  Our whole family have been enjoying the peanut butter in the past couple of days. We love the pure and intense peanut flavor in this very simple and delicious peanut butter with only two ingredients – peanuts and sea salt. I have written in previous blogs about my love for peanuts, be it peanut chocolate fudge or peanut chocolate ice cream pie or noodles with Asian peanut sauce. There is definitely a peanut loving gene in my body.

I made a spicy Thai peanut dip for the okra that I found in the farmer’s market. I blanched the okra in boiling water for less than a minute. I then rinsed it in cold water and drained it. Within 10 minutes there was a simple, satisfying low carb meal on the table. You can use the dip for any number of vegetables of your choice: carrots, celery, turnip, cucumber… You can even use it as a sauce for noodles.  

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Spicy Thai Peanut Dip

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons peanut butter (I used Pic’s Really Good Crunchy Peanut Butter)

1 1/2 tablespoon light soy sauce

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

1 teaspoon hoisin sauce

1 teaspoon xylitol or sugar

1 teaspoon lime juice

1 to 2 teaspoons Sriracha (depending on how spicy you want the dip to be)

1/4 teaspoon minced garlic (optional)

1/4 teaspoon grated ginger (optional)

1 teaspoon pure sesame oil (optional)

Chopped green onion, crushed peanuts and chili peppers for garnish

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Preparation:

Using a big spoon or your fingers, mix all the ingredients together. Garnish with chopped green onion and chili flakers.

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Caprese Salad

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Caprese Salad

Audrey and I spent 5 weeks in China where we worked on a Chinese comedy about the art of traditional Chinese cooking. I played a character by the name of Tom, which in Chinese sounds like Mother of Soup汤母, and Audrey played the young version of my character in the flashback.  We stayed in a hot spring resort in the boondocks of Xing Yang by the Yellow River.  Everyday, the production brought us two three-tiered lunch boxes with staples such as stir fried tomato with eggs, bell pepper with shredded pork, braised eggplant or mutton radish soup. After two weeks, Audrey groaned whenever those shiny tin boxes were delivered to us and she craved for caprese salad and pizza. When I had a day off, we drove for an hour to the nearest large city of Zheng Zhou in search of them.  We found pizza in a shopping mall, but no one there had heard of caprese salad.

Naturally that was the first thing we ate when we came home. And we have been enjoying it almost every other day. A little deprivation does wonders to renew your appreciation of something you took for granted. I have been jet lagged and there is so much to catch up around the house after a long absence. This caprese salad is not only delicious, it is also the easiest meal to make.  The trick is to buy the best quality tomatoes and fresh mozzarella. Drizzle with the best quality balsamic cream or glaze and olive oil.

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Caprese Salad

Ingredients:

Cherry tomatoes (halved)

Fresh baby mozzarella balls (halved)

Fresh basil leaves

Extra virgin olive oil

Balsamic Glaze or balsamic cream

Salt and pepper

Preparation:

Half the cherry tomatoes and the mozzarella balls. sprinkle with fresh basil leaves. Drizzle with balsamic glaze and extra virgin olive oil.

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Stir Fried Chicken with Peppers

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An old friend of mine has been visiting from Hong Kong, and I have been eating out with her a great deal in the past few days. Today, we both had a craving for some simple home cooked Chinese food.

As we prepared the chicken stir fry and the poached Chinese greens for lunch, we talked about our kids. Angela was three when she was one of the flower girls at my friend’s wedding. We blinked and now Angela is going to college. When I was young, I used to chronicle time by the films I made.  After I had the girls, time has been measured by their milestones or the particular challenges they faced at a certain stage of their lives. With old friends, we mark time by the memorable gatherings throughout the years — and often times they are about the special food we have shared. “Remember that amazing handmade soba noodle in Niseko?”  It seemed like only yesterday, but it was six years ago that my friend and I brought our families together on a trip to Niseko. We hold on to the memories as time slips through our fingers like sand. I miss the family trips we used to make.  Nowadays, the girls are no longer interested in traveling with their parents. They are forming intense and meaningful friendships that will hopefully accompany them for the rest of their lives, same as the ones I share with my old friends from my youth. Even though my friend lives on the other side of the ocean, the time and distance that separate us seem to disappear as soon as we manage to get together.

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Our Hokkaido trip 6 years ago

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I have not been able to catch a smile like this for a long time now. It’s reserved for her friends only.

I don’t know if today’s simple lunch will be one that we remember years from now, but it was comfort food that we both missed. I make stir fried chicken variations a couple of times a month because it’s simple and versatile.  You can almost add any vegetables to the dish and make it a meal. We made ours with a mix of jalapeño and sweet pepper because we both like spicy food. I also added a little celery for a little crunch.

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Stir Fried Chicken with Peppers and Celery:

Ingredients for the sauce:

1 tablespoon low sodium soy sauce

2 teaspoons rice vinegar

1 tsp fish sauce

1/2 tsp cornstarch

1/4 tsp sugar

Ingredients for the marinade:

1 tablespoon Shao Xing cooking wine

Thinly sliced ginger

1/2 teaspoon cornstarch or tapioca starch

Ingredients for the Stir Fry:

1 chicken breast, cut into bite size

2 stocks celery, sliced to match the size of the chicken pieces

1 red jalapeno, sliced

1 green jalapeño, sliced

1/2 red bell pepper, sliced

3 tablespoon cooking oil, separated

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 teaspoon grated ginger

Preparation:

Marinate the chicken breast pieces in wine, ginger and cornstarch for 30 minutes.

Combine all ingredients for the sauce and set aside.

Heat a large wok over high heat. When the wok is very hot, add half of the oil, then add the chicken without the marinade. Stir fry, stirring until the chicken turns opaque. With a slotted spoon, remove the chicken and set aside. Reduce heat to medium.

Add the remaining oil to the wok; add the garlic and ginger, stir for 20 seconds. Add all three kinds of peppers and the celery, stirring over medium high heat until tender crisp, about 3 minutes.

Return the chicken to the wok, add the sauce, mix well and cook another 30 seconds to one minute. Serve immediately with rice.

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