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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Enjoy Tortilla Chips without Guilt!

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I received a package today from Que Pasa with three bags of chips made of organic whole grain yellow, blue and red corn, just in time to celebrate Cinco De Mayo.  There was also a bottle of yummy organic salsa that came with the chips.

I grew up in China and knew nothing about Cinco De Mayo when I was there.  As a matter of fact, I had not known about its meaning until I read about it on wikipedia today. According to wikipedia, the date is observed to commemorate the Mexican army’s unlikely victory over the French forces at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, under the leadership of General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguín. It is a victory celebration!

These chips are quite delicious — fresh, crunchy and salty (but not too salty).  The only negative is my tendency of consuming too much of it in one sitting. So I decided to make a salad with the chips. This way you can at least eat a lot of fresh vegetables while you indulge on your chips.  The salad turned out beautifully with such vibrant Mexican colors, flavors and texture. It was so delicious that I had two plates of it. No guilt, though. I had to use a fork (for the vegetables), a spoon (for the salsa) and my hands ( for the chips and to scoop up the salad with the chips) all at once.

The salad was made of the vegetables that I would have used to make a guac plus a few more ingredients. It doesn’t need any dressing except for the lime juice that I used to coat the avocado, salt and pepper and a little salsa from Que Pasa.

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Some of the chips arrived crushed in the mail, but perfect for sprinkling on the salad

Cinco De Mayo Salad

Ingredients:

1 cup Que Pasa tortilla chips

1 to 1 1/2 large avocado, sliced and coated with lime juice

2 cups tri-color cherry tomatoes

1 cucumber, sliced

5 to 6 radishes, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon minced red onion

fresh corn kernels from one ear of corn, cooked

1/4 cup queso fresco cheese or fresh feta cheese, crumbled (omit if vegan)

3 to 4 tablespoon Que Pasa salsa

1 stock green onion chopped

Salt & pepper to taste

1 lime, for juicing

cilantro for garnish

Preparation:

Mix all the vegetables. Lay them on tortilla chips in separate individual plates. Top with chopped green onion, minced red onion, cheese, salsa and garnish with cilantro.

Or

Mix all the vegetables. Top with chopped green onion, cheese, salsa. Sprinkle on crushed chips and garnish with chopped cilantro and salsa.

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Note:

It’s important to enjoy the salad as soon as it is mixed if you don’t like soggy chips.

Vegetarian Bulgogi Rice Bowl

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Bulgogi is traditionally made with beef, but that doesn’t mean it cannot be a delicious and nutritious vegetarian dish. I cooked mine very mildly spicy because the girls and Peter don’t like their food too hot.  Add chili flakes if you like more heat in the dish as I do.

This is a simple dish to make but very satisfying to eat. I used firm tofu, but extra firm will work well too. I used light soy sauce, but if you want the color of your tofu to be darker to resemble the real bulgogi, use 2 tablespoons light soy sauce and 2 teaspoons dark soy sauce. Go Chu Jang is a very sweet chili sauce. If you don’t like your dish too sweet, you can replace with other mild chili sauce. 

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Vegetarian Bulgogi Rice Bowl

Ingredients:

1 box 14 oz firm tofu, water drained and finely diced

3 stocks green onion, chopped

1 to 1 1/2  teaspoon grated ginger

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 egg + more if serving with sunny side up (Skip if vegan)

1 1/2 teaspoon tapioca, or corn starch

2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons soy sauce

2 teaspoons pure dark sesame oil

1 to 2 teaspoons Korean sweet & spicy sauce called Go Chu Jang (replace with other mild chili sauce and add a little more sugar if you don’t have Go Chu Jang)

1 to 2 teaspoons xylitol or brown sugar

1 1/2 tablespoon cooking oil

1/2 carrot, thinly sliced or julienned

1 teaspoon sesame seeds for garnish

Sliced cucumber and/or Kimchi for serving

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Preparation:

Open the tofu package. If the tofu is soaked in water, drain all the water and let it sit on a plate with another plate on top to press more water out.

In a large bowl, mix together tofu, 5 tablespoons chopped green onion, grated ginger, minced garlic, egg, soy sauce, Go Chu Jang, tapioca or corn starch, sesame oil and sugar with your hand. Let marinate for about 10 minutes.

Heat cooking oil in a wok or pan on medium high heat, stir fry the tofu mixture for 3 to 4 minutes until aromatic. Add thinly sliced carrots and stir to mix.

Serve on top of cooked rice, garnish with green onion and more Go Chu Jang if desired. Top with a sunny side up egg to make it a more fulfilling meal.

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Avocado and Mango Salsa

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I’m beginning to pack for my trip to Budapest to start Marco Polo season 2.  Though I will be away from my kitchen, I will be exploring eastern European cuisine when I am in Hungary and Slovakia, and collecting recipes to try on weekends.  I will continue to share my travel and work experiences with you, with an emphasis on food, of course.

I found this delicious salsa recipe on one of my favorite cooking website skinnytaste.com and decided to try it since I had all the required ingredients at home.  I also had some tortillas that were getting a little stale in the fridge, so I cut them into wedges and toasted them in the toaster oven into chips to go with the salsa.  I didn’t add any oil or salt or flavor to the chips.  Those simple chips turned out to be perfect for the richly flavored salsa. 

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Avocado and Mango Salsa

Ingredients:

1 1/2 mango, peeled and diced

1 large avocado, peeled and diced

4 big grape tomatoes, diced

1 jalepeño, seeded and diced

1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro

2 tbsp fresh lime juice

1/4 cup chopped red onion

1 tbsp olive oil

A few shakes of garlic powder

salt and fresh pepper to taste

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Preparation:

Combine all the ingredients and let it marinate in the refrigerator 30 minutes before serving.

Adapted from: skinnytaste.com

Red Cabbage Slaw with an Asian Twist

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I read an article on today’s New York Times about a 78-year-old Iowa man, who has been arrested and is now on trial for having sex with his demented wife in the nursing home.  Apparently, he visited his wife almost daily, sometimes twice a day, praying rosary by her bedside and taking her to church on Sundays, and occasionally he made love to her.  According to social workers in the nursing home, the wife was always happy to see her husband and they would hold hands and talk.  Sweet old man is all I can say. 

I asked Peter if he would visit me twice a day when I am institutionalized for dementia.  He just said, “All I want to know is what vitamins he was on?”  Well, whatever vitamins he was on have brought him big trouble now.  The problem was that she was so demented that she was not deemed fit to give consent to sex.  And without consent, sex is rape.  The demented wife who was not deemed fit to consent to sex had to go through an examination with a “rape kit.”  It that even legal?  Anyway, Peter just reminded me to add in my “Advanced Healthcare Directive” that he has my consent to do you know what.

Peter, who usually doesn’t like coleslaw, loved this red cabbage slaw with an Asian twist.  He seems to believe that it contains aphrodisiac properties, and is also a cure for headaches.  So, yeah…

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Ingredients for the Salad:

1/2 head red cabbage, thinly sliced

1/4 mint leaves, chopped or cilantro, chopped

2 tbsp minced green onion or chives

1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds

1/2 cup chopped candied walnuts or candied cashews (I used cashews)

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Ingredients for the Dressing:

1 tbsp minced ginger

1 tsp minced garlic

1/4 cup fresh lime juice

1/4 tsp lime zest

1/4 tsp red pepper flakes

1 tbsp 100% pure sesame oil

2 tbsp soy sauce

2 tbsp fish sauce

1/2 tsp Sriracha sauce

2 tsp brown sugar + 2 tsp xylitol (you can use 4 tsp brown sugar if you prefer)

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Preparation:

Thinly slice the cabbage and put in salad bowl.  Mix all ingredients for the dressing in a bowl.  Pour the dress over cabbage and mix well.  Let sit for an hour in the fridge. 

Before serving, add everything else to the salad bowl and give it a few good toss.

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Hoisin Orange Pork Chops with Vegetables

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Mondays are usually busy with all kinds of errands, but I managed to read a few more chapters of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying up.  I learned today that I’m never supposed to ball up my socks.  It cracked me up when the author asked “This should be a time for them to rest.  Do you really think they can get any rest like that?”  My socks are supposed to be on holiday in my drawer.  Being balled up means that they are in a state of tension.  I wondered where she was gong with this until she showed me how to fold it and store it “the right way.”  It actually made sense.  I can’t wait to un-ball all my socks tomorrow and create a sock resort for them.  I will show you a photo of my relaxed socks if it all goes well.  

I’ve never been good at the lotus position meditation, but I can imagine the methodical smoothing out and folding of the socks to be a meditative process as cooking oftentimes is for me.

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Hoisin Orange Pork Chops with Vegetables

Ingredients:

For the Marinade:

1/4 cup hoisin sauce

1/4 cup fresh squeezed orange juice

2 tbsp reduced sodium soy sauce

2 tbsp Asian cooking wine

Other Ingredients:

2 (6 oz total) 2-inch thick broccoli stems, spiralized

cooking spray

(2) 5 to 6 ounce boneless pork chop, 1” thick

2 cups broccoli florets

1 teaspoon 100% pure sesame oil

1/4 red onion, julienned

1 carrot, spiralized

1 tablespoon garlic, minced

1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced

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Preparation:

Combine the hoisin, orange juice soy sauce and wine with a whisk and reserve. Add pork chops to marinade and refrigerate for 2 hours.

While chops are marinating, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Place the broccoli in a wire basket and cook for about 3 minutes at a slow boil to blanch. Remove from pot and place in ice water to stop the cooking process. Let sit in ice bath for a couple minutes until chilled.

Remove chops from refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature for about 5 minutes before cooking. Remove from marinade, reserving the marinade for later. 

Heat a medium nonstick sauté pan on high heat, spray with oil when hot then place the steaks and cook 3 minutes on each side. Lower the stove to medium and cook another 2 to 3 minutes on each side or until the thermometer inserted to the center reads 140.  Transfer to a cutting board and let it sit for 5 minutes.

Add the reserved marinade to the skillet, reduce heat to medium-low, bring to a boil and simmer 2 to 3 minutes.

Place the sesame oil in a large nonstick skillet, add the onions, garlic and ginger and cook on high 1 to 2 minutes. Add the broccoli and carrot noodles, season with salt and cook 3 minutes. Add the blanched broccoli and cook until hot.

Divide the vegetables unto 2 separate plates. Place the chops on a cutting board and cut into thin strips. Lay chops on top of the vegetables, top with sauce and serve.

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Recipe adapted from:  skinnytaste.com

Spicy Turkey Sausage Chili with Avocado

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Cleaning out the closet today, I debated the fate of an old sweater from the 1993 Telluride Film Festival.  I have pulled it out from the donation pile many times through out the years.  It’s more than 20 years old and quite tattered, but I just can’t part with it because there is quote on the sweater that I found beautiful.  It says, “Through out her youth, she was often disconcerted to discover her most secret, most formless sentiments and desires, given their own robust life every Saturday afternoon, at the picture show.”  This evocative image of an ordinary woman transfixed and transported in the cinema, is extraordinary to me.  I want to make films for her.

Some possessions I seem to discard without batting an eye lash, such as my old iPhones, but some others have a mysterious hold on me, such as this dear old sweater.  It goes without saying that it’s going back into the closet drawer.

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Spicy Turkey Sausage Chili with Avocado

Ingredients:

3 links lean turkey sausage, casings removed

1/2 red onion, chopped

1/2 sweet onion, chopped

4 cloves garlic, crushed

2 tomatoes, diced

2 tablespoon marinara sauce, or 1 tablespoon tomato sauce

3/4 chicken broth

1/2 tsp cumin, or to taste

1/2 can kidney bean, rinsed and drained

1/4 tsp paprika

1 bay leaf

fresh cilantro, for garnish

1 teaspoon lime juice for coating the avocado after it is cubed

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Preparation:

In a large skillet, brown turkey over medium-high heat, breaking it up as it cooks into smaller pieces.

When meat is browned, add wine, onion and garlic; cook 4 minutes over medium heat. Add tomatoes, tomato sauce, broth, cumin, chili, paprika, and bay leaf, stir for about 2 minutes.

Cover and simmer over medium-low heat for about 25 minutes stirring occasionally. Remove bay leaf, add avocado (coated with 1 teaspoon lime juice) and cilantro.  Serve immediately.

This recipe makes 4 servings, but Peter and I each had two large bowls of it.  I had to refrain from licking the bowl.  Yes, it’s that good!

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Corn Chowder with Queso Fresco & Chive

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Audrey loved the Fisherman’s Wharf when she was little.  We would go there a couple of times a month, first stopping at the Musée Mécanique for an hour and then to eat her favorite clam chowder in a bread bowl at the Boudin Bakery, and finally at Candy Baron for some saltwater taffy. 

We haven’t been back to the Boudin since Audrey became a vegetarian.  After school today Audrey suddenly said, “Oh, I wish I could have a bowl of chowder.”

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Audrey and a friend at her favorite haunt Fisherman’s Wharf

I used the frozen corn from the freezer and made her a healthy and nutritious corn chowder. And according to everyone in the house it was much tastier than the clam chowder at Boudin.  Not to mention much healthier.

Audrey just wished it was in a bowl of sourdough bread.

Corn Chowder with Queso Fresco and Chive

Ingredients:

1/2 teaspoon olive oil

1/3 cup chopped scallions

1 garlic clove, chopped

3 1/2 cups frozen corn kernels

1 (6 oz) russet potato, peeled and diced

5 cups 1% milk

1 chicken bouillon cube (or Vegetable Better than Bouillon)

1/4 onion, chopped

1/4 cup fat free Fage

salt and fresh pepper, to taste

3 oz (6 tbsp) crumbled queso fresco or reduced fat feta

Preparation:

Heat a medium heavy pot or Dutch oven on medium heat. Add oil and sauté scallions and garlic and onion for 1 minute. Add the corn, potatoes, milk, bouillon, and cilantro in a large pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer for approximately 15 minutes or until the corn is tender, stirring occasionally.

Remove from heat and reserve 6 tablespoons of the corn kernels for topping. Add yogurt to the soup and purée in the blender in two batches, careful not to burn yourself; return to the pot.

Adjust salt and pepper, to taste and heat over low heat 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Pour into 6 bowls and garnish each bowl with 1 tablespoon each of corn kernels and cheese. Top with fresh chive.

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Recipe inspired by skinnytaste

Nutty Citrusy Kumquat Muffins

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 I got a call today from a friend whom I haven’t heard from in a long time.  She is very much into astrology, and some years ago she had my astrological chart read by some very renowned astrologist in Shanghai unbeknownst to me.  She shared the findings with me afterwards and I remember one of the things was that I should never wear the color brown.  She meant well, but I told her I didn’t believe in astrology.  Through out the years though, what she said would pop up in my mind whenever I shopped for clothes.  And subconsciously I avoided buying anything that was brown.

Today’s call was about some dissonance between my astrological sign in the Year of Ram.  My friend had my sign read again and was calling to warn me to be extra careful.  Now what do you do with a call like this? 

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Well, the Chinese remedy everything by eating the right kind of food.  One of the lucky foods that we eat during Luna New Year is Kumquat.  As a matter of fact, any citrus fruit is considered lucky because the word “citrus” sounds like the word “auspicious.” Kumquat is the most auspicious because it sounds like “golden auspicious.”  

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Nutty Citrusy Kumquat Muffins

Ingredients:

2 cup 100% whole wheat flour

1/4 cup canola oil

1 cup Kumquat jam (see note)

1/2 teaspoon lemon extract

1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 large eggs

1 cup pecan nuts, coarsely chopped

1 cup nonfat lemon Greek yogurt

1/4 cup xylitol or sugar

The recipe makes about 16 – 18 muffins.

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Preparation:

Mix all dry ingredients together.  Add all wet ingredients in the mixed dry ingredients.  Mix well, but don’t over mix.  Leave a little lumpiness in.

Preheat oven at 375, line or grease muffin pan.  Add muffin mix to the cups and bake for 15 to 18 minutes. 

Serve with Greek yogurt and kumquat jam.

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Note:

I made the kumquat jam the day before with about 1 pound kumquats, 1 cup xylitol (or sugar), 1 cup water, 1/2 teaspoon lemon extract.  Cut and seed the kumquats and cook with all ingredients for 30 to 40 minutes. 

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Baked Coconut Yam Fries

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I caught Audrey listening to Taylor Swift while practicing piano a couple of times.  I also caught her practicing with one hand while snacking with the other a couple of times.  Finally I decided that her playing piano was a futile effort for everyone involved.  Peter and I sat her down a couple of weeks ago and told her that we were letting her off the hook, that it was okay with us if she didn’t play the piano any more.  Unexpectedly, she said she didn’t want to stop.  She insisted on continuing to take lessons.  We told her that it would be her choice to either practice much more conscientiously or to stop entirely.  We told her to think it overnight and let us know her decision the next day.  The next day Audrey solemnly declared that she would practice everyday and with focus, that she wanted to continue piano. 

It’s been about two weeks since her own decision to continue playing the piano and I am hearing a marked improvement in her playing.  Life is full of surprises.

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Baked Coconut Yam Fries

Ingredients:

1 yam (spiralized or sliced)

2 tablespoons extra virgin coconut oil (melted)

1/4 cup unsweetened shaved coconut

1/2 tablespoon xylitol or sugar (optional)

Preparation:

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  Coat the spiralized or sliced yam with coconut oil and shaved coconut in a baking pan.  Spread a thin layer of yam in the baking dish. You may need two baking pans for this.  The fries will not be crispy if the layer is too thick.

Bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes and then flip over. Bake for another 10-15 minutes or until browned. 

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