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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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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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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Vegan Creamy Cauliflower Soup

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Kale and beans give the creamy soup texture

I love cauliflower for its great versatility, superb nutritional value, low calorie count and its fresh, neutral taste. This seemingly bland vegetable yields to your wishes and can become so many different things in a wide variety of dishes. Mark Twain called it cabbage with a college degree for a good reason. Some of my favorite ways to enjoy cauliflower is Cauliflower Mac & Cheese, Cauliflower Steak, Cauliflower Fried Rice, Venetian Cauliflower and simply Roasted Cauliflower.

Today, I made a deliciously creamy cauliflower soup that does not require any cream. The girls had the Kale and bean version while Peter, who doesn’t like kale had the red pepper swirl version. We have a couple of house guests from LA; the three of us tried and loved both varieties. The recipe makes a huge pot of soup that is enough for 8 to 10 people. If you are a cauliflower fan like I am, give this a try. If you are not a strict vegetarian or vegan, you should try it with chicken broth and Better Than Bouillon. It’s even more flavorful this way.

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Red pepper sauce gives it a kick and a vibrant splash of color

Ingredients:

1 large Onion (chopped)

5 cloves garlic (chopped)

1 1/2 cauliflower, chopped

1 teaspoon oregano

1 teaspoon coriander

8 cups Vegetable Stock, or chicken broth if not vegetarian

2 to 3 tablespoon Extra virgin olive oil for sautéing

1 tablespoon organic reduced sodium Better Than Bouillon Roasted Chicken Base (optional)

Salt and pepper to taste

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For the Kale and Bean Version:

1 bunch Kale, stemmed and cut into thin ribbons

1 15 .5-ounce kidney beans, drained and rinsed

1 to 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil for sautéing

Salt and pepper to taste

For the Red Pepper Swirl Version:

2 red bell peppers

2 red jalapeno peppers, seeded

1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika

1/4 teaspoon Cayenne

1 teaspoon Sriracha sauce

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil for sautéing

Salt and Pepper to taste

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Preparation:

Place a heavy bottomed soup pot over medium-high to high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and then toss in the garlic, stir for 1 minute, then add onion. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes, or until aromatic. Add the cauliflower, the Better Than Bouillon (if using), coriander and oregano, stir for another 2 to 3 minutes.

Pour the vegetable stock or chicken broth over the cauliflower and bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cook for 8 minutes or so, or until the cauliflower is fork tender.

Let cool for a few minutes before transferring to a blender and working in batches until the content is creamy and smooth. I used Vitamix.

Pour the blended cauliflower into another heavy bottomed soup pot. Taste to adjust saltiness and flavor.

For the Kale & Bean Version:

Over medium high, sauté the kale with a tablespoon of olive oil in a wok or pan for 3 to 4 minutes. Add the beans and cook for another 1 to 2 minutes.

Add sautéd kale and beans into the cauliflower soup.

Heat 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoon olive oil in a wok or pan on medium high. Add paprika, cayenne and Sriracha; stir for a minute. Add in chopped peppers and sauté for 3 to 4 minutes or until soft.

Let cool for a couple of minutes before transferring to the blender and blend until smooth and creamy.

Scoop 2 tablespoons of the red pepper sauce on top of the cauliflower soup and use a chopstick or the butt end of the fork to make pattern.

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Fennel Salad with Grapefruit Orange & Avocado

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We are having the balmiest early spring here in San Francisco. I decided that it was a perfect day for a refreshing salad when I saw the beautiful, tender bulbs of fennel in the neighborhood grocery store. I love fennel. If you have not yet tried fennel salad, you ought to. For me, the best way to prepare fennel is marinating it in fresh lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. Simple, but perfect. I usually serve it with Burrata cheese, but decided to serve it today with avocado, orange slices and grapefruit slices.  It was crunchy, creamy, sweet, tangy and savory all at once. My favorite salad just got better.  It was absolutely delicious!

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Fennel Salad with Grapefruit Orange & Avocado

Ingredients:

2 heads fennel, thinly sliced

1/2 to 2 avocado, sliced

1 orange, peeled, pith removed and sliced

1 grapefruit, peeled, pith removed and sliced

1/2 cup tender green leaves of choice (I used watercress)

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 teaspoon lemon and orange zest

1/4 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground pepper

1/2 teaspoon fennel fronds

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Ingredients for Dressing:

1 tablespoon orange juice

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon honey

Salt & pepper to taste

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Preparation:

Place fennel, oil, zest and lemon juice in a shallow dish; season with salt and pepper. Let stand 15 minutes.

In the meantime, slice off the skin of the grapefruit and orange, remove the pith.  Save the juice in a bowl to use in the dressing.

Peel and slice the avocado.  Squeeze lemon juice on the avocado slices to prevent them from getting brown.

Mix ingredients for the dressing in a bowl.

Divide marinated fennel into four to six plates, top with orange and grapefruit slices, avocado slices, green leaves, fennel fronds. Drizzle with dressing before serving.  You need only very little dressing since the fennel is already marinated.

Note:

Use only very fresh and tender fennel bulbs for fennel salads. 

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Garlicky Parmesan Baked Baby Bella

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I am usually left out of the Super Bowl festivities simply because I don’t understand football. It has seemed an un-crossable cultural barrier for me as a Chinese woman.  While Peter cheers and curses, I’m either reading or taking a walk on the beautiful and deserted trails. I, along with the rest of the world will never understand the extent of the American Super Bowl mania.  Everyone is having a party today. I made the mistake by going grocery shopping after lunch and the lines for the cashiers were so long that I left without my grocery. On my way home, I saw the Buffalo chicken wing place on Lombard, which is usually quite empty, had long lines of people ordering boxes of wings to take home.

There was a box of baby bella in the fridge and I decided to celebrate the excitement of the day by making a Super Bowl finger food with the mushrooms.

At the suggestion of a friend, I watched the beginning of the show and was very moved by Lady Gaga’s National Anthem.  I am an American after all.

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Garlicky Parmesan Baked Mushrooms

Ingredients:

8 to 10 oz baby bella

1 cup panko bread crumbs

1/3 cup shredded parmesan

1/2 garlic powder

2 teaspoons dried oregano leaves

2 eggs, beaten

Honey Mustard Yogurt Dip

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, or coarsely ground mustard

1 1/2 teaspoon honey

2 tablespoon Fage Total or other Greek yogurt

Preparation:

Make the dip and set aside.

Heat the over to 410F

Wipe the mushroom with paper tower, cut off the end of the stems.

Dip the mushrooms one by one into the egg and then coat with panko bread crumbs. If there is not enough bread crumbs on the mushroom, repeat the egg and panko dipping one more time.

Lay the breaded mushrooms on a parchment paper lined baking sheet.

Bake 8 to 10 minutes based on the size of the mushroom.  Over cooking will result in sogginess.

Serve warm with the dip or with ketchup.

Happy Super Bowl Day!

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