Monday, April 29, 2013

Mango Pudding with Mango Bites!

Sometimes great successes are often driven by great failures. The drive to continue towards a goal despite hardships is what makes that success even more meaningful. Why the sudden philosophical piece? Ha, I'm really not that deep, it was just a comment I made while chatting with my friend online. She mentioned that on her most recent baked goods, the results were not as visually pleasing as she had hoped even though I'm sure it tastes nothing short of great. That short segment did get me thinking about my cooking past though...

I get pretty positive comments about my cooking/baking which I appreciate very much to everyone's that's commented! Of course, I still get criticized and I appreciate those as well, that's the only way we can better ourselves right?? Well anyways, I may be pretty good at finding my way through a recipe nowadays but that wasn't always the case.

I've been cooking since I was 10 but it was for necessity and not really for  pleasure until I was in college. For the most part that just meant my mom prepped all the food and I made sure it was on the stove and into me and my brother's mouths on time when she and my dad were at work. So I knew the concept of cooking but I was never able to play with the idea of it. 

Inevitably, of course, when my interest to cook grew and I wanted to be my own "chef", loads of fun, not so successful, stories arose. Until then, the only dishes I knew how to make, if you can even call them dishes, are just throwing ingredients together and hope for the best. For example, spam and zucchinis, yup that was a dish! It's actually pretty good but it's neither visually pleasing nor creative. When college rolled around the corner and I was suddenly left on my own, it was like I was left with a blank canvas and for the first time I can draw or paint with whatever material I pleased! That being the case, it led to some very disastrous experiments. 

I've never used an oven or baked a day in my life before living on my own. That was a new concept for me. Steaming, boiling, sauteing, those I knew but even then there's been some hard times. The oven and baking were a scary concept, Chinese people don't really bake, they usually leave the baking up to the bakeries. Who wouldn't if you can buy 5 baked goods for like a $1!? I'm ashamed to even share some of my horror stories but hey we cook and we learn right? 

One of the first times I tried making brownies (the boxed kind mind you) they became rock hard after a few minutes out of the oven. Luckily the roomies and I all had a piece when it was still soft, call it impatience, and that's all we really had. Good weight loss plan though. You will never worry about over eating that!


I've also been a part of a crew that can manage to set meat on fire while trying to grill and still end up with raw meat at the end. We ended up finishing the meat off in an oven. Not the greatest of meals but nonetheless the fruit of our labor...even though the fruit was a little burnt.

Oh and cheesecake, man you can forget about that! It took me a few times before I got the cheesecake down. First time, I decided to use all fat free cream cheese not understanding that baking is science and you don't just substitute things without having it go terribly wrong. It was gross. Second time, I didn't substitute but instead I over compensated with technique...end product came out grainy. I had beaten it to death...literally. I had failed again. By then I was quite stubborn with my cooking, I was not going to be conquered, if there is conquering to be done, it would be by me! Nowadays, I can make a pretty mean cheesecake.


Moral of these random cooking horror stories are we all have to start from somewhere. We may not be the best of what we envision ourselves to be when we first start our journey but as long as we go at it despite failures, we'd eventually get there. This can be applied in anything, cooking, studying, weight loss,  sports, etc. We just have to keep going and not give up. Eventually whatever that it was we were trying to accomplish will be second nature and from there, only greatness. 

Today's accomplishment, mango pudding! Delicious, healthy, and easy to make. The only hard part is waiting for it to set in the fridge. The recipe recommends overnight but it looked like it was good enough after a few hours but I waited patiently anyways. Good things come to those who wait right?? At least that's what I told myself to make myself feel better about waiting. Now wait is over! Time to dig in!



Makes 4-5 servings
Ingredients:
  • 5 small mangoes (makes about 2 cups of mango puree)
  • 2 small mangoes, diced
  • ½ cup hot water
  • 1 envelop of gelatin
  • ½ cup evaporated milk
  • ¼ cup sugar
Procedures:
    1. Cut up the 5 small mangoes, removing skin and pit, and puree in a blender, set aside
    2. Take the remaining 2 mangoes, remove skin and pit, and dice the meat into small chunks
    3. Mix gelatin in hot water until it dissolves, let it stand for 3 minutes
    4. Add in sugar and mix until sugar is dissolved, then add in evaporated milk, mango puree, and mango chunks. Mix until well incorporated
    5. Chill overnight in the refrigerator

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Bacon Cheddar Buttermilk Biscuits!

What do you get when you stick a bunch of food enthusiasts into one room? A whole lot of great ideas!

The conversation started with the topic of cheeses and how I can't ever live without them. One of my ultimate favorites is brie. You can eat them with crackers, you can have them with bread, you can eat them as is, or you can bake it in with anything you'd like. Hence my Baked Brie Pastry Puffs, love brie! My coworker nods in agreement as I drool over my own words and before you know it, we were sharing our brie success stories. Shortly, in the mist of it all, my manger walks in and joins in the discussion. Like all random discussions, the conversation eventually evolved from brie to making biscuits...and that's where the inspiration of this post came about. 

Biscuits... I've never been much of a biscuit person. I eat them, but never feel the need to crave them... until today. After all that talk about biscuits and how you can incorporate a bunch of different ingredients into them...I had to try for myself. To be honest though, the only biscuits I really knew were the instant Pillsbury kind which I think have very misleading commercials, they hardly ever look as good as the ones on TV when I make them. Anyways, point is, I've never really had the homemade kind so why not give it a go?!

Turns out, makings biscuits is ridiculously easy! When my manager told me he makes his own from scratch, I thought he was crazy...for some reason I had always thought biscuits stemmed from a complicated, time consuming process. Maybe I just have it mixed up with something else...OR my skills have advanced! I'd like to think that its mostly option #2, but more likely its because I have it mixed up with another recipe of something I don't even remember. Regardless, if you're like me and have been avoiding this biscuit business... fear not, its not time consuming or complicated. If you're planning to make regular plain ol' biscuits, all you need are: a lengthy list of 4 ingredients, an oven, and you've got yourself some mouthwatering biscuits. Of course, I never settle for regular when there's an option for something more exciting.

Let's jazz things up! Who likes their bacon?! Who loves their cheese!? And who loves the idea of combing the two?! Me! Even though I'm not a bacon lover, I'd have to go down this path. Throw in some shallots and green onions and I can almost taste the results! For this particular experiment, I started on a rather different path than I would normally go and that is I choose the ingredients first then find out about how. Usually I go searching for a recipe for the dish I'd like to make and put my own twists in later. This time, I put the twist in and figure out recipe later. Slightly more challenging but luckily plenty of people had the same idea. So I landed on 2 recipes that were close in what I wanted in my biscuits and went from there. Then, as the old cliche goes, the rest was history. 

Side tangent: As often as I bake, you'd think I'd have some baking powder handy... but indeed I do not, so if you're like me and have everything BUT baking powder at the house, here is a very good method for making your own baking powder from Smitten Kitchen.



Adapted from:
Makes 6-7 standard sized biscuits
Ingredients:
  • 4 slices of bacon, diced
  • ¼ cup of shallots, diced
  • ¼ cup of green onions, diced
  • 2 cups of flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp sugar
  • ½ cup of butter, grated or cut into small cubes
  • ¼ cup of cheddar cheese, shredded
  • ¾ cup of buttermilk
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
Procedures:
    1. Sauté shallot, green onion, and bacon together, set aside to cool while preparing the dough
    2. Mix the dry ingredients together and then add in grated butter/ butter cubes. If butter is grated, the butter is easier to incorporate into the flour but if butter is cubed, may need a hand pastry blender.
    3. Add in buttermilk, cheese, and bacon mix into the dough batter. Mix together and knead dough.
    4. Flatten or roll out dough to about ½ inch thick. Cut out biscuit using biscuit cutter (or a sturdy cookie cutter will work too)
    5. Bake in oven for approx 15 minutes at 400 degrees

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Spinach, Mushroom, and Smoked Gouda Quiche!

My parents just came back from their trip and one of the first things my mom came to show me was the brand new Coach bag she had bought while she was down in Houston visiting friends... and my only thought was... "really....?" and rolled my eyes. She seemed quite happy with it where as I find it a waste of money. Clearly this girly trait did not get passed on. I didn't give her that much grief considering she never had the opportunity to own anything that expensive or nice and always having to think of us first. I suppose if that makes her happy, she is entitled to enjoy what she thinks is luxury...though if you ask me, I'd rather spend it on something more practical like new kitchen/bake ware or clothes or food!

Is it odd that I just don't care for expensive purses, shoes, or jewelry?? Personally speaking, I just don't understand... is the VERY expensive purse/shoes/piece of jewelry going to bring you magical powers? Is it going to make you a better person? It's just an object with very little use. Don't get me wrong I still get all stupid silly when I see pretty shiny things but I can never justify ever buying any of those things when they are hundreds of dollars, what's the point!? Really you're paying 80% to the brand. Who cares "who" I'm carrying/wearing...it's not like "who" would appreciate my support. I don't ever see "who" personally sending out "thank you" cards...

Or maybe I'm just not meant for those things...I find no true value in them and I guess if I don't see the value why would I pursue to spend that much on it. My values lie in practicality and usefulness and with people, honesty and loyalty. Purses, shoes, and jewelries are nice but there's really no need to go beyond $20 for the most part. I rather spend my hundreds on a new camera attachment or kitchen ware or a brand new dining room set! All those things, useful! A thousand dollar purse...NOT. Can you eat out of it? No. Can you sleep on it? No. Will it cook your food? No. Will it make your tummy full and content? No.

All this ranting aside, it's not like I haven't gone down the route of buying pretty bags, shoes, and jewelry for the fact that I can finally afford things but in the end, I default back to my favorite pair of sneakers, ratty old bag, and I don't even bother with jewelry most of the time because I'm so lazy...I think as logic sets in, that impulsive part dies. So anyways, I guess what I'm trying to say is, flattery through expensive things will get you nowhere in my book. Thoughtful gestures are thousands times more priceless and practical tools/supplies are thousand times more useful. Spend wisely or if you have too much money...donating is always an option! 

Now that I've probably managed to start a controversy of some sort, here is the practical part of my post, food! Spinach, Mushroom, and Smoked Gouda Quiche! Tasty as it sounds. I thought about putting bacon in but of course, I left that at the store...but the smokey flavor from the Gouda managed to do the same trick minus the meat. Crisis adverted. Though bacon still sounds good. I'm not a huge bacon fanatic but now and then I do enjoy its presence. 



Adapted from Cooking Light: Spinach Green Onion Smoked Gouda Quiche
Ingredients:
Crust:
  • 1 1/3 cup regular oats
  • 2 tablespoons butter close to room temperature
  • 3 tablespoons cold water
Fillings:
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup thinly sliced green onions 
  • 3 cups fresh baby spinach
  • 1 cup mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 cup 1% low-fat milk
  • 3/4 cup (3 ounces) grated smoked Gouda cheese
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • Dash of grated nutmeg
  • 3 large eggs

Procedures:
Crust:
To prepare crust, combine oats and oat bran; cut in butter with a pastry blender or 2 knives until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add water; stir just until moist. Press mixture gently into baking pan, bake at 375° for 7 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.
Filling:
  1. To prepare filling, heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and mushrooms; sauté 5 minutes or until tender. Add spinach; sauté 2 minutes.
  2. Combine 1 cup milk and remaining ingredients in a bowl; stir well with a whisk. Stir in spinach mixture. Pour filling into crust. Bake at 350° for 35 minutes. Cut into 10 wedges.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Creamy Lemon-Mango Oats Bars!



Sometimes it’s happier to give than to receive. You’d think I’m just saying it because others have said it but it’s true.

The other day on my way into a Safeway store, there was a teenager (I’m so tempted to say kid but that’ll just make me sound really old) who stood outside by the door and at quick glance I wasn’t sure if he was begging for money or trying to sell something… then I noticed he had some candy packs laid out and inside a storage container, so he was selling (though poorly displayed, but he’s a guy after all). I was just about to brush him off when he asked if I was interested in buying some candy or donate to help him raise money for his basketball team…that’s when I had the mini flashback…

Years ago, when I was in high school, I was in the exact position trying to raise money for various clubs and teams. We were given our own share of Costco candies that we’d carry around with us all day trying to sell it to anyone who’d buy so that we can raise money to either help with people that needed money to take AP tests or help with sports uniforms, etc. I remember being super excited and happy whenever someone would have the kind heart to help the cause and buy candies from me, even a dollar made my day.

…then I realized, now I can be that person, the one who can make someone else’s day. Suddenly a very soft spot grew and I didn’t even care what he was selling. So I asked him how much were the candies and he said $5 for a pack. The frugal part of me, for a split second, thought “I can get those for a buck!” but reached for my wallet regardless and looked inside, all I had were $20 bills, another split second, contemplated asking for change and then realized how ridiculous that sounded. Internal turmoil, clearly somewhere in there I’m a complete jerk but luckily that part only surfaces for split seconds. Finally I decided to hand him a $20 and told him to keep the candies. He was pretty shocked and said thank you and I smiled and said you’re welcome! He was still there when I was done grocery shopping and as I passed him again, he said thanks again and wished me a good night. That made me happy, a simple thanks and knowing I did something to help.

If that was me back then, and someone handed me a $20 and told me to keep whatever I was selling, I would’ve loved them forever…well not forever but I’d be so grateful. Definitely would’ve made my day, so hopefully my $20 can make his day. It’s nice to give back especially when you know first hand how it feels to be on the other side. Regardless, everyone should find it in the goodness of their heart to help out whether it’s donating money or helping someone cross the street, your actions though small to you may mean the world to them, so help out when you can! Your kindness may inspire others around you to be kind as well. The world can always use a little more kindness.

So after my elaborate story of life lessons, here is my recipe with another twist to the ever so popular creamy lemon oats bars I've made in the past. Mangoes were on sale and so being a girl with the "that's such a steal" mentality, I figured I'd buy and figure out what to do with them later... as it turns out, putting them in my lemon bars is perfect.



Makes 9-12 bars
Ingredients:
  • 14 oz condense milk
  • ¼ cup lemon juice 
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • 1 ¼ cup flour
  • 1 cup old fashion oats
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ½ cup unsalted butter (room temperature)
  • 1 mango, cut into chunks

Procedures:
    1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees
    2. Mix condense milk, lemon, and lemon zest until thickens, set aside
    3. Mix dry ingredients and butter until crumbly and press approx ½ of that mixture into 9”x 9” pan and bake for 10 minutes
    4. Remove from oven, spread the mango chunks over crust, and then lightly spread the creamy lemon mixture on. Sprinkle remaining crumble on top. Press the crumble gently.
    5. Return to oven and bake for 20 minutes


 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Pistachio Almond Crusted Chicken!

Is it really mid April? It feels like I haven't been in the kitchen forever! Well I guess it was worth it though; two weekends ago I went down to LA/San Diego and instead of making loads of food, someone else was doing the work and I was just consuming loads of it. I felt bad but at the same time, not really! It was time to enjoy. That's what vacation is, fill your eyes and ears with wonders and your tummy with goodness and boy was it wonderfully good, all of it! 

I love my museums, I love my food, and I love to randomly walk around and we did just that! My HS friend and I went down to visit his sister and our HS friend. I'd rather not count the years since HS but I can't believe it's been a decade since I've known them! Seems like yesterday we were all gathered at the quads in our HS courtyard having lunch and dreaming about life.... good times... It's okay though, we may be older but we're still the same silly teens we once were on the inside!

It was a good thing I lined up back to back hikes towards the end of my days off because I was definitely eating my way through the cities!

Side note: Torrey Pines in San Diego, absolutely gorgeous, if you ever get a chance, that should definitely be a place to hike through! Hike to the beach, can't get any better than that! 

Now, after a week of eating salads in hopes of restoring balance, I'm back in the kitchen! I think I've emphasized in the past how much I enjoy the cooking show America's Test Kitchen, well I'm going to rave again, they are awesome! I wanted to try this recipe out as soon as I finished watching the segment. They make everything look so easy. Granted they took about 15 minutes to finish the whole dish where as in reality its close to an hour but still, for some of the dishes they prepare, you'd think it'd take longer. 

Nut crusted chicken cutlets with thyme and lemon! Yum right? Oh did I mention it was baked?? You would've never known, well at least I didn't but as soon as I found out it was baked, I fell in love with the recipe. Of course like everything I play with, I've always got to put in my own touches. Minor tweaks really: I added pistachios (because it just sounds delicious, forget even tasting it) and while I was prepping I couldn't bring myself to use 1/2 stick of butter so I cut that down to 1/4 and it works! 

I don't know what their version tasted like, but my pistachio almond crusted chicken cutlets are mouth watering! It looked good before it even went in the oven! The aromas from the nuts and shallots were enhanced ten fold after browning with a little bit of butter. Panko flakes provided an extra crisp to the outer coating giving it a crispy texture you'd get if you fried the chicken. Crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside. Definitely a crowd pleaser! Then there are other subtle flavor enhancers like Cayenne pepper, Dijon mustard, and thyme that brings it all together. I can't rave enough about this dish, you have to try! 



Adapted from America's Test Kitchen episode: Shake and Bake Reinvented: Nut-CrustedChicken Cutlets with Lemon and Thyme

Printable version here


Serves 4
Ingredients
  • 4-5 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (6 to 8 ounces each), trimmed of excess fat
  • Kosher salt
  • ½ cup roughly chopped almonds
  • ½ cup roughly chopped pistachios
  • 2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 2 pieces
  • 1 medium shallot, minced (about 3 tablespoons)
  • 1 cup panko (Japanese-style bread crumbs)
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ½ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Using fork, poke thickest half of each breast 5 to 6 times. Place on wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet and evenly sprinkle each breast with 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (or 1/4 teaspoon table salt). Refrigerate, uncovered, while preparing coating.
  3. Process nuts in food processor until they resemble coarse meal, about 20 one-second pulses
  4. Heat butter in 12-inch skillet over medium heat; cook, swirling pan constantly, until butter turns golden brown and has nutty aroma, 4 to 5 minutes. Add shallot and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (or 1/4 teaspoon table salt); cook, stirring constantly, until just beginning to brown, about 2 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low, add panko and ground nuts; cook, stirring frequently, until golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer panko mixture to shallow dish or pie plate and stir in thyme and cayenne.
  5. Lightly beat eggs, mustard and black pepper together in second shallow dish or pie plate.
  6. Place flour in third shallow dish or pie plate.
  7. Pat chicken dry with paper towels. Working with 1 piece at a time, dredge chicken breast in flour, shaking off excess, then coat with egg mixture, allowing excess to drip off. Coat all sides of chicken with panko mixture, pressing gently so that crumbs adhere. Transfer breaded chicken to clean wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet and repeat with remaining chicken.
  8. Bake until instant-read thermometer inserted into thickest part of chicken registers 160 degrees, 20 to 25 minutes. Let rest 5 minutes before serving.
 

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Creamy Spinach Fennel Soup



Truly there must be a problem when I go to the supermarket even when I don’t absolutely need to…okay well I was getting one thing that was pretty important, since it was for breakfast, and breakfast being the most important meal of the day therefore making my trip important. Plus it was close to the gym. Like the logic? Good. I’m sticking to it.



Whilst I headed towards the bread section to pick up a pack of crumpets (available at Trader Joe's) – bread that looks like a biscuit and tastes like pancakes, what!?! I know! AND has no fat and low in calories, food from the gods to a carb lover like me - of course, I chose the long route. Next thing you know my eyes started to wander around, a dangerous habit I really should take care of, and landed on fennel bulbs. Well I’ve always heard of people using fennels in soups and such, and since I was planning on making soup, I thought this would be a great time to try it out. See that? Justification for buying stuff I don’t absolutely need. Regardless, when it was time to go before I did anymore damage, 2 fennel bulbs left with me.


Cooking with fennel is a first for me; I have these bulbous looking things, and have no idea how to handle them. I am so glad I live in a time period where if you don’t know something, someone else who does is just a mouse click away. You Tube to the rescue! One video later, I realized how easy it was to cut it. Treat it like an onion except make sure you core the center out and cut off the stalks before anything else. Then chop like you would an onion, simple (thank goodness). I also didn’t know what a fennel smelled or tasted like, just figured if it’s that popular with people then it must be good. I’m a brave soul aren’t I? Going in blind. Well luckily it’s not horrible but it’s not my favorite either. Fresh fennel reminded me of black licorice thanks to its anise aroma…I wish I knew that before buying. Note I hate the smell of black licorice which made me hate the black marker back in the days when we use to use those scented markers to color with in elementary school. Why would anyone think that a kid wants to smell that!? Black couldn’t smell like dark chocolate and brown to smell like coffee?? Nope, black licorice, yuck. Lucky here the smell is mild but still distinct, I’d know that smell anywhere. I should’ve known that it was trouble when it’s shaped like celery (not a fan of celery either, the only time it’s acceptable is when it’s in a soup stock).



Well since I got myself into this mess, I’m going to tread forward, hoping that like celery it’ll do well in a soup. Ah and it did! Once it’s been incorporated into the soup, it was beautiful. Maybe it’s the concentrated anise aroma I don’t like, too much of a good thing equals bad or too much bad equal worst? Who knows…



Once again with nutrition in mind, I decided I wanted to make this a potato base soup for its creaminess and in addition to the fennel, I wanted more, so I added spinach. Clearly my go-to vegetable when I want more nutrients and why not?! Can never go wrong there!



Creamy Spinach Fennel Soup


Makes 3-4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 fennel bulb, chopped
  • 1 cup fresh spinach
  • 1-2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large white onion, chopped ¼” pieces
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 1- 2 large potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 cup milk
  • salt
  • ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream or crème fraiche (optional, I sometimes put this in my creamy soups but omitted it for this particular recipe however the option is here)

Procedures:

    1. In a medium (4-qt.) soup pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add the onion and fennel to cook, stirring frequently, until lightly brown, about 5 min. Scoop out half of the fennel onion mix and set aside. Add the broth and potato, partially cover, and simmer over medium-low heat for 20 min.
    2. Take out about ½ the amount of potatoes and set aside
    3. In a food processor or in small batches in a blender, purée the mixture with fresh spinach and return it to the pot.
    4. Add the milk, reserved potatoes, and reserved fennel onion mix; bring to a simmer and cook for 10-15 min
    5. Remove from heat, stir in the cream, taste, and season with salt and pepper.
    6. Serve in warm bowls garnished with cream if desired.