Saturday, January 28, 2017

Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto!

It's been raining like cats and dogs these days and while its much needed rain, it does make for some gloomy, uneventful days stuck at home. Though I shouldn't be complaining too loudly since other folks have to drive in that crazy stuff to get to and from work, be safe out there! The big storms did some damage... including this one ...  I'm sadden that I will not be able to see it in all its glory. Its a good thing we're getting a break from the rain.  

As for me, the first and only sunny day we got last week, the caveman and I took the doggies and ventured into Monterey for some much needed outing time! After our stroll, we headed straight for one of our favs: Alvarado Street Brewery & Grill . **For the longest time we never realized it was on the actual street Alvarado even though we park there ALL THE TIME and the name couldn't be any more obvious! Anyways, we ordered a flatbread in which they accidentally sent us the wrong one and because we were too busy devouring shamelessly, we didn't even realize it wasn't what we ordered but because we already ate the wrong one, we ended up with 2...  we're such pigs :P and we also had risotto - the inspiration for this recipe because it was so very delicious!  

It's been a while since I've made risotto, the last time I remembered it being a pain but that was years ago and I'm a little bit more well versed in the kitchen now. I know the traditional risotto calls for arborio rice, but technically most rices will work. Depending on my mood, sometimes I'm fine with doing away with the traditional and go with whichever way is the fastest, most convenient, and practical. Okay, I'm too lazy and its too wet for me to go to the store, whatever... so here's what I did: I used Calrose rice and I didn't bother pre-simmering the broth (as most recipes suggests), I poured it straight out of the can.  At the end of the day, the world did not end and I think it came out better than my previous round of risotto :). The Parmesan cheese probably helped too.

Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto
adapted from COOKIE+kate
  • 2 medium sized shallots, about 1 cup, diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 cups of vegetable broth (*or 4 cups for vegetarian )
  • 2 cups of chicken broth (**because I only had 1 can of vegetable broth...)
  • 1 whole butternut squash, about 2 lbs, cubed (**I bought mine at Costco, pre-cubed)
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan (or the shredded stuff works too, it all melts)
  • 1/2 cup dry vermouth (or dry white wine)
  • 3 tbsp of butter
  • 1 1/2 cup of rice (**arborio rice or any short grain will work, I had Calrose)
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp chili pepper flakes (optional)  
  • 2-3 tbsp of dried (or fresh) sage
  • olive oil
  • salt and ground black pepper to taste
  1. Roast butternut squash: in a sheet pan lined with parchment paper, lightly coat butternut squash with olive oil and sprinkle salt and pepper. Bake in oven for about 50-60 minutes at 375F (until tender and caramelized). Flip/check halfway for better results.
  2. In a separate pan: heat olive oil (1-2 tbsp) and add in garlic and shallots, lightly sauté for 30 seconds. Add in rice and cook for about 3-4 minutes more or until it’s slightly translucent. 
  3. Add in dry vermouth, stirring every once in a while until all the liquid has been absorbed. Then start adding in the chicken & veggie stock one cup at a time and each time stirring and waiting until the liquid is fully absorbed before adding in the next cup, do this for 3 cups. Rice should start to look tender by the end of the 3rd cup, add more broth if rice is still very hard.
  4. Along with the final cup of broth also add in butternut squash, Parmesan, butter, and spices. Stir vigorously to give everything a good mix. Cook until broth is fully absorbed and risotto is thick and creamy. 

Friday, January 20, 2017

2000 Sterling Vineyard Winery Lake Merlot

Sterling Vineyards Merlot
Carneros, Napa Valley, CA
Winery Lake Vineyard, single vineyard lot Merlot

Price $40-50
Vintage  2000
Alcohol  13.0%
Clarity hazy - light sediment
Intensity medium  
Color tawney
Nose/Palate:  clean, dry, low acid, med/low tannin, medium body, long finish. Dried cherries, dried blueberries, heavy toasted oak (smokey and leather), herbal, hint of chocolate, sweet spice (cloves).
Personal rating  7 or 8  out of 10

Additional comments:  Dry cherries linger in the finish. 16 years of age might be past its prime in aging, very little tannins left and while the wine is still fairly decent, it's lost some of the delicate merlot characteristics it could've had. A hint of bitterness as well.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Ginger Milk Pudding!

I've always thought Ginger Milk Pudding (Ginger Milk Curd or 薑汁撞奶) was a well known Chinese dessert... well it is somewhat but I didn't realize it originated in Guangzhou, China where my family lives and that I just so happened to be lucky enough to have had it growing up where people from all over the country come to experience! I guess when my aunt said the place we went to was famous... she wasn't kidding! 

So what is Ginger Milk Pudding (or milk curd) , besides being one of the best and healthiest desserts you can ever come across? Its 3 ingredients and is simple and clean as you can get: milk, ginger juice, and sugar (optional). You can say its magic because somehow when adding warm milk to fresh ginger juice you suddenly have pudding. OR you can say its food science at it's best (because I am a nerd at heart).

What makes this work:
  • Ginger juice contains an enzyme called protease which works to denature certain milk proteins making the milk water soluble (liquid) to water insoluble resulting in its solid form.
  • young gingers aren't ideal because it does not contain as much as enzymes and therefore will not have the successful effects mentioned above.
  • temperature: if the milk is too hot (above 70F) then you run into the risk of denaturing the protease from the ginger rendering it ineffective 
  • fresh ginger juice because the enzyme is unstable when extracted and therefore will not work if you try to make the juice ahead of time.
  • milk fat content also play a part, helping it to form its pudding-like state, its suggested that whole milk be used but I have not read why that is so... 
You can read even more in depth science HERE and HERE
In some of my readings, some people found it difficult to make but I don't think you should put too much thought into it. Follow the instructions and you shouldn't go wrong, most important factors: old ginger AND fresh squeeze ginger juice. The ORIGINAL way of making this dish is the use of yellow buffalo milk instead of cow milk but unforunately that is not something easily obtained in the states. Nonetheless, its still very tasty and a perfect dessert for a wintry day. 

Ginger Milk Pudding
from Kitchen Tigress
makes 2 servings
  • 360ml of whole milk
  • 40 ml of fresh ginger juice
  • 4 tbsp of sugar (more or less for your sweetness preference)
  1. Peel the ginger, chop it into small pieces, put into a food processor/blender and pulse a few times to make it slightly more fine
  2. Transfer into cheese cloth/ricer/ fine strainer to juice the ginger. Collect the juice and split into 2 bowl (about 20 ml/bowl)
  3. Over low/medium heat, heat milk to about 60F or until just steaming and remove from heat and stir it for about 15-30 seconds making sure its not too hot.
  4. Give the ginger juice a stir and then pour warm milk into the bowl right about the ginger juice (so it's nice and mixed as you pour into it). Repeat with second bowl. Let the milk/ginger mixture sit for about 5 minutes until the milk solidifies
  5. Enjoy warm or cooled.   

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Travel Gear: Carry-ons: What to Bring?

My motto for traveling is better prepared than sorry, so I always make myself a checklist of items to bring with my carry-on. After years of going back and forth on plane trips to visit family in China and traveling internationally, I've learned to bring certain essential items to make the trip as comfortable and easy as possible.

My first rule to traveling, expect the unexpected meaning if you're lucky, your flight leaves on time and you arrive at your destination after a good night's rest on the ride over. Most of the time though, we experience delays, long layovers, and arriving ill rested and hungry. While we can't prevent things out of our control like delays and long layovers, we can make it slightly more pleasant.  

  • passport/ID
  • copy of passport and ID: you never know, I had a friend who had her personal belongings stolen including her passport while overseas and it was quite painful getting a temporary one, so having a copy for emergencies might not be a bad idea. Keep it close but not the same spot as your actual passport.
  • e-tickets, other travel documents, emergency contact #s, etc
  • money: not all of it, just maybe a credit card and some cash to get by if needed  
  • snack bars/instant oatmeal: never be hungry no matter where you are, that's half the battle. There was one time I ended up in a 5 hour delay + 5 more hrs of flying and no food until we got onto the plane where they were charging $8 for a cup of noodles, what!??! Luckily I had a packet of instant oatmeal and asked for a cup of hot water for free instead.
  • cell phone/laptop/camera: anything that can break, probably best to lug these with you. Unfortunately these will be the heavy items
  • chargers/international converters: if you're going to bring your electronics, then you're going to need these
  • first aid kit: a mini one with some aspirin/Tylenol, cough drops, other medication if you need it, like motion sickness pills
  • refillable water bottle/bag: stay hydrated
  • travel pillow: they don't look like much but wow they do the job
  • packet of tissues/wet naps
  • lotion/chapstick: it's extremely dry up in the air
  • sleep mask: Seats are tight, the person next to you might not want to turn their lights off so you can sleep.
  • headphones: they can double as ear plugs, true story.
  • pen (and small notepad) 
  • a light sweater/jacket or scarf: airplanes can get cold 
  • a book/magazine: (more of a suggestion) something to pass the time because life is boring if you can't get wifi
A few more tips...and a link HERE

Generally I like to take a backpack (one that's light or this one) and a small travel purse for the essential items. When choosing the right bag, every compartment should have a zipper. Snap closure, buckle, magnet, etc are terrible options. If things can fall out when you turn the bag upside down, leave it at home. Nothing worst than losing your travel documents or other items when you're traveling or the potential of having them stolen. Always have your most important belongings closest to you.

Make sure to double check what is allow on your carry-on before taking it with you, unfortunately if its not allow, its not allowed and they will make you get rid of it...

Dress comfy. I read on one of those travel sites/blogs where they suggest wearing your bulkiest items with you so you have more room in your luggage... while that makes sense, I still say wear the most comfy clothes and shoes because airplanes are tiny and you don't need to lose even more space by sharing it with your bulky clothes. Plus they make you take off a bunch of stuff at security, you'll be there forever if you wear everything. Trick is to be quick and easy.