Category Archives: Appetizers

Dried Fruit and Seed Crackers

These crackers could be healthy. I mean, they are  if you eat just a few. The problem is that they are just epically good and nearly impossible to stop eating!

The recipe (from Honeycomb) is a long list of good-for-you things like dried fruit, seeds and nuts. Also, it’s lightening quick to put together (though a bit time consuming to freeze and bake twice). I especially like the freezing stage of the process. After baking, you freeze it and then once solid, slice and bake. So brilliant; I would totally make a few loaves at once, freeze them and then slice off only what I need.

I’ve made this a few times and each time I throw in a different combination of fruit and nuts, i.e., whatever I have in my cupboard. This time I went with dried banana chips (homemade from here), raisins, almonds, flax and sesame seeds. Previously, I’ve used coconut flakes, walnuts, cranberries and sesame. Oh, and I never put in the rosemary. I think it would taste nice, but I keep forgetting to pick it up from the store. Next time, I guess!

Just a few tips:

-No buttermilk? Make your own. 1 cup milk plus 4 1/2 tsp lemon juice will give you a little over 1 cup. The full recipe calls for 2.

-Freezing into a completely frozen loaf is hard. Let it thaw ca. 5 minutes. Just don’t leave it out too long–it won’t slice well if it’s too soft.

-Bake time depends on how thin you slice. Mine are always on the thin side, so I usually bake 10-12 minutes on each side.

Here’s the link to the recipe. Enjoy!

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Photo Teaser: Jiauzi (Chinese Dumplings)

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Cooking with my mom in Portland today. She taught me how to make “jiauzi” or Chinese style gyoza. Yum!

The dough was made by hand. And the filling is a combination of shrimp, sole, green onion and chives.

Recipe to come.

The Search for Rennet

At last, at last, I’ve finally found it: rennet!

Believe me when I say I have been looking eeeeeverywhere for this elusive bacteria. It is in fact the final ingredient I need to make real cheese. I picked up the citric acid, another vital ingredient, at Parkside Farmers Market for like $2 and then will stop by Rainbow Grocery tomorrow to buy the liquid rennet ($7.99). I gave them a call today; apparently you have to ask them at the cheese counter for it: “We don’t have it lying around on the shelves,” I was told. Okay, so what I’ve actually found is vegetable rennet, which is kind of a misnomer considering that rennet specifically refers to the bacteria found in cow stomach. In any case, I’ve checked it out–veggie rennet works for cheese-making too!

Yes, I realize I could’ve bought bacteria online. But I don’t want to. They charge like $25 for a kit, which I don’t need. Cheese is milk and bacteria—I refuse to pay an arm and a leg, plus shipping and handling, for bacteria.

Oh my goodness, I don’t know how long I’ve been trying to make real cheese. Years. Since college. It’s like making a dream into actual reality! So what’s on first on the agenda this week? Homemade mozzarella. Oh, the possibilities! What can’t you do with a ball of fresh mozzarella?

To be continued…

Gravlax: A Lesson in Home-Curing Salmon

Lox ‘n’ bagels is kind of special occasion food in my family. It’s my dad’s way of saying “I love you” to my mom: “Happy birthday, dear. I got you schmear.”

The parents were actually here visiting this weekend—not for any special reason (I did get a new job this week, which I’m totally over-the-moon stoked about, so I guess that IS something). So I thought their visit as good a reason as any to try my hand at home-curing fish.

Anyway, I always thought there was some complex and almost magical process behind the making of lox. Ha—there isn’t! Impressive home gourmet doesn’t get any simpler than this: mix, spread, wrap and refrigerate.

The original recipe from Apples and Butter used a slightly different herb rub—I decided to add grated lemon zest to mine. It also says to refrigerate for 24 hours; I refrigerated for 36 for good measure and extra flavor.

If you’re wondering about whether to use fresh or previously frozen fish, I’d normally say fresh is always preferable. After doing a little online research on the subject, however, it looks like the frozen kind would work too. Actually, there was some discussion about freezing the fish in order to kill bacteria, so maybe previously frozen isn’t such a bad idea. In any case, I went with fresh; it looked prettier at the store.

Seriously incredible. I had my dad try it and he thought it was store-bought!! But way better! Can’t wait to try this out with other fish. In my family, we always serve this on bagels (or toast or crepe) smeared with cream cheese and topped with sliced avocado and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. It’s divine.

Enjoy!

Gravlax (adapted from Apples and Butter)

printable recipe

INGREDIENTS

1 lb. fillet salmon, skin removed

1/4 cup kosher salt

1 tsp freshly ground pepper

1 tbsp sugar

zest of 1 organic lemon, grated

1/2 bunch dill, including stems, finely chopped

1 tsp water

METHOD

  1. Coat salmon in chopped dill and lemon zest. Stir together salt, pepper, sugar and water.
  2. Place half the salt mixture on a piece of plastic wrap, place the salmon on top of the salt and coat the top and sides of the salmon with the remaining salt mixture.
  3. Wrap tightly in the plastic wrap and place in a rimmed baking dish (the salmon will give off a good amount of liquid). Place another dish on top of the salmon and weigh down with a few cans of food. Refrigerate for 24 hours.
  4. Remove from the plastic wrap and wipe off the salt. Slice thinly and serve (in a salad or, as we do in my family, on a bagel, toast or crepe smeared with cream cheese, topped with avocado and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice).

Homemade Ricotta Cheese: It Can Be Done! (Even in the Microwave)

Whole Foods makes me mad sometimes. How do they get away with charging people $5.99 for 16 oz of ricotta cheese? It’s just milk heated with a little vinegar. Sheesh! Well, I can do that.

So I did. And it’s so simple! I googled around for recipes for a few minutes until coming across this article and recipe from Serious Eats, which claim you can make homemade ricotta cheese in 5 minutes! I liked this recipe in particular because, first of all, it only takes 5 minutes; second, it didn’t require me to buy any extras like buttermilk, cheesecloth and/or special strainers; and lastly, it has microwave directions! Cheese-making in the microwave? Crazy, I know. But it actually worked!

I used whole milk this time, but I suppose you could use any kind of cow or goat milk. Non-dairy wouldn’t work, however; it has something to do with the whey that comes from animal milk, which reacts when combined with an acidic substance like vinegar or lemon juice. On that note, regarding the acid to add, I saw recipes, which called for buttermilk, lemon and distilled white vinegar. I would have used distilled white or lemon, but all I have here at home is apple cider vinegar. Guess what, it turned out fine. The recipe also says to microwave from 2 to 4 minutes; I needed the full 4, but it will depend on your microwave. You’ll know when it’s done because the milk will have completely curdled.

One more thing, the article discusses drainage time and how long you want to allow the cheese to strain before using it. It depends on what you want to do with the cheese. If you want to eat it right away, i.e. as a dessert or appetizer spread, then 5 minutes will suffice. For use as a filling, like in ravioli or manicotti, then 15-20 minutes. And for baking, like for use in pastries or pancakes, it’s best to strain for at least 2 hours or even overnight. I let mine sit overnight since I plan on baking with it. (I’m planning on making Torta della Nonna, Italian Grandmother’s Ricotta Tart, with it today.)

Doesn’t the picture LOOK like ricotta? It tastes and feels like it too! It does have a slight vinegary tang to it, but I don’t think it will be noticeable once baked. If I wasn’t going to bake with it, I think I’d pour some olive oil over the top, sprinkle over some sea salt and fresh ground black pepper and then slather it over toasted baguette slices. Yum!

Enjoy!

Homemade Ricotta Cheese (recipe from Serious Eats)

printable recipe

Recipe makes 1/2 cup (and  is easily doubled)

INGREDIENTS

2 cups whole milk

1/4 tsp table salt

2 tbsp distilled white vinegar or lemon juice (I used apple cider vinegar because that’s all I had)

METHOD

  1. Line colander with four layers of cheesecloth or 2 layers of food-safe paper towels and set over large bowl. Combine milk, salt, and vinegar or lemon juice in microwave-safe glass 1-quart liquid measure. Microwave on high heat until lightly bubbling around edges, 2 to 4 minutes (milk should register about 165°F on an instant-read thermometer). Remove from microwave, and stir gently for 5 seconds. Milk should separate into solid white curds and translucent liquid whey. If not, microwave for 30 seconds longer. Repeat until fully separated.
  2. Using slotted spoon or wire skimmer, transfer curds to prepared colander, cover exposed top with plastic wrap, and allow to drain until desired texture is reached. Store in covered container in refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Peruvian Potato and Tuna Salad Rolls (Rollos de Causa Rellenos con Atún)

Causa is Peru’s version of potato salad and it’s also one of my favorites. It seems unfair to compare it to the yellow, mayo-laden, eggy stuff we have here in the US. Causa is actually more like a cold gratin with layers of creamy pureed potatoes, tuna (or chicken or crab), avocado and a garnish of tart olives and hard-boiled eggs.

The recipe I found in a newspaper article from The Olympian is excellent and seems pretty close to authentic (at least to me). Especially helpful is the explanation on how to make aji amarillo (yellow Peruvian chile) paste with dried chilies. You can find a lot of “exotic” ingredients in Portland, but it’s still rather limited compared to the selection available in bigger cities. Here in San Francisco, I can buy frozen aji amarillos, but in Portland, I only found dried, which are available at Whole Foods. In any case, the recipe lists the chilies as optional, but I wouldn’t dream of leaving them out; they’re used a lot in Peruvian cooking and also provide a very particular spice, color and heat to the food.

In making this, I should have paid better attention to the ingredients list. First, I didn’t use Yukon gold potatoes, which are a must because of the characteristic yellow color and texture they give. I used regular baking potatoes, which I found too starchy and also a lot less pretty. Also, I forgot to garnish the top with olives and boil eggs; instead I used only chopped parsley.  Another thing I did differently, on purpose, is that I didn’t make mine in gratin form, but rather made mine maki-sushi style, i.e. rolled. I’ve seen it served both ways and since there was already so much food, I think the smaller pieces fit better.

I’ll definitely be making Causa again—it’s simple, comfort kind of food, which I love, but can be dressed up to be super elegant too.

Enjoy!

Rollos de Causa Rellenos con Atún (adapted from an article found in The Olympian)

printable recipe

INGREDIENTS

Potato Paste

1 1/2 lbs Yukon gold potatoes (ca. 8-10), washed and scrubbed, but not peeled

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1/4 cup lime juice, or more if necessary

1 tbsp aji amarillo paste, optional

salt to taste

Filling

2 cans tuna, drained (I used white tuna in water)

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1 tbsp chives, finely chopped

1 tbsp parsley, finely chopped

1 tbsp red bell pepper, finely chopped (optional)

1/4 cup frozen corn, peas and carrots mix, thawed and drained

salt and pepper to taste

2 medium avocados, peeled and sliced thinly lengthwise

Garnish

3 hard boiled eggs, cut into wedges or sliced into rounds

6 kalamata olives

METHOD

For the Potato Paste

  1. Cook potatoes until tender. Peel when still warm, then put through a ricer. Mix riced potatoes with oil, salt and aji amarillo. Add lime juice and stir the mix until the dough is soft and well blended. Refrigerate at least 1 hour.

For the Filling

  1. Add mayonnaise, thawed vegetables, chives, cilantro, salt and pepper. Mix well and add salt if necessary.

For Assembly

  1. Maki-sushi style: Line a bamboo maki mat with plastic wrap. Spread a portion of the potato paste to the edges of the mat.
  2. Then, spread filling over the potato paste, leaving 1/4 inch space at each edge. Distribute evenly 1/4 of the avocado slices on top.
  3. Roll, pulling out the plastic as you go and wrapping it around the roll to finish. Repeat for remaining paste and filling. Place wrapped rolls on a platter and refrigerate. When ready to serve, unwrap and place back on platter. Slice into 1 1/2 inch pieces, sprinkle chopped parsley on top and serve.
  4. Traditional Squares: use a square baking pan, lightly oiled. Spread half of the potato paste in it, then spread the chicken filling. On top of the chicken filling spread the other half of the potato paste. Cover the baking pan and keep in the refrigerator until serving. Causa is a cold dish. When ready to serve, cut the causa into squares. With the help of a spatula, transfer each piece to a salad plate. Once on the plate, use the slices of avocado, egg and olives to decorate each piece. Each piece should have an olive and the same number of egg wedges and slices of avocado. (I didn’t add the olives or eggs; just topped mine with more chopped parsley)

Hint: You can make your own aji amarillo (yellow Peruvian chile pepper) paste with one pound of fresh aji amarillo and 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil. Place aji in a saucepan with water and boil for 5 minutes. Change the water and repeat procedure twice. Cut, seed and devein ajies. You can peel some ajies to reduce spiciness. Blend with oil until you get a creamy paste.

As an alternative to fresh aji amarillo, you can use dried chilli-peppers (known as dried aji mirasol), which are easier to find outside of Peru. The procedure is similar to the fresh ajíes, just add some water when blending until you get the creamy paste.

Taste Testing

My friend Elizabeth is a brilliant chef in the making. And as it is her dream to one day open her own Peruvian restaurant, she’s decided to hold monthly dinners to test-run dishes and drinks for friends. Taste testing? I’m happy to lend my taste-buds to the cause! (^_^)

Last week was the first of the dinners. My favorite (surprise, surprise) was the lucuma cheesecake. Elizabeth gave me the recipe, which I hope to try soon (lucuma’s already in the freezer 😛 )!

The Menu


Steamed Mussles with Pico de Gallo


Fried Potato Croquette Filled with Sweet Ground Beef and

Topped with an Onion Salsa and Fresh Yellow Chili Sauce

Peruvian-style Creamy Seafood Chowder

Lucuma Cheesecake Topped with Bittersweet Chocolate Sauce and Served with Lucuma Ice Cream


Tomato-Basil Focaccia for Fleet Week

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Admittedly, focaccia was perhaps a bit much for a rooftop Fleet Week party. Especially since it turned to be much more kegger than garden party. I don’t really care, though. If I’m honest, the majority of my baking and cooking endeavors stem not from an abundantly generous nature but rather from a secretly egotistical one.

It’s all for the pictures and for the blog!

Don’t get me wrong, I really do enjoy baking and cooking for others. Like for my mom, it’s a way for me to express my love, a not all-too-easy feat for someone as shy as me! (^_^) Also, if I weren’t actually a chubby girl trapped in this little body (I’m serious—she wants out), I’d probably be able to enjoy a lot more of what I make.

I think I may have attempted a simple rosemary focaccia in the past, but it totally paled in comparison to this version from Jamie Oliver (Oliver again?!?! Majorly crushing on the Naked Chef! <3)

Again, easy-to-follow instructions, short list of colorful, bright ingredients from Jamie. And as there was kneading and proving involved, I was a happy girl!

All you really need to concern yourself with is getting the dough right. Once you have that, you’re free to get as topping-happy as you like. For my first try, I added the red onions and Asiago for more color and flavor. Corn, maybe another cheese variety like Gorgonzola and arugula instead of basil would be pretty stellar too.

I heart Jamie.

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Tomato-Basil Focaccia (recipe adapted from Jamie Oliver’s Jamie’s Kitchen. Original available here.)

Makes 1 large focaccia or 2 smaller loaves

INGREDIENTS

Basic Bread Recipe

3 x 7g sachets dried yeast

30 g / 1 oz honey or sugar

625 ml / just over 1 pint tepid water

1 kg strong bread flour, plus extra for dusting

30 g / 1 oz salt

Toppings

600 g cherry tomatoes (I bought the multi-colored ones from Trader Joes, which pretty sweet.)

1/2 red onion, sliced thinly

10 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil (guesstimated here)

flour for dusting

1 huge handful fresh basil, leaves picked

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

asiago cheese, crumbled

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Prepare the dough: Dissolve the yeast and honey (or sugar) in half the tepid water.
  2. On a clean surface or in a large bowl, make a pile of the flour and salt. Make a well in the center and pour in all the dissolved yeast mixture. With 4 fingers of one hand, make circular movements from the center moving outwards, slowly bringing in more and more of the flour until all the yeast mixture is soaked up. Then pour the other half of the tepid water into the center and gradually incorporate all the flour to make a moist dough. (Certain flours may need a little more water, so don’t be afraid to adjust quantities.)
  3. Knead the dough for about 5 minutes—this develops the gluten and the structure of the dough. If any of the dough sticks to your hands, just rub them together with a little flour.
  4. Flour both your hands well and lightly flour the top of the dough. Make it into a roundish shape and place it on a baking tray or in a large mixing bowl. Score it deeply with a knife, allowing it to relax and prove with ease until it’s doubled in size. Ideally, you want a warm, moist, draught-free place for the quickest prove, for example near a warm cooker or in the airing cupboard (I always put mine in the microwave), and you could cover it with clingfilm if you want to speed things up. (I always do.) This proving process improves the flavor and texture of the dough and should take around 40 minutes, depending on the conditions.
  5. While the dough is proving, prick your tomatoes with a knife and drop them into boiling water for around 30 seconds. Drain, cool them under cold water, and remove the skins, keeping them whole if possible—as they’re nice and small.
  6. Take your proved dough and bash the air out, then put it on a floured surface and roll it out about 1-inch (2.5 cm) thick.
  7. Transfer the dough to a floured baking tray and push the dough to fill the tray completely. Distribute the tomatoes, basil leaves and sliced red onion evenly over the top. Pour the olive oil over everything.
  8. Push your fingers to the bottom of the tray across the whole dough, using them like a poker, pushing them through the dough and then flattening them out when you hit the tin. (Feels sooo good :P) This gives the bread its classic shape and makes indentations so you get little pools of oil when it’s cooking. Leave to prove until it has doubled in size again.
  9. Pre-heat the oven to 425 deg. F (220 deg. C).
  10. Once doubled, sprinkle the salt, pepper and crumbled asiago over the top. Place the tray in the oven and bake for around 20 minutes (Mine needed ca. 25 min), until the bread is crisp and golden on top and soft in the middle.
  11. Remove bread from the oven. Drizzle with more extra virgin olive oil (I didn’t do this).

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Feta Yogurt Dip

This is one of my own recipes. It’s easy, quick and so versatile. It was actually inspired by the dinner I made for my husband and my 1-year engagement anniversary. I set up this whole indoor-picnic on our living room floor–picnic blanket, pillows, sparkling moscato (my favorite!), and candlelight!

I served this with fresh baked ciabatta bread. It is also really good as an accompaniment to greek kefteh meatballs or steak. 

Makes 1 cup

Feta Yogurt Dip

Ingredients

2 oz feta cheese, crumbled

2 cups plain yogurt

1/2 clove garlic, grated very finely

zest and juice of 1/2 a lemon

salt and pepper, to taste

paprika, to taste

 

Directions

1. With a fine-mesh strainer (or cheesecloth or even paper towel), strain the yogurt for at least 30 minutes.

2. In a medium-sized bowl, mash the feta with a fork well.

3. Add the remaining ingredients and yogurt, mixing well. Chill and serve.