Fun twists on the classic mashed potatoes

I am really not a starch fan, because I always feel like being deprived of my chances to enjoy other foods as I get filled up so quickly on even a few bits of starchy food. But with some small twists, starchy foods can go from blandly filling to deliciously satisfactory. Here is on how to make mashed potatoes with some fun twists.

Ingredients: (yield 4 servings)
4-5 medium-large potatoes, peeled, chopped into large bite-sized chunks
2-3 Heirloom carrots, chopped into small bits (if the carrot is large, 1 should suffice)
4-5 cremini mushrooms, finely chopped or minced
1/3 onion, chopped into small bits
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2/3 stick of butter
3-5 tbsp of milk (or add small amount first and add more depending on how you like the texture)
1 tbsp of olive oil
pinch of ginger powder
Salt and pepper

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Boil water in a pot. Put in all the potatoes and cook for about 30-40 min. Use a fork and see if you can poke through effortlessly to determine if the potatoes are completely cooked.

When the potatoes have about 5-8 min to go, heat up olive oil in a pan in medium-high heat. Add the garlic, the carrots, and the onions. Cook for about 3-4 min until the onions are translucent and if you chopped the carrots fine enough, they should be soft as well. Add the mushrooms, the ginger powder, a tbsp of butter, salt and pepper and stir to mix well. You want to be a little heavy with the seasoning as the seasoning will cover the potatoes as well. Cook for another minute. Turn the heat off and pour everything into a bowl for later use.

When the potatoes are completely cooked, drain the water and put the potatoes back into the pot on very low heat. Start mashing with the potato masher. When the potatoes look somewhat mashed up, add the rest of the butter, and start mashing away as the potatoes continue to break down and mix with the melting butter. Start slowly adding the milk and continue mashing. Add every from the bowl into the pot of the potatoes and mix well. Mash the potatoes or add more milk until it reaches your desired consistency.

And it is ready to serve. The color of the mashed potatoes is so much more appetizing as it now has the yellow, orange, red from Heirloom carrots (why I chose them at the first place) and the earthy brown from the mushrooms! I served this mashed potatoes with the fun twists along with medium New York strip steak and some sautéed green vegetables. So delicious! 🙂

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Roasted spaghetti squash

I love the taste of spaghetti squash, so light, crispy, yet tasty! It is a wonderful addition to a meal that balances out other rich, heavy, sumptuous dishes. Here is what you will need.

Ingredients (yield 4-5 servings)
3 lbs spaghetti squash
1 medium beet, chopped into small cubes
Orange zest
Lime zest
Olive oil
Garlic powder
Salt and pepper

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Preheat the oven to 375 F. Cut the squash into four quarters. On a large flat baking sheet, drizzle on a thin layer of olive oil. Put the spaghetti squash onto the sheet with the side with flat cuts facing down. Roast for about 30-40 min in the oven or until when you can poke through the squash using a fork without much resistance.

Meanwhile the squash is roasting, heat up olive oil in a pan. Add the chopped beets and stir to coat everyone with the oil. Add the garlic powder, salt and pepper to taste. Cook for about 4-5 min until the beets are somewhat soft.

After the squash is done, use a fork and a spoon to scrape out the squash flesh. You can use the spoon to provide a stabilized point and use the fork or vice versa. The flesh should not be long, thin and beautiful yellow strands coming out super easily. Once collected all the flesh into a bowl, you can drizzle some extra olive oil, salt and pepper and stir to mix the seasoning well.

Pour the beets on to add some vibrant dark red color and a little bit sweetness. Add the orange and lime zests to give the color a pop and a refreshing touch!

I served this dish as a substitute for the grains, along with some pan-friend vegetables and marinated spicy chicken thighs. It went so great with everything! 🙂 Enjoy!

Making kick-ass couscous

For me, eating diverse not only goes to choices of animal protein or vegetables/fruits, but also to choices of grains and legumes. Couscous, along with rice, wheat, potato, beans, and other less common grains, is always a rotating item on the menu in my household. Cooking couscous is easy, but it can be bland and lacking some characters.

Today’s dish will be fool-proof to make as long as you use the secret ingredient! Lol.

Ingredients: (yield 4-5 servings)
1 1/2 cups of couscous
2 3/4 cups of water
2 tbsp of butter
Salt and pepper
1/2 tsp of turmeric powder
Garlic powder
3-4 mushrooms, minced
1/2 handful of parsley, minced

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In a small pot, bring the water to boil. Add butter, salt and pepper, garlic powder while heating up the water and stir to mix well. When you start to see bubbles rising and before water is completely boiling, add the mushrooms and parsley.

When the water is boiling, add the couscous and the turmeric powder and stir to mix well. Put the lid on and let sit for about 5 min. Before serving, stir to mix all the ingredients better and make the couscous light and fluffy. Voila! Simple like that!

Now, this is just one flavor combo, which is earthy element, such as mushrooms, with refreshing taste from the herbs, such as parsley. You can try other combos such as: cherry tomatoes and basil, English peas and sage. The secret to make the color of couscous POP, is to use some turmeric powder — it will make anything it touches so vibrantly yellow, and it adds a kick to the flavor as well. If you add curry powder, which usually contains turmeric and other spices, it will also turn the couscous yellow. The flavor from curry will be more prominent, just make sure it will go well with other elements.

Lemongrass chicken wings

I loved this dish when I was in Hong Kong and they called it “Vietnamese-style pan-fried lemongrass chicken wings”, aside from using lemongrass and fish sauce, I am not too sure how much “Vietnamese” is there in this dish. But nonetheless, it was still a delicious dish and I am going to blog about how to make it. 🙂

Ingredients: (yield 2-3 servings)
6 chicken wings
2 stems of fresh lemongrass, white portion chopped, or 4 tbsp of lemongrass if you buy a small processed bottle
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 green onion, minced or slightly grinded
1 tbsp of sugar
1 tbsp of soy sauce
1/2 tbsp of aged soy sauce
1 tbsp of Chinese cooking wine
2 tbsp of fish sauce
Salt and pepper
Coconut oil
Thai sweet chili sauce, optional

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In a bowl, mix all the lemongrass, garlic, green onion, sugar, soy sauce, aged soy sauce, Chinese cooking wine, fish sauce, salt and pepper and this is our marinating sauce. Poke small holes with a stick or pointy knife on the back side of the wings so that the sauce can be soaked better. Put all the chicken wings in a large zip-lock bag and pour in all the marinating sauce. Get rid of excessive air in the bag and zip it really tight so it won’t leak. Tilt the bag to make sure that every wing gets surrounded by the marinating sauce.

Let the bag sit in the fridge overnight or for at least 4-5 hours.

When ready to cook, turn the oven on to 375 F. Heat up coconut oil in a cast iron pan on medium-high heat. Put all the chicken wings down onto the pan with the skin-side touching the pan first. Be careful try not to get any of the sauce on to the pan or it will burn. If you have a full wing like I did, use a spatula to press down on the wings to distribute heat to parts that are not quite touching the pan. Cook that side for about 4-5 min until the outside turns golden brown. Move the chicken wings with the spatula constantly to make sure they are not stuck. Flip all the wings, and do the same and cook until this other side turns golden brown, and this takes about 4-5 min as well.

Transfer the whole cast iron pan with the wings into the oven and put a lid on and let cook for about another 15-18 min. If you have only a small wing, it takes less time. Check with a thermometer for internal temperature at 165 F to make sure it is cooked through.

You can choose to drizzle on some Thai sweet chili sauce or make your own dipping sauce to enjoy the wings with; but otherwise, it is a perfectly delicious dish by itself. It hit the spot and brought back so many fond memories when I was in Hong Kong. Good times to be had! 🙂 Thanks for checking in!

Stir-fried cauliflower rice with red pepper and shrimps

I love eating fresh and I love eating a variety of things at every meal. And sometimes, this mentality becomes an issue with certain food items: broccoli, cauliflower, and the alike. They are always bulky and come in large sizes, which means I just cannot eat the whole thing in one sitting as I would like to eat other things too. And when I think about cooking with them again, a good 5 day period has passed and they are no longer as fresh as I would like. The following is one of my solutions to eat fresh, eat diverse and eat large — making them into “rice” and replace the carbohydrates of the meal! 🙂

Ingredients (yield 4-5 servings)
1 medium cauliflower, chopped into chunks
1 medium Romanesco broccoli, chopped into chunks
1 large red bell pepper, chopped into small cubes
1/2 onions, chopped into small pieces
2 greens onions, chopped into small pieces
1/2 – 3/4 lbs of peeled shrimps, if they are large shrimps, chop into smaller sizes
A handful of green lima beans, or peas
A handful of Italian parsley, chopped
4 Tbsp of oil
1/2 Tbsp of cooking wine
Oregano
Thyme
Cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper

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In a food processor, grind the mixture of all cauliflower and Romanesco broccoli into grain-sized bits like rice or couscous. Heat up a pan with 2 Tbsp of the oil in medium-high heat. Throw in all the chopped onions and cook until translucent. Add the finely-grinded cauliflower/broccoli mixture into the pan and stir until everything mixed well and turn the heat down to low and let cook.

Heat up another pan. Cook the shrimps first if they are still raw or somewhat frozen until they start to turn orange — remember to get rid of all the water once the ice melts. Add the rest of the oil, lima beans, red pepper, parsley and green onion. Add the cooking wine and constantly stirring the mixture and cook for another 1-2 minutes.

Combine the shrimp mixture with the cauliflower/broccoli rice mixture. Add oregano and thyme and mix well. Add a little bit of Cayenne pepper to give the whole thing a kick. Add salt and pepper to taste and stir to mix everything well. Cook for another 6-8 minutes. Plate the food and serve while it is hot! 🙂

This is so easy and I do not have to stare at the big head of cauliflower or broccoli for the next week any more! Fantastic!

PS. Since there are lots of vegetables in this recipe and shrimps do not have lots of fat, it is better to be generous with the oil use to bring out flavors better. If you are going to substitute shrimps with some kind of fatty meat cuts, I think you can use less oil and it will still taste great. If you do use meat, do not use parsley but try adding some cumin and some soy sauce.