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. πŸ™‚

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! πŸ™‚ 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! πŸ™‚

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! πŸ™‚

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.

Japanese GyΕ«don – So easy yet so delicious!

I love Japanese Gyudon, aka beef rice bowl. When the beef imports from the US were banned due to mad cow disease in 2004, there were Yoshinoya’s (a Japanese chain restaurant whose best seller is always gyudon) maniac fans flew to Los Angeles to have a taste. This is one of the staple comfort food in Japan.

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Ingredients: (yielding 3-4 servings)
2 cups of rice, steamed

1 medium onion, chopped into long and thin strips
12 oz beef, thinly sliced (make sure every slice of meat has a good ratio of lean and fatty meats. I used thinly sliced beef brisket bought from Korean supermarket)
3 stems of green onions, finely chopped

2 Tbsp of oil (I used bacon grease)
1 1/2 cup of Dashi stock or chicken broth
6 Tbsp of soy sauce
4 Tbsp of sugar
2 Tbsp of Sake or cooking wine
1 Tbsp of mirin
4 Tbsp of pickled red ginger (benisouga)
1 Tbsp of white sesame seeds
Salt and pepper

Steam the rice in a rice cooker.

Heat the oil in a shallow pot on medium-high heat. Add onion strips and cook for 2-3 min until translucent. Add the stock and let boil. Turn the heat down to medium. Add soy sauce, sugar, mirin and cooking wine, let cook for another 3 min.

Add beef to the pot and cook for another 5-8 min. Add salt and pepper to taste. To adjust the color, you can choose to add a few drops of aged soy sauce to darken the color.

Pour everything including the sauce over steamed rice and top with a pinch of chopped green onions. Finally, add a tbsp of red ginger on the top and drizzle some sesame seeds on the top.

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It is so quick and easy yet tasty, I love it! Hope you like it too! πŸ™‚

PS. A salad or a quick stir-fry on the side will help add more vegetable/fruit intake along with this savory, tantalizing dish!

Seafood Risotto featuring Lobster

I got two Lobster tails from Wholefoods from a deal when I purchased some ribeye steaks for Valentines’ day. With Arborio rice, chicken broth, and mushrooms in stock, I decided to make a seafood risotto featuring the lobster meat. πŸ™‚

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Ingredients: yield 3-4 meals
1 – 1 1/4 cup of of Arborio rice
2 lobster tails
30-40 tails of wild shrimps, peeled
10 crimini mushrooms, thinly sliced
1/2 shallot, minced
1/3 onion, minced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
A handful of Italian parsley, minced
2 Tbsp of chives, chopped
2.5-3 cups of chicken broth
1 cup of half & half
1/3 of a butter stick (about 4-5 Tbsp)
3-4 Tbsp of coconut oil or duck fat or lard, divided
1/3 cup of cooking wine, divided
Salt and pepper

Steam the lobster tails for about 10-15 min until the shell turns bright red. Remove all the meat from the lobster tails and chop into small 1/2-inch cubic chunks. In a pot, put in the rest of the lobster shells and 2 cups of water and simmer. The lobster broth will be used later.

In a pot, warm the chicken broth over low heat. And turn the oven on at 150F.

Heat up about 1 Tbsp of oil in a pan. Throw in all the mushrooms on medium-high heat for 2-3 min until all the mushrooms are soft. Pour all the mushrooms and the liquid into an oven-safe container and keep the bowl in the oven while cooking the risotto.

Heat up another 1 Tbsp of oil in the pan. Throw in all the shrimps in the pan first. If the shrimps are already cooked like the lobster meat, you can throw them in together. Cook for about 3 min until the shrimps start to look opaque and the redness is more prominent. Add the lobster meat. Cook together for about 1 more minute and stir constantly to mix well. Pour in a 2 Tbsp of cooking wine and cook for another minute. Pour in all the half & half and cook for another 3 min and stir constantly. Set all the shrimps, lobster meat, and the liquid aside in the oven like the mushrooms for later use.

Heat up the rest of the oil in a skillet in medium heat. Add garlic, onion and shallot to the skillet and cook for about 1 min till when the onion and shallot start looking translucent. Add the rice and stir to coat every grain with the oil. When all the rice has taken on a golden coat, pour in the rest of the cooking wine and stir until all the wine is absorbed. Add a ladle of chicken broth and stir until all the broth is absorbed. Add chicken broth ladle after ladle once the liquid is mostly or all absorbed. Add a couple ladles of the lobster broth (about 1 cup, definitely no more than 1.5 cups) to the skillet and mix well. Add butter and stir until it all melts. This whole process takes about 20-25 min.

Turn the heat down a bit to medium-low or low heat. Add the bowl of mushrooms and the bowl of shrimp/lobster meat/half & half mixture back into the rice and stir well. When the whole bowl reaches a creamy consistency, add parsley and chives and stir to mix well. Then you can dish the risotto out and serve!

I really love the texture and the savory flavor of risotto, especially combing the umami of seafood and the earthy-ness of mushrooms. Oh my! That was such a satisfying meal! Thanks for checking in! πŸ˜›

Winter Roasted Root Vegetables

Feeling a little lazy on a snowy night? If you stock up assorted root vegetables like I do, then this recipe is for you! πŸ™‚

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I make this dish so often in winter with ever changing items every time so you do NOT have to stick to the recipe strictly, be CREATIVE (the key is to bear in mind whatever you put in may require different cooking times)!

Often used ingredients: (yield 4 meals)
3-4 large Yukon/Sweet/Red/… potatoes, or equivalent amount of fingerling heirloom potatoes, chopped into small bite-sized chunks
2-4 large carrots, chopped into bite-sized chunks
2-3 golden beets, chopped into bite-sized chunks
2 handful of broccoli including roots, chopped into bite-sized chunks, separate the roots and the flower parts
(If you have turnips, daikon radish, etc., feel free to add on, they need a little less time than potatoes and carrots to cook)
1/2-2/3 of a large onion, chopped
A few mushrooms, chopped
(Sometimes I add chopped green beans, Brussel sprouts, eggplants, just about any vegetables that can stand some heat without becoming a pile of soft leaves or a pot of juices/water)
One cured wild boar sausage, chopped (I prefer using cured hard sausages to add a little savory and fatty flavor to the food, but any cooked meat bits will do)
Olive oil
2-3 tsp of butter
Half a handful of fresh rosemary, chopped
1/2 tsp of Oregano
1/2 tsp of Thyme
Salt and pepper

Heat your oven to 400-450F and oil your baking tray with olive oil. Throw in the first batch of root vegetables that require the longest cooking time – potatoes, carrots, broccoli roots, and beets. Allow them to cook for 25-30 minutes.

While the hardest vegetables are in the oven, heat a pan and add olive oil. Add the meat bits, the mushrooms, and the onions, stir fry until the meat is cooked or the onion turns translucent.

Add the softer vegetables, such as green beens, eggplants (you might want to pre-cook the eggplants along with the onions and mushrooms in the above step because heating without much oil tends to dry out eggplants), broccoli flower parts together with the first batch. Add the oregano, thyme, rosemary, and butter and stir the vegetables so that the spices distribute evenly and mix well. Use a fork to poke the potatoes and carrots, they should start to be tender and relatively easy to poke through if not already so. Cook for another 5 minutes.

Add the meat, the mushrooms and the onions last and add salt and pepper to taste. And stir to mix well. The carrots, the broccoli roots, the potatoes or the beets should be really tender now. Cook for another 10 minutes or so.

And Viola, you are ready to serve! Nothing on a cold snowy night beats a warm and healthy meal with prepping under 15 min and watching TV for 45 min. πŸ˜›

Thanks for checking in!

Mateo Restaurant in Boulder CO: a taste of French Provence region

December is not only a holiday season but also my bday season. So, friends and family rallied together and I was craving for some heavy French food, so I chose Mateo for this year’s celebration feast, celebrating for my one step closer to a “stand-up adult”. πŸ™‚

There is a Chinese saying, “δΈ‰εθ€Œη«‹”, meaning when you hit 30 years old, you should already finished laying the foundation for future life and “stand up” straight and firmly on the “ground”, lol. In other words, I am getting *old*. πŸ˜›

We started with some appetizers, plateau provencal – a plateful of charcuterie and artisanal cheeses, fruits, olives and roasted nuts to get ready for the main course.

I had their confit de canard – of course, I got the duck, who am I kidding, I have a serious addiction for ducks! The duck leg was wonderfully cooked, the meat was tender and fell off the bone so easily and the savory flavor just sent me over the roof immediately.

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I tried husband’s ragout de sanglier. Wild boar usually is hard to cook and very hard to incorporate with the gamey flavor of the meat. But the ragout here was so good that night that I think it might have an slight edge over my duck! It was creamy but not greasy, very well seasoned and flavored. Bravo!

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And then we went onto the dessert, “black and white” and pot au chocolat. The pot au chocolat was good, but I am not a sweet person, it came off a little overly sweet in my opinion – although the accompanying gelato’s coldness was a nice offset to the cake’s sweetness.

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But the “black and white”! Oh, my, gosh! The brownie was great, but I don’t particularly have the sweet tooth for that. But the vanilla pot de creme! Jesus! That was to die for! The ultra smooth silky texture but not sticky, the tad bit of sweetness that teased the tongue, the creamy taste without the heaviness! I am drooling just thinking about that. And pairing that stick of home-made brownie (by itself, a bit too sweet) with that creme, now that IS genius!

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All in all, that was a great meal! From the fine ingredients to refined skills, we had a blast. I went home with the ambition of making my own version of vanilla pot de creme! Cannot wait to taste that again and this time, I want to capture the essence with my own hands! πŸ™‚

The Leaf in Boulder CO: vegetarian experience

So a family dinner brought us to this infamous Boulder vegetarian restaurant. I am always very skeptical of vegetarian food, lol. But I have to say, it was a pleasant surprise to find a place where they know how to cook well. But I was expecting to find good cheese, mushrooms and wine to offset the lack of animal protein or seafood, which they did seem to have these elements. πŸ˜›

I totally forgot to take pictures so I will talk about their menu items.

http://leafvegetarianrestaurant.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/leaf-dinner1.pdf

We had their beet perigees, pimento cheese poppers, and celeriac gnocchi as starters. The gnocchi was good, but the beet perigees and the cheese poppers were fantastic! Especially the cheese poppers, were excellently executed, crispy and light tasting, perfectly paired with the chutney. Their home-made bread was quite the hit as well – not being a bread person, I even ate 3 pieces, lol.

Onto the entree, I had their special of the night: home-made stroganoff with almond flour, cheese, portobello mushrooms, seitan and garnishing vegetables, way too much cheese in my opinion and that covered up the ingredients’ original flavor. I tried husband’s flat bread pizza, and beet steak, curried chickpeas & sweet potatoes from other family members’ plates. All the entrees were alright, I didn’t mind eating them, nothing to write home about though. But my palate is very hard to please, so I can be critical, especially cranky when no meat is consumed. Although, I was really full after the entree, so the portion was definitely generous considering I usually feel underfed when mainly eating vegetables. I was so full, I did not have room for dessert.

Overall, the best part was definitely the appetizers and I would love to try to replicate those items in my own kitchen. But it was nice to know vegetable dishes need not be blend but can also shine under good execution.

I will start blogging some of the new/good dishes I make again, slowly picking up speed here after a bountiful and relaxing holiday season! πŸ™‚

Shanghainese red braised pork belly

Have you ever thought about replacing “honey-glazed ham” with something else, potentially more divine for your holiday celebration? What about some sweet and savory braised pork belly?

Pork belly?! Does not sound very appetizing? What about this? Bacons? Better? Better yet, bacon IS pork belly, it is nothing but thinly sliced pork belly – but pork belly can be so much more and beyond! πŸ˜›

I cooked this traditional Shanghainese household dish during Christmas and received many compliments over how salivating this dish was. This dish is THE dish that will remind most of the Shanghainese kids of home. And today, let’s make this dish and satisfy your tummy!

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Ingredients:
2 lbs of pork belly (after cooking the meat shrinks about 30-40%, 2 lbs probably last 5-6 people for one meal, I cooked about 4 lbs of pork belly on Christmas Eve), chopped into 1 cubic inch chunks – the chunks should be cut so that lean/fat/lean/fat/… layers alternate and see picture below for reference.
Soy sauce, about 1 cup
Rock sugar or slab sugar, about 1 – 1.5 cup
Coconut oil, about 1/2 cup
Star anise, 5 – 6
Sichuan peppercorn, 10 – 15
Cinnamon bark, a few small pieces
Salt and pepper
Chinese cooking wine, 1/2 cup

Heat up coconut oil in a large wok and prepare a dutch oven/Chinese ceramic pot on the side. Add the sugar while turning heat to medium-high. Continuously break down the sugar by stirring until the sugar completely melts and the mixture of oil and sugar will look a little brown. Add the pork chunks and stir fast until all the pork chunks are coated with sugar/oil mix.

Quickly dish all the pork into the dutch oven/ceramic pot. Add cooking wine, soy sauce, star anise, Sichuan peppercorn, and cinnamon bark pieces. Set the heat on low and let simmer for at least 1.5 hours but not necessarily longer than 3 hours. Add water in the process if needed. About 15 -20 min before finishing, add salt and pepper and let cook till done.

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The meat should be extremely tender and juicy – when eating it, the fat layer melts in your mouth while the lean part provide a tiny bit of resistance. And the sauce bursts out so easily, it was the most fabulous thing! It is salty from soy sauce and sweet from the sugar and once reaching the balance between the two, the finished dish is to die for!

If you do not have enough meat, you can add a few hard boiled eggs or tough tofu chunks into the ceramic pot to bulk up the dish volume. I understand this will be tough competition but I hope once you tried this way of eating pork belly, you will never miss bacon again! πŸ™‚

Short report on – Punta Arenas and in between

So I said I’d give a short report on food scene in Punta Arenas, the small town we first landed in Chile.

We only had a chance to try a couple meals and here is what we thought. The town is really small, and you can tell its energy level is closely correlated with the travel seasons. There are not many restaurant establishments to be explored per say.

But we stumbled upon a cafe near the downtown square that makes tasty yet cheap food, and hung out with the locals a bit as well. With a lot of wood structures and furniture in it, the cafe gave a nice relaxing vibe. The sandwich was pretty good but I cannot remember the name of the cafe.

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The next day, we were on the road from Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales and in between, we stopped by this family hotel/restaurant – “Hotel Posada Rio Rubens”, since 1929.

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We went for a burger in which the cow was raised by the owners. The burger was divine!!! The juicy, tender and perfectly season patty went so well with the rest simple ingredients, plus a nice cup of latte – we were content! If you ever stop by the restaurant, do not hesitate to give the grandma and grandpa who run the building a hug, they are super friendly. πŸ™‚

Next time, I will give a detailed list of establishments we had the privilege to eat in Nacional Parque Torres del Paine.