Peanut Sauce Soba Noodles With Roasted Zucchini and Wakame + Asheville is Awesome

peanut sauce soba noodles roasted zucchini and wakame 2

Since my youth, I’ve understood that food tastes better when it has grown close to home. I remember risking bee stings, thorns, and scorn in order to stuff myself with the neighbor’s raspberries. My mother’s garden produced tiny, knobby carrots that had an incomparable sweetness next to the perfect, yet tasteless, carrots in the supermarket. I’ve consistently preferred the taste of local food, and as I’ve grown, I have noticed numerous other benefits that local farms promote, from culinary to community. Farmers and chefs now work closely to serve the freshest meals from local goods. Citizens of Asheville have benefited from the resourceful ingenuity achieved by the numerous farm-to-table restaurants and locavore entrepreneurs who have built a community, brought us great tasting food and supported the economy by putting this city on the tourist map.

 peanut soba noodle assembly

Asheville forms a community around trades, skills, services and goods to support each other in entrepreneurial efforts. Chain restaurants have the option of purchasing their produce from local farms but often times, it is more profitable if they buy their produce from hothouses and factory farms. When I interviewed Chef Josh Widner, Chef du Cuisine at “The Market Place,” a farm-to-table key player in downtown Asheville, he confirmed that restaurants like his source most, if not all, of their products from local farms. “Supporting your farmers is a huge benefit of using local foods. We work hand in hand,” Widner stated. “Ninety percent of my product comes from within one hundred miles of Asheville including meat, poultry, pork, vegetables, dairy and eggs. It really is a community effort.” People of Asheville recognize the value of supporting local entrepreneurs. The efforts of farm-to-table restaurants have created a community-supported network surrounded around bringing Asheville healthy, local choices.

Farm-to-table restaurant chefs follow typical Asheville style resourcefulness by utilizing their craft to the ultimate boundaries of creativity. Without the use of pesticides or genetically modified seed the local, organic produce used by farm-to-table restaurants has a short shelf life and must be used quickly. “An advantage of the culinary aspect of farm-to-table is that you learn how to extend season[al produce] past their season,” Chef Widner stated. “A lot of times [the farm’s] product will not last very long. I’ll have to use that product a lot quicker.” There is usually an abundance of bounty in the warmer months and chefs find themselves swimming in a sea of whatever is in season at that time. To get the most out of their purchase, chefs at farm-to-table restaurants must be resourceful and come up with creative ways to serve and/or preserve their ingredients. “I have local strawberries in house right now and it’s February,” boasted Widner. “I’ve vacuum-sealed some, frozen some, fermented some, and pickled some. So, I have local strawberries that I can still put out on a table right now even though they [were] picked last July.” Asheville is lucky to have chefs like Josh who can produce culinary magic using farm-to-table guidelines.

What makes locally sourced food taste so much better? Any chef would endorse buying from local, organic farms because of the colossal difference in flavor and quality of the product. “The flavor of fresh, local food is night and day compared to non-locally sourced food,” professed Widner.Sometimes I’ll have a squash come in that is the ugliest thing compared to a perfect and round squash that was grown in California but the flavor is better.” The method of farming used can greatly influence the level of flavor produced in a crop. The farmer who has a few acres of land is better able to closely observe his crop, test the nutrients in the soil and have a hands-on relationship to his product than a farmer with hundreds or thousands of acres. Chef Widner claims, “There is fantastic earth in The Appalachians. [They are among] the oldest mountains… you have a lot of really ancient minerals and deposits here that really encourage growth.” Local, small farms are producing incredible tasting foods by planting an assortment of crops and taking advantage of the rich nutrients in the soil.

 roasted zucchini with paprika

Entrepreneurs and small businesses, such as farm-to-table restaurants, have become a major driver of tourism and economic growth in Asheville. I spoke to Diane Hendrickson, Program Developer for Entrepreneurial Outreach of the A-B Tech Small Business Center about small businesses in Asheville and she declared that, “Asheville [residence are] very interested in supporting products, goods, services and business folk that live in the community.” Asheville has gained some national traction recently because the country is recognizing the attractiveness of the entrepreneurial movement. Though entrepreneurship can be grueling and risky, it draws appeal to artists, artisans and craftsmen wishing to monetize their skills. The city has numerous resources available for potential entrepreneurs and is very supportive of those enthusiastic enough to try. “There are so many organizations that exist just to help people start businesses,” Hendrickson confirmed. She continued with, “Popular Mechanics’ did a survey recently and we were ranked number 2 of 14 for being a great place to start your business.” Asheville is making waves as its inhabitants use their creativity to pave their own way with entrepreneurial spirit.

 Peanut sauce soba noodles with roasted zucchini and wakame

After speaking with professionals, now I know why I had a locavore preference. “For some people, meh whatever, it’s a carrot, but if [diners] are passionate about ‘farm to table’ and the area that we live in, it is a big draw for them. [Our food] is simple and really nicely prepared. It is local and fresh and most diners love that.” With the rising popularity of Asheville and the efforts of its skilled and creative tradesmen, I think most would agree with you Chef Josh.

This peanut sauce, adapted from the Barefoot Contessa, is incredible. When I made it the first time, I couldn’t believe that I was putting together so many ingredients for sauce, but in the end, it was absolutely worth it. With roasted zucchini slices, julienned vegetables, and topped with wakame seaweed, this recipe is a vegetarian’s delight.

peanut sauce soba noodles with roasted zucchini with wakame bite

Peanut Sauce Soba Noodles With Roasted Zucchini and Wakame (adapted from The Barefoot Contessa)

Ingredients

For the peanut sauce:

  • 6 garlic cloves, chopped
  • ¼ cup fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • ½ cup tahini (sesame paste)
  • ½ cup smooth peanut butter
  • ½ cup good soy sauce
  • ¼ cup dry sherry
  • ¼ cup sherry vinegar
  • ¼ cup honey
  • ½ teaspoon Asian hot chili oil
  • 2 tablespoons dark toasted sesame oil
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
  • Good olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Optional: black truffle oil

All the rest:

  • 1 8-ounce package of soba noodles, cooked
  • 1 zucchini, thinly sliced
  • ½ of a red onion, sliced
  • 1 carrot, julienned
  • Fresh fennel bulb, sliced
  • Dried wakame, rehydrated

Directions

Preheat oven to 425ºF/220ºC/Gas mark 7.

Lay zucchini slices on an oiled pan. Sprinkle salt and smoked paprika over all the slices.

Bake for 25-30 minutes until soft and slightly brown around the edges. Remove from heat and cool.

While the zucchinis are roasting, mix all of the peanut sauce ingredients together and mix well.

Mix the soba noodles, onion and fennel into the sauce.

Plate the noodles and place two or three slices of zucchini on top. Spoon some wakame on the crown of the dish and top with carrot.

Devour.

Savory Albacore Tuna Steak with Saffron Seaweed Rice and Golden Onions + Being a Student

Tamari Butter Dijon Albacore Tuna Steak abed Saffron Seaweed Rice and Golden Onions ready

If I could meet my 15-year old self and talk to her about life I would tell her to not waste her time being so shy, be more interested in things/people/events and to work harder at school.

I really love being a student right now. It is giving me the time to work out my future, is pushing me to challenge myself and enforcing the fact that I can do anything I put my mind to. Also, I’m learning a lot of cool stuff.

Tamari Butter Dijon Albacore Tuna Steak abed Saffron Seaweed Rice and Golden Onions

My English instructor is having us build a portfolio of essays this term. In the beginning of class, we chose an article from a selection and wrote a reflection essay on that article. From there, we are to write varying sorts of essays that build on the theme. I chose The Food Movement, Rising by Michael Pollan, an easy choice since all I think about is food and cooking. I find myself more and more inspired by the things people are doing to make food better.

Saffron Seaweed rice prep

My second essay asked me to do some research on Asheville, my new home, and find someone to interview in relation to the topic. Since Asheville is totally on top of the farm-to-table movement, I had a lot of choices. I decided to interview Chef Josh Widner, Chef du Cuisine of The Marketplace restaurant in downtown Asheville. Conducting an interview was a challenge as I have never really done one before, but he was a good sport. I had prepared what I thought were great questions, but during the interview I realized they were novice and redundant. Oops.

I had fun anyway. And I asked him about internship possibilities in the future and got an enthusiastic response. Woohoo!

Tamari Butter Dijon Albacore Tuna Steak abed Saffron Seaweed Rice and Golden Onions bite

I will post my essay shortly. For now: Tuna steaks.

This recipe is ridiculous. I first made it up about seven years ago and could’ve eaten it every week since then without getting sick of it. The sauce (butter!) brings out all the flavour in the tuna and the saffron seaweed rice is a perfect compliment. It is a perfect full meal for two and is exceptional for impressing a date. Seriously. This fish is sexy.

Tamari Butter Dijon Albacore Tuna Steak abed Saffron Seaweed Rice and Golden Onions plate

Savory Albacore Tuna Steak with Saffron Seaweed Rice and Golden Onions

Serves 2

Ingredients

For the fish and the sauce:

  • 2 tuna steaks
  • 2 tablespoons tamari
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon cold butter cut into small chunks
  • 2 chopped garlic cloves
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • ½ teaspoon minced ginger
  • ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon corn starch

For the rice:

  • 1 cup uncooked basmati rice (rinsed)
  • 2 cups water
  • 5-6 saffron petals
  • 1 cup crunchy Korean seaweed

Sautéed onions:

  • 1 medium to large chopped red or yellow onion
  • 1 chopped clove garlic
  • 1 tablespoon butter

Directions

Place rinsed rice into a pot with water and saffron. Cook covered on high until it boils and then turn heat down to low. Keep covered. Do not stir. To check if it is finished, tip the pot to the side. If you see any water or the rice moves at all, it needs to cook for longer. If it does not move, turn off heat.

Preheat oven at 425ºF/220ºC/Gas Mark 7.

Rinse the tuna steaks and dry off excess water. Place the steaks in a baking (cast iron preferable) pan.

Tamari Butter Dijon Albacore Tuna Steak prep

Combine all of the ingredients for sauce into a bowl. Mix some, but do not mix very thoroughly so each bite is a slightly different experience. Divide the sauce on the steaks. Bake for 12 minutes and remove from heat.

Tamari Butter Dijon Albacore Tuna Steak prep 2

Heat a pan over medium heat on the stovetop. Toss onions, garlic and butter into the pan. Sautee contents until the onions are soft and lightly browned.

Scoop desired amount of rice into a bowl and mix in the seaweed. Divide the rice onto two plates.

Spoon onions onto the rice and place the tuna steaks on top of their oniony bed. Spoon extra sauce around the plate and on top of the fish.

Light some candles, pour some red wine, breathe in the aromas and gaze lovingly at your plate.

Enjoy every bite.

IMG_3015 Tamari Butter Dijon Albacore Tuna Steak abed Saffron Seaweed Rice and Golden Onions done

Vegan Slow Cooker Butternut Squash Potage With Chili and Cocoa Powder For Winter

 Slow cooker butternut squash potage with chili and cocoa powder

Being a student, I am often too busy to spend much time cooking for myself. As a culinary student, I find this a little upsetting because that means less time to experiment with ingredients and techniques. Luckily, the slow cooker is here to save the day.

slow cooker butternut squash potage with chili and cocoa powder 2

Winter is the best time to pull out the slow cooker and infuse your kitchen with the rising aroma of a warm, home cooked meal. This simple recipe cooks on low for ten hours, rendering each ingredient incapable of holding any form. A potage is a smooth, uniformly blended soup. The best way to make a potage is low heat for several hours. Using a slow cooker means you can just toss the ingredients in the crock, set the temperature and forget about it until it is done.

slow cooker butternut squash potage with chili and cocoa powder 3

It is commonly known that chili and cocoa pair well together. This combination can be found in many desserts, from spicy hot chocolate to chili chocolate tarts. Sauces like black mole and chocolate chili barbecue sauce are excellent to compliment flavours in poultry and meats. Even chili chocolate beer exists. I thought it was time to combine chili and cocoa powder with butternut squash. The deep, density of cocoa brings out the earthy qualities to butternut squash and chili always adds an incredible kick. Those combined with the nutty coconut milk makes a perfect, hearty winter meal. This recipe got me through a week’s worth of lunches (and few dinners on really busy days). 

slow cooker butternut squash potage with chili and cocoa powder 4

Butternut Squash Potage With Chili and Cocoa Powder

Ingredients

 

  • 1 large butternut squash
  • 2 cups of water
  • 2 cans of coconut milk
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1 ½ teaspoons chili powder
  • ¾-1 teaspoon salt

Directions

 

Remove the skin from the squash and cut it in half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds and discard. Cut the squash into large chunks.

Place all ingredients in a large 6.5-quart cooker and cook on low for 10 hours. I usually start my before I go to bed and forget about it until morning.

 

When your soup is finished cooking, it is time to turn it into a potage. Using an immersion blender, blend ingredients together until completely smooth.

 

Drizzle with olive oil and garnish with feta or goat cheese, paprika and cracked pepper.

 

There will be a lot of soup, so you may want to portion some into containers and freeze for later.

 

Makes 6 quarts

 

 

 

Flavour Pairing: Yuja Pomegranate Truffles + The Food Movement

yuja pomegrante truffles.jpg

As a lifelong lover of cooking, I have always been passionate about food and food culture. I realize now how lucky I was growing up to have had information about healthy eating practices, access to fresh farm produce and an environment where food actually tasted like something that was plucked from the ground. My desire to cook and make flavor come alive was born from being around food that actually tasted like food and from being embedded in a community culture where food and its origins mattered.

America has always been known as a land of abundance. Unfortunately, where there is great abundance can come great ignorance. We do not have to deeply think about food because its abundance is embedded in the American consumer culture. We shop at supermarkets full of individually wrapped products, pumped full of preservatives to maintain longer shelf life. We see uniform produce, shipped during any season from around the world, stunted of true flavor and lacking nutrients. Ready-to-eat meals are pre-prepared to satiate our assertion of independence from the kitchen. Hefty cuts of meat are laid out in packages designed to make us forget that it was once part of an animal, while undesirable cuts are disposed of. What would it look like if our culture were designed to have us question our food and even beyond that and be genuinely curious about where it comes from and how it might help or harm our health?

 homemade yuja pomegranate truffles.jpg

Michael Pollan, author of The Food Movement, Rising says, “The food movement gathers around “the recognition that today’s food and farming economy is unsustainable.” Vast expanses of fields containing a single high yield crop saps valuable nutrients from the soil. Our inability to stop the momentum of the system of supply and demand has left our once vibrant and nutrient rich land an assembly line of fast food catering to the needs of the masses. Our bodies have responded to our high sugar, high salt, and bland diets with chronic disease, obesity, diabetes and weak flavor palettes. As a chef in training, I cannot abide.

 yuzu shochu.jpg

Pollan aptly defines the food movement by stating that it reflects our “attempt to redefine, or escape, the role of consumer.” This can be seen in the small farms, businesses and markets popping up around the country. Farm-to-table dining was started with the realization that the best ingredients can be found close to home. Chefs are working with local farms and only seasonal produce to achieve the freshest meals possible. Huge growth in Do-It-Yourself (DIY) community has developed as well. People are actively learning how to make food products on their own in small batches with simple techniques. There is a strong urge to take part in the process of making food rather than just purchasing and heating it. The food movement is like beautification for our taste buds and our communities.

yuzuyuja.jpg

To celebrate: truffles!

Korean Yuja (or Yuzu in Japanese) can be called citron in English as it doesn’t have a direct translation.. It is often used in honey teas, desserts and liquor infusions in both countries. The flesh of this citrus is quite tart and an excellent flavour booster for just about anything. I was clever enough to bring a small jar of yuja honey tea back to the States with me. Like all citrus, it compliments the bitterness of chocolate perfectly. And when the whole pomegranate kernels burst in your mouth, you know you can die happy.

 Yuja Pomegranate Truffles

 

Ingredients

  • 1 cup cocoa powder
  • 3-4 tablespoons yuja honey tea (order here)
  • 1 pomegranate
  • ½ cup of heavy cream
  • 4 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • pinch of salt

Directions

Heat the cream, yuja honey tea, sugar and salt in a saucepan and bring to a soft boil. Stir continuously.

Turn heat off and add coconut oil. Stir until fully incorporated.

Add cocoa powder in small batches and mix until thick and smooth.

Let cool to room temperature.

Form teaspoon sized balls by hand. Poke a small hole in the center and put in two whole pomegranate kernels. Envelope kernels and re-form the truffle into a ball. Dust with more cocoa powder. Repeat.

Store in the refrigerator. They should keep well in the refrigerator for 2-3 weeks. If removed, they will only last a day.

Makes 20-24 truffles.

One-Pan Roasted Winter Meal

It’s cold.

 Roasted winter meal 2

I like to think of this dish as a kind of soup without the broth. Warming, cozy and comforting, I make it all the time when I want something easy. It is kind of a non-recipe and can make good use of random bits of food you have lying around. Put as much or as little of each as you want/have. Improvise. Create.

 Roasted winter meal 3

One-Pan Roasted Winter Meal

 Ingredients

  • brussel sprouts, cleaned and quartered
  • sausage or tofu (or your protein of choice)
  • onion, chopped
  • garlic, lots
  • sauerkraut and some of the juice
  • sun-dried tomatoes
  • mushrooms, halved or quartered
  • carrots
  • bell pepper
  • any vegetable

Dressing:

  • olive oil
  • toasted sesame oil
  • salt
  • black pepper
  • lemon
  • rosemary
  • cumin

Directions

Preheat oven at 425ºF/220ºC/Gas Mark 7.

Combine the dressing ingredients in a bowl. Set aside.

All ingredients are to cleaned and chopped into bite sized pieces. They should be around the same size so they bake evenly. Put everything directly into your casserole dish/baking pan.

Drizzle the dressing all over the ingredients and mix until everything is saturated.

Put the uncovered pan in the oven for about 45-50 minutes. Check every 15 minutes and stir so nothing gets burned. When the carrots (or potatoes, if you use them) are soft, remove from heat.

Garnish with Greek yogurt, hot sauce and more cracked black pepper. Dig in.

Roasted Winter Meal

Flavour Pairing: Pomegranate Molasses Tilapia Tacos with Kielbasa Fennel Salsa

IMG_2768Pomegranate Molasses Tilapia Tacos with Fennel Kielbasa Salsa bite

I tend to get my culinary resourcefulness from what surrounds me, so I like to keep my kitchen full of diverse and inspirational ingredients. When I begin a cooking endeavor, I get out everything I feel might pique my creativity and sort through the combinations until I get a flash of genius. I must say, I am proud of this recipe.

Pomegranate Molasses Tilapia Tacos with Fennel Kielbasa Salsa 2

Tilapia has a mild, almost sweet flavour and a delicate texture. It is like a slightly fishy canvas that absorbs whatever you put on it. Pomegranate molasses is the base of the marinade for the tilapia and it adds so much to the complexity of the dish. Fennel and kielbasa add the right combination of crisp and meat to make the perfect salsa atop a bitable taco.

 Pomegranate Molasses Tilapia Tacos with Fennel Kielbasa Salsa plate

Pomegranate molasses is one of those miracle condiments that compliments everything. It is made by boiling pomegranate juice into a thick, sweet reduction and retains its tart qualities as well. Dark and almost black with a reddish hue, pomegranate molasses hails from Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine. It is typically used in marinades for fish and meat, included in sauces and used as syrup for drinks and desserts.

pomegranate molasses tilapia with fennel kielbasa salsa

I came across a bottle of it when I visited one of my best friends in Toronto last summer. We entered a well-known Middle Eastern establishment in Kensington Market that sells falafel, Turkish delights and various Mediterranean staples. I was instantly intoxicated by the place. While browsing the shelves, I zeroed in on the bottles of pomegranate molasses and asked what it was used for. The vendor said “all the things.” I’ve been using it ever since. I doubt it is available at any supermarket around where I live now, but can certainly be found online. I think next time I will try making it myself.

 Pomegranate molasses marinated tilapia tacos with fennel kielbasa salsa

Pomegranate Molasses Tilapia Tacos with Kielbasa Fennel Salsa

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

  • For the fish:
  • 2 tilapia filets
  • 2 teaspoons pomegranate molasses
  • dash olive oil
  • 1/8 teaspoon sea salt
  •  For the salsa:
  • ½ a bulb of fresh, thinly sliced and roughly chopped fennel
  • 3-4 inches of kielbasa, diced
  • ½ of a red bell pepper, deseeded and diced
  • 1 chopped red onion
  • 4 cloves of chopped garlic
  • ½ a lemon
  • pinch of salt
  • cooking oil

Directions

Clean and prepare the filets. Place them in a baking pan and sprinkle sea salt all around them. Spoon a teaspoon of pomegranate molasses down the middle of each filet and drizzle olive oil on each. Set aside to marinade.

Start preparing your ingredients for the salsa. Preheat oven at 400ºF/200ºC/Gas mark 6.

On medium heat, brown the onion and garlic on the stovetop in some cooking oil. Stir intermittently.

Add the fennel. Cook until soft then add the bell pepper and kielbasa. Sprinkle salt to taste. After 3-4 more minutes, remove from heat.

Lay the salsa abed the tilapia. The filets should be buried underneath the colourful spread. Squeeze the lemon on top the contents.

Place the pan into a fully heated oven and bake for 8-10 minutes. Remove when the tilapia is opaque. Do not overcook or fish will lose its tenderness and be rubbery.

Heat corn tortillas in a clean stovetop pan. Each side should have pleasing burn marks and some bubbling.

On each tortilla, break-up a fork full of tilapia and scoop some of the salsa and its juice.

Top with goat chevre or greek yogurt and chopped cilantro. Dip in your favourite hot sauce.

Devour. Savour. Enjoy the complexities delicacies of flavour and be astonished by what you just made.

Vegan Passion Fruit Truffles + Motto For 2015

homemade passionfruit truffles.jpg

Well, I did it. I made it through 2014, just like the rest of you. Big deal, right? Sometimes life is tough. We all have to trudge through the shit, but we don’t always come out clean on the other side.

 passion fruit.jpg

2014 was a devilish year full of chaos (read: threats), discovery, challenges and love. The threats seem like a distant memory now, as I suspected they would, but there is nothing better at turning one’s life upside-down than being in a far away land and feeling unstable. I won’t go too in depth on that subject. Instead, click here. It may give you a vague sense of what I experienced in my final year of working at a Hagwon in Korea. I will say that I left Korea in the fall of 2014 with my sense of trust deeply shaken and my nerves shot, but thanks to Love, I felt hopeful. My support system was, and has been, so solid that even in the thick of the crises, lies and sleepless nights, I never fell. I stood tall, held my ground and was able to see the light ahead.

So, thank you Love. You saved the year and so much more. I dedicate this post, this year’s motto (see below) and my love, to you.

 passionfruit 2.jpg

The most common variety of passion fruit is small and purple. Creatively named “Common Purple”, this thick-skinned, tropical fruit contains pleasantly crispy seeds and yields small amounts of juice. But, that yield is dazzling. Passion fruit is mouthwateringly fresh and the flavour is absolutely seductive. Tart, sweet and delicately strong: a little juice goes a long way in any recipe. I am appalled to acknowledge that I have not tried the entire range of passion fruit varieties. This will now go on my bucket list.

passionfruit seeds and juice.jpg 

This year’s motto: Stepping Out Clean in Twenty-Fifteen

Passion fruit is a good place to start. And chocolate helps a lot. These truffles are deliriously decadent and will help you find strength to defeat all your foes.

 making truffles.jpg

Vegan Passion Fruit Truffles

Ingredients

  • 1 cup cocoa powder
  • 2 juiced passion fruits, separated from seeds
  • ½ cup of coconut cream
  • 4 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • pinch of salt

Directions

-Heat the coconut cream, passion fruit juice, sugar and salt in a saucepan and bring to a soft boil. Stir continuously.

-Turn heat off and add coconut oil. Stir until fully incorporated.

-Add cocoa powder in small batches and mix until thick and smooth.

-Optional: If you like the texture of the passion fruit seeds, add some or all into the mixture.

-Let cool.

-Form teaspoon sized balls by rolling them in the palm of your hand and dust with more cocoa powder.

-Store in the refrigerator. They should keep well in the refrigerator for 2-3 weeks. If removed, they will only last a day.

Makes 20-24 truffles.