Lemon Zested Bacon Wrapped Asparagus + Finals Week Triumph

Well well well… here we are. It’s happened. I’m in finals week. I made it. My first term of culinary school has just been knocked out and doesn’t know what hit it.

 Lemon zested bacon wrapped aparagus bite

It was a tough winter. I battled with the loneliness of moving to a new place, the challenge(s) of returning to school, a heavy workload, MATH, financial struggles, transportation issues and so on. Our good friend life.

My math grade is teetering on an A- and after my final, may be a B, but in every other one of my required courses (psychology, writing, computer skills and college skills) my grade is an A or A+. I worked my arse off this term and earned the shit out of those A’s.

 Lemon zested bacon wrapped asparagus

I feel like a force to be reckoned with… Like a building wind on the plane that finally grew into a tornado. This tornado tore through town and left rubble. I can do whatever I want and no one can stop me. And that’s that.

So, now that I’ve gone on my narcissistic rant, here is a simple, yet brilliant, recipe.

 green asparagus

Now that we are in full swing of Spring, my good friend Asparagus officinalis has been making some exciting appearances. Slim, dressed in green and always showing off a stunning and full head of hair, asparagus has the world mesmerized by its delicate flavour and crisp (when young) texture.

Asparagus doesn’t need much preparation: roasted, baked, pan-fried, seared or steamed, asparagus releases flavour for every technique.

  bacon wrapped asparagus

Asparagus charms the pants off all seafood and meats. Asparagus compliments everything. Shrimp blushes when asparagus walks by, ribeye cannot stop giggling and bacon… well, bacon can’t stop wrapping asparagus in its arms. In this particular recipe, asparagus and bacon recklessly eloped, leaving their families to start a better life anew. Their romance was full of dangerous passion and lust, which in the end destroyed them (in my mouth).

This recipe is so easy, yet it is very fancy. These little bundles of soft, meaty-green goodness are perfect as an hor d’oeuvres or as a side. Or, as always, just by itself.

Lemon zested bacon wrapped asparagus plate

Lemon Zested Bacon Wrapped Asparagus

 

Ingredients

  • 12 ounces (1-2 bunches) thin, green asparagus
  • 1 12-ounce pack of bacon
  • ½ a lemon’s zest
  • pinch of salt

Directions

Preheat oven to 400ºF/200ºC/Gas mark 6.

Rinse asparagus and shake until mostly dry. Cut off the last inch of the bottom of them stems to avoid the stringy bits. Section them into groups – about quarter-sized circumferences.

Tightly wrap each section with a slice of bacon starting at the bottom, or thickest point and going towards the top, or thinnest point.

Lay your meaty, green bundles in a casserole pan side-by-side. Alternate their direction to fit more in the pan and to make sure the tops get enough grease.

Sprinkle zest and salt over the whole pan.

Bake for 20-25 minutes then broil on high for 3-4 minutes. Doing this will prevent the need for turning them over.

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

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.

Smoked Duck Szechuan Pepper Stuffed Pumpkin + Rendered Duck Fat

 smoked duck stuffed pumpkin 2

I first started getting the craving to stuff a gourd when the fall harvest hit the markets here in Seoul. The orange pumpkins are a bit different from the ones I’m used to in Canada. They are also harder to find, expensive and too massive for my little kitchen. I settled for a delightful kabocha squash (dan hobak) that can be found everywhere at this time of year. They can be found in a variety of sizes, too, from tiny to medium large. This excites me to no end. I’d love to have a dinner party and serve a tiny pumpkin to each guest (heehee!).

 smoked duck stuffed pumpkin bite

Smoked duck is readily available here in Korea, so as one of my favourite meats, I chose to stuff my gourd with it. It adds an excellent smoky quality and flavour to the mixture, as well. I removed most of the skin and fat before adding the meat to the mixture in order to render it. Duck fat has a gorgeous flavour that is highly complimentary to many food items. I’ve tried to substitute it with pork fat when cooking shiitake mushrooms, for example, and found myself disappointed with the results. Rendering is incredibly easy. Simply collect the fat, cook in a pot on low heat until the fat is clear and strain into a jar for refrigeration. Once cooled, it should be pure and white. The fat should keep for 2-3 months. Use in place of oil or to add flavour.

 smoked duck stuffed pumpkin 1

The Szechuan pepper is a curious spice. Despite its name, it is not closely related to, nor has much of the hot spicy quality found in the Piperaceae family (such as black pepper). In fact, its genus belongs in the citrus family. It has a sharp, bright flavour, which is known to enliven food. It is also known for its numbing feature. Moments after putting one of these husks in my mouth, I was hit with an odd numbness I’ve never quite experienced before. These peppers are perfect for this dish because of how well they bring out all the flavours.

smoked duck stuffed pumpkin bite 2

Smoked Duck Szechuan Pepper Stuffed Pumpkin  

Ingredients

  • 1 medium or 2 small pumpkins (or your favourite round gourds)
  • 150 grams of chopped oyster mushrooms
  • 100 grams of smoked duck cut into bite size pieces (remove fat if rendering)
  • 1 diced bell pepper (any colour)
  • ½ cup cottage cheese
  • ¼ cup milk (any kind)
  • 45 grams or 1/3 cup of cashew pieces
  • 165 grams or 1 cup of uncooked rice (I used brown jasmine, but basmati would substitute well)
  • 5-6 cloves of chopped garlic
  • 1-3 chopped chilies (depending on your spice tolerance)
  • 1 teaspoon capers
  • 1 teaspoon butter
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon Szechuan peppers

Directions

Rinse rice two or three times by splashing around in water and draining. Finally, add two cups of water and place over high heat in a pot or rice cooker. Once it starts to boil over, turn heat very low for 20-30 minutes. My little test to check if the rice is done without stirring is to tip the pot slightly. If the rice slides or moves in any way, it needs to cook longer. If the rice doesn’t move, it’s done.

While rice is cooking, fill a large pot with enough water to submerge your pumpkin(s) and bring to a boil. Cut the top off the gourd(s) and remove the seeds and gunk.

Once water is boiling, carefully lower into the water, including the top. Allow it to boil for 15 minutes. It should be soft, but firm enough to hold its shape. Drain water and carefully scoop out the gourd. Place in the refrigerator to cool.

Heat a dash of cooking oil in a frying pan and brown the garlic and chilies. Add the mushrooms and fry until the mushrooms have released their water and have reached a modest golden colour.

Preheat oven to 350ºF/180ºC/ gas mark 4.

In a large bowl, mix all ingredients except pumpkin, butter and milk. Mix.

Pour excess water that might have pooled in the pumpkin and begin stuffing with the mixture. Once filled, pour in the milk to fight possible drying out. Top with butter and replace the pumpkin top.

Bake for 25-30 minutes. While it is baking, clean your messy kitchen and think about how hard you will eat your stuffed pumpkin.

Because you boiled the pumpkin, you can eat all of it, including the skin. Do this very thing.

Enjoy your mouth-gasms.

smoked duck stuffed pumpkin

Korean Fist-Rice with Fried Seaweed, Prosciutto and White Truffle Oil

Korean Fist Rice with Fried Seaweed Prosciutto and White Truffle Oil 2

Of all the comfort foods I have grown to love here in Korea, Joomeok Bap, or Fist-Rice has become one of my favourites. This snack is healthy, tasty, easy and satisfying to make. It is perfect to bring on a picnic or as a pick-me-up when outdoors.

Korean Fist Rice with Fried Seaweed Prosciutto and White Truffle Oil

Fist-Rice is traditionally made by hand-mixing various vegetables, as well as ground beef or dried anchovies with rice. The mixture is then tightly packed into individual, fist shaped balls.  The best of the bunch uses crumbled seaweed (kim ga-ru). This is because Korean seaweed is deep-fried, salted and flavoured with sesame seeds, perilla oil and a pinch of sugar. The stuff is salty, greasy and delicious, so it’s easy to devour an entire bag in one go.

Korean Fist Rice with Fried Seaweed Prosciutto and White Truffle Oil 1

The combination of flavours in this dish are so glorious, it brings tears to my eyes. Land and sea take hand and make beautiful fist shaped babies.

Korean Fist Rice with Fried Seaweed Prosciutto and White Truffle Oil 3

Korean Fist-Rice with Fried Seaweed, Prosciutto and White Truffle Oil

Ingredients

  • 2 cups of uncooked sticky or glutinous rice
  • 4 cups water
  • 70 grams (about 1 ½ cups) Korean crumbled seaweed
  • 100 grams thinly sliced prosciutto torn into small pieces
  • White truffle oil

Directions

Rinse rice two or three times and drain. Pour the measured water on the rice in a pot and cover. Bring to a rolling boil on high heat for 10 to 15 minutes.

Lower heat to the minimum temperature and allow the rice to cook for another 30 minutes. Never stir the rice. To check if it has absorbed all the water, simply tip the pot on it’s side. If the rice slides, it needs to continue cooking. If it doesn’t slide, it is ready to be removed from heat.

Allow the rice to cool enough that it doesn’t burn to touch with your hand.

Combine the seaweed and prosciutto with the rice. Grab small handfuls of the mixture and squeeze to form tightly packed spheres.

Drizzle white truffle oil over the fist rice and devour.

No Korean products available near you? Order here. Or here.

Stuffed Bell Peppers with Saffron Yogurt Sauce

Stuffed Yellow Peppers with Saffron Yogurt Sauce

I remember starting an odd little short story inspired by saffron when I was about twelve. My parents were avid listeners of NPR when I was growing up and I fancied Garrison Keillor’s fabulous stories from A Prairie Home Companion. I’d learned about saffron being The World’s Most Expensive Spice and started imagining tiny garden plots that could yield big money. I’d even considered using my backyard to start my own crop, blissfully unaware that the New England climate might not be suitable for saffron production. The story, if I remember correctly, was about an unassuming saffron farmer trying to survive in a small town riddled with landmines. I didn’t complete the story. The loose ends were too difficult to tie up.

 Roasted yellow peppers

The delicate filaments of the saffron crocus are handpicked and dried individually. To produce a pound, 200,000 stigmas must be picked from flowers that yield up to three threads per season. It costs $70 for an ounce. Precious.

Stuffed Yellow Peppers with Saffron Yogurt Sauce 2 

Saffron has been used in many traditional cuisines, including Spanish, Indian, Mexican and Mediterranean. Rich in flavour and deep yellow in colour, the delicate spice is often used to flavour rice, breads and seafood dishes. Saffron’s metallic flavour and sophistication are surprisingly adaptable and versatile. I was lulled by the bitter field grass scent and rusty aroma. It reminded me that the simplest answer is often the best. A few threads sprinkled on top of yogurt complimented my stuffed peppers perfectly.

Stuffed Yellow Peppers with Saffron Yogurt Sauce bite

Stuffed Bell Peppers with Saffron Yogurt Sauce

Ingredients (makes 2)

  • 2 bell peppers
  • 2 king oyster mushrooms
  • 8 oz of ground beef
  • 3 cups of shredded green cabbage
  • 6 minced cloves of garlic
  • 1 cup of cooked basmati rice
  • ½ tsp rosemary
  • 2 tbsp red wine
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce or tamari
  • ½ tsp salt
  • cooking oil

For the sauce:

  • 1 cup yogurt
  • pinch of salt
  • pinch of saffron

Directions

Preheat oven to 175ºC/ 350ºF / Gas mark 4.

Halve the mushrooms lengthwise and sprinkle oil and salt on them. Bake them in a lightly oiled pan for 30 minutes. Transfer the mushrooms into a blender and blend into a paste.

Cut the tops off the bell peppers and remove the seeds and pith from inside. Wash and sprinkle with oil and salt. Roast for 20 minutes.

Using medium high heat, brown garlic in a fry pan with some oil. Add ground beef and stir until evenly browned. Remove from heat and transfer ingredients into a bowl with the mushroom paste.

Using the same pan, stir-fry the cabbage until translucent. Transfer cabbage into a blender and blend into a paste. Add to the bowl with other ingredients.

Crumble the cooked rice into the bowl with other ingredients. Add soy sauce, salt, rosemary and red wine. Mix well.

Carefully stuff the mixture into peppers and replace the tops. Bake for 30 minutes.

Combine yogurt with salt and saffron.

Drizzle yogurt sauce on the peppers and serve.

Transformations: Dill Scallion Butter Chicken Sausage with Beet Puree and Artichoke Fennel Salad with Cucumber and Wasabi + Your Appetite

chicken sausage with beet cream and fennel artichoke salad 2

Remember that beet salad I posted a little while ago? The tangy, creamy and colourful one? Well, I made a lot of it and started to get really sick of eating it. I love beets and I love salad and have a high tolerance for both, but there’s only so much I can take of any one thing on repeat. It was imperative to exercise my leftover transforming skills in a big way.  

chicken sausage with beet cream and fennel artichoke salad

A beautiful plate and/or presentation of a dish, including bright colours and pleasant forms, can change your hunger level and alter how attracted you are towards any food or dish presented to you (excepting anything with bananas… they will always be evil).  Dishes that are beautifully arranged actually whet your appetite and make you hungrier.  

 

 

Mmm... appetizing
Mmm… appetizing

Colour plays a crucial role in our attraction to food. Studies have shown that blue is the least appetizing colour to eat. Our foraging ancestors learned to avoid toxic and spoiled foods, which were often blue, purple, grey and black (berries, eggplant, etc, excluded). That behaviour has been imprinted on us. So when food is dyed blue, our appetites turn cold. In fact, dieters are advised to use blue place mats, lights, plates, etc… when eating to aid in appetite suppression.  

 

 

Umm... not so appetizing.
Umm… not so appetizing.

Foods that are red, orange, green and yellow (depending on culture) are apparently the most appetizing and exciting to us. Red is the colour of passion, intimacy and enthusiasm and all that registers when we look at our food. Cool.  

chicken sauasge with beet cream and fennel artichoke salad bite

So, in honor of red, I give you beets. Yes, more of them.  

This dish was actually inspired by food items that had to be used from my kitchen. They were either in great abundance or approaching their expiration dates.   I had made some dill scallion butter in the summer when the garden was overflowing with dill. I made a large batch and since butter freezes well, most of it went into the freezer. It’s very easy to make (put dill, scallions and softened butter into your food processor and blend) and really tasty on everything. I use it on popcorn, toast and sometimes to fry eggs. It works gorgeously when frying up an Applegate Chicken and Apple sausage, too.  

The recipe for the beet salad can be found here. Place a cup of it in a blender (adding a bit more dressing for texture) and blend until smooth.  

 

chicken sausage with beet cream and fennel artichoke salad last biteAnd, of course, we have the artichoke heart fennel salad with cucumber and wasabi. Everything about this dish was heaven to eat. And to look at.

Artichoke Heart Fennel Salad with Cucumber and Wasabi

Ingredients

  • 2 steamed artichoke hearts, remove spiky leaves and quarter (you could heat up frozen or canned artichokes, which is a lot easier, but not nearly as good. Avoid the marinated kind)
  • 1 cup fennel bulb, sliced (about ¼ of a whole bulb)
  • 1 cup small seed cucumber, sliced
  • 1 tsp tamari or soy sauce
  • 1 tsp lime juice
  • ¼ tsp wasabi paste (or powder mixed with water 1:1)

Directions

Mix ingredients.

Plate the salad with a dill scallion butter chicken sausage and beet puree in an artful way that fills you with passion and feelings of intimacy and piques your enthusiasm.

Look at. Admire. Devour.