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.

The Third Plate: Dan Barber Writes About the Future of Food

           Farm to table carrot potage

The farm-to-table movement has advocates from many walks of life: farmers interested in growing better food, chefs wishing to serve a more flavorful meal, and diners wishing to eat food that has been grown locally. Farm-to-table chefs work with local farmers to serve seasonal produce that is more sustainable than most farming practices in America. Dan Barber, award-winning executive chef of Blue Hill restaurant in Manhattan and its affiliate nonprofit farm Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture and celebrated author, was named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2009 for his activism in food and agricultural reform. In Barber’s book, The Third Plate, he describes farm-to-table as a “mainstream social movement [in which] success comes with mounting evidence that our country’s indomitable and abundant food system, for so long the envy of the world, is unstable, if not broken.” The farm-to-table movement and the future of food, according to Barber, can be defined as an integrated system of food production that is supported where good food and good farming intersect.

Food from the farm

Barber argues that the incredible abundance of food in America has lead to a lack of awareness from Americans. To survive harsh winters, older nations have had to develop traditional ways of preserving local foods and making use of every bit of the food they had. America doesn’t have a deeply ingrained history of preservation, which has lead to wasteful practices. He states that, “Our belief that we can create a sustainable diet for ourselves by cherry-picking great ingredients is wrong. We can’t think about changing parts of our system. We need to think about redesigning the system.” In using seasonal produce, farm-to-table practitioners are forced to draw on known preservation techniques and find ways to redesign their menus in more sustainable ways.

Garlic

The farm-to-table movement creates its cuisine using ingredients that “reflect what the landscape can provide” rather than using crops that dominate their environment. Barber asserts that American farming practices deplete soil nutrition, diminish flavor, and destroy ecological communities. He says, “Monocultures impoverish life and all its fantastic little ecosystems. They depopulate landscapes.” Agricultural reform of high yielding single crop fields is essential for creating sustainable ecology. Barber includes a quote from organic farmer and agricultural statesman, Klaas Martens, who warns, “Among the hardest lessons to learn in farming is that too much of a good thing isn’t good.” Farm-to-table integrates sustainable farming practices and uses uncelebrated crops and cuts of meat to produce the most delicious food the local environment can provide.

Dan Barber's cauliflower steak

Barber discusses the role of “chef as activist” as being an important factor in restaurant reform. Since the appearance of modern gastronomy, he says chefs “possess the potential to get people to rethink their eating habits” by responding “against a global food economy that erodes cultures and cuisines.” Barber states, “Farm-to-table restaurants promote their menus as having evolved to forage first and create later. The promise of farm-to-table cooking is that menus take their shape from the constraints of local agriculture and celebrate them.” Chefs have the opportunity to be the creative glue behind reforming the American food system by advocating local and seasonal produce grown in sustainable ways.

Dan Barber states, “Taste is a soothsayer, a truth teller. And it can be a guide in re-imagining our food system, and our diets, from the ground up.” Good food comes from more than what can be found on the dinner plate. Good food also can be reflected in sustainable farming practices, visionary menus, and creative efforts in using what foods are available now. He says, “Truly delicious food is contingent on an entire system of agriculture.” Farm-to-table sets a model for good eating in a country that has not been bound to strong traditions. It is shaping a food system for the future, one meal at a time.

 

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.

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

 

 

 

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

Experimenting with Dumplings + Musings On Time

 vegetarian dumplings 1.jpg

I’ve come to a place in my life where I realize how precious time is. I wish I had more of it. I wish I hadn’t wasted so much time in my youth on… being young. Wandering aimlessly. Thinking about various paths to take with my life and not committing to anything in particular besides living. It is, at times, difficult to avoid overwhelming myself with big questions and demands. “Why didn’t you just go for it?” my brave self says. “Why did you go for it?” my careful self says.  Honestly, how do we not tear ourselves to shreds everyday? Damn you, self-reflection.

 handmade mushroom dumplings detail

Though, I know time is never really wasted. Not really. One of the self-preservation guidelines I have acquired over my 34 years is to live life without regret. No regret for my actions or inactions. Think carefully, but not too carefully. Pick your battles, but don’t let yourself be pushed around. Cut your losses when you need to, but stand firm at other times. Focus your energy on what makes you feel good and productive. As a youth, people generally terrified me. The amount of times I wish I’d said/did something but didn’t is uncountable and I lived with the regret of it. I lived with it… until I didn’t. There was a moment in my life where I understood that regret is the most wasteful emotion in existence. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

 

I’m a little embarrassed to admit this, but it was actually after watching Brokeback Mountain that I decided to kick regret out of my life. I literally cried for two weeks- everyday, all day -after watching that film. It is a story of a character’s lifelong regret and it gave a very brutal, very lonely idea of what it took from him. It destroyed me. I felt like I was mourning the loss of time. All the time that I had dwelled on things that didn’t help me or hadn’t made the best of a situation. Why had I let my insecurities ever get the best of me? Why have I let my fears take control? I have a body and a mind. Use them! Go! Do! Be! I cried and cried and when I finished crying, I was done and have been ever since. Luckily, regret is just a state of mind. I still do dumb things, but just don’t regret them. Instead, I learn from them and take notes on how do it better next time. I suppose time has had a hand in that.

mostly vegetarian mushroom dumplings filling

I greatly enjoy wrapped things as well as the act of wrapping things. Wrapped things contain presents, surprises to discover. I take any opportunity to wrap things, especially food. Mandu, or dumplings, are so fun. I bought some mandu wraps recently and gave my first attempt at making those mini pockets of delight. I often see Mandu Masters working their magic on each specimen, making them perfectly uniform every time and with incredible speed and efficiency. I bow down to these masters.

Some discoveries from my first few attempts:

  • It is challenging to prevent the mandu from looking like deformed ears.
  • It is fun to eat the ones you mess up.
  • You can fill your mandu with pretty much whatever you want, as long as it is viscous enough.

  

Mandu wraps can be found in the refrigerator section of just about any market or supermarket in Korea. If you do not reside in Korea/Asia nor have a market that provides these wraps, they can be made easily with a little flour and water. I may try a more traditional filling recipe someday, but for now, experimenting is too much fun.

Here is the recipe I made most recently.

vegetarian dumplings.jpg

Vegetarian Mandu and Dipping Sauce

 

Ingredients

  • 1 package of mandu wraps (containing 20-30 wraps)
  • 2 cups of cooked rice, rice noodles or your starch of choice
  • 1 block of firm tofu
  • celery tops and leaves from one bunch, chopped
  • 8-10 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 3 chili peppers, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • ½ teaspoon salt

Directions

Heat a stovetop fry pan and pour in a dash of cooking oil over medium high heat. Cook the chopped garlic, chilies and onions for a few minutes until translucent and slightly brown. Then, add the chopped celery. Cook until the celery is tender. Once cooled, blend this mixture until viscous. Set aside in a bowl.

If using rice noodles or any longer noodles, be sure to break or cut them before adding to the filling mixture. This is to prevent difficulty in closing up the mandu properly. If using rice, simply add to the mixture.

Heat your stovetop pan once again with oil on medium high heat. Crumble the tofu by hand directly into the pan and cook for 5-10 minutes or until slightly brown. Add the tofu to the rest of the filling mixture along with the salt. Mix.

Prepare a steamer with water and heat until boiling.

Now for the fun part: filling the wraps. Place a heaping teaspoon of filling into the center of each wrap. Fold one side over and roll the wrap into a log shape. Pinch the ends closed and wrap them around until they touch on one side. Wet your fingers and pinch together until closed. Place them in the steamer and steam for 7-10 minutes.

Your mandu can be eaten at this stage, but I highly recommend a further step of a light pan-frying. This makes your mandu extra delicious. Simply, heat a little oil in a pan and fry the mandu on each side for about 2-3 minutes.

For the sauce, my method is fool proof and delicious: one part soy sauce, one part white or apple cider vinegar and a pinch of chili powder.

Dip your lopsided, ear-shaped mandu lovingly into the sauce. Laugh about how each one will help you hear better and devour ruthlessly.

Kohlrabi Cilantro Salsa for 20

 Kohlrabi cilantro salsa ingredients

Kohlrabi is a member of the brassica family and is cousin to vegetables such as cabbage, brussel sprouts and broccoli. Brassica vegetables are so real, you can’t even handle it. They are known for their sulfurous smells and super green taste. Some poor souls are actually turned off by this.

sliced kohlrabi

What haters might not know is just how versatile the family is. They pickle and ferment like bosses, they can be eaten raw in salads or just as is and they’re loaded with good-for-you fibers and minerals. They also rock any stews and stir fries you might want to try.

kohlrabi cilantro salsa mix

Even though kohlrabi looks a bit like the UFO of the vegetable kingdom on the outside, it actually has a very pleasant and sweet taste. If a sweet broccoli ever existed in prehistoric times, it eventually evolved into the kohlrabi.

kohlrabi cilantro salsa

This recipe yields about a gallon of salsa. If you are like me, it will be gone in a few days, but if it is too much for you or your kitchen, use a smaller kohlrabi (or just half) and fewer tomatoes. Adjust measurements for your pleasure. Hang loose.

kohlrabi cilantro salsa1

This is a fairly watery salsa. I do not recommend draining it as much of the flavour lies in the liquid. Dip chips for a snack, top on toast with an egg for brunch or just dig in with a spoon. Serves 15-20 and will keep in your fridge for a week, although it probably won’t last long enough to go bad. Enjoy!

 

Kohlrabi Cilantro Salsa

 

Ingredients

  • 1 large kohlrabi (any colour)
  • 3-4 diced medium tomatoes
  • 1 diced large yellow onion
  • 1 deseeded and diced bell pepper
  • 2-3 minced cloves of garlic
  • 1 washed and chopped bunch of fresh cilantro (including stems)
  • 1 can of black olives
  • 1 can of sweet corn
  • 1-5 chilies (depending on your tolerance… I like it spicy, so I used 5)
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • ½ teaspoon cracked black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon worstershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon black sesame seeds (for garnish)

Directions

Peel all the skin off the kohlrabi, including the fibrous inner layer, until only the white inside remains. Slice into thin, 5 milimeter slices. Cut the slices into thin sticks and then dice into small pieces.

Place the kohlrabi into a large mixing bowl.

Open the can of olives and drain most of the water (I added a little into my salsa for flavour). Smash olives with the flat side of knife and chop into rough pieces or you could just crush the whole olives in your hands. Add to the kohlrabi. Drain the can of corn and add to the mix.

Add all of the remaining ingredients and mix well. Garnish with cilantro leaves and sesame seeds.