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

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Coconut Lemongrass Carrot Chutney + The Orange Afterglow

Coconut Lemongrass Carrot Chutney 2

I love food. I love to think about it, I love to make it. I love to eat it. I love the way it feels, smells and tastes. I will eat just about anything. Really… maybe.

 

In a recent conversation with one of my elementary classes, my students and I got on the subject of bizarre foods. We disclosed our weirdest bites to each other, almost as if they were secrets. Being in Korea, home of many super fermented foods such as kimchi and cheonggukjang (stinky fermented soybeans), as well as stews that include dog meat (good for man) and snacks that include silk worm larva, many of my students had a rather different idea of what foods should be considered bizarre than I did. When I told them I’d eaten live octopus (this one got the most squeals when I told people back home), they were all like “Oh yeah…. Sure. No biggie, teacher”, but when I told them about the scorpion lollipop I got from a classic American joke/candy shop, they gasped and screamed. Nonetheless, we giggled, squirmed and gasped as the lists flew out.

 Coconut Carrot Lemongrass Chutney ingredients

 

Many years ago, I feared food. I used to squirm at the thought of consuming anything I considered un-pure or unhealthy. For over a year, I put severe restrictions on my diet and basically only ate uncooked vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds, which is a rather expensive and time-consuming lifestyle. I had to put several hours each day into planning, acquiring and preparing my meals.

 

Carrots are one of the cheapest, easiest vegetables to acquire and I happen to be a big fan of those friendly, orange roots. I kind of lived off of them for a while, not really considering the consequences that might lurk in The Dark Side of Raw Foods. Due to the massive overdose of beta-carotene my body was receiving and the lack of starches to soak up the excess, my skin turned an extremely disturbing orange colour. I’m pretty sure I burned all the photos taken of me during my hairy hippie phase, so I have no orange hue to show you. Unfortunate… it was impressive.

 Coconut carrot lemongrass chutney ingredients 2

 

I might also add, that I had The Worst Gas Possible when I was eating raw foods. Even though it was over a decade ago, I still feel bad for the girl I drove cross-country with. I’m sure she felt like she was riding with a camel. Looking back on that time, I squirm so much more about orange skin and bad gas than tossing back a bit of snake soup, frog sashimi or random bug. I still love carrots, though. We have been through too much to let go of our relationship because of a skin tone set back. It was a little rude of them, but I let it go. 

 

Coconut Carrot Lemongrass Chutney line up

The Chutney family is a rowdy group of condiments that hails from South India. They usually contain some mixture of spice(s), vegetable(s), and/or fruit(s) and there are many varieties. Chutneys may be either wet or dry, can have a coarse to a fine texture and can contain either fresh or pickled preparations. This little chutney is rockin’. The sweetness of the carrots, creamy smoothness of the coconut and tang of the lemon would make any mouth happy. Eat with some Dijon on toast, on the side of some grilled chicken or just spoon in your mouth.

 

Coconut Carrot Lemongrass Chutney 1

Coconut Lemongrass Carrot Chutney

 

Ingredients

  • 4 cups grated carrot (about 3 carrots)
  • ½ cup grated coconut
  • 8-10 garlic gloves or scapes, chopped
  • 1 chili, finely chopped
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped lemongrass
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

In a fry pan, heat cooking oil and lightly brown the garlic, lemongrass and chilies.

Mix all ingredients in a bowl.

Garnish with sesame seeds.

Consume immediately.

Mukeunji Kimchi Frittata with Lemongrass and Sour Cream

mukeunji kimchi frittata with lemongrass and sour cream bite

 

If you move far from the things that are familiar to you, learning to adapt is essential for your survival. When I moved to Seoul 4 years ago, I found myself drowning in a sea of unfamiliarity. The language, culture, courtesies, smells, sounds and sense of personal space all amounted to a major sensory overload. Communication was difficult and mistakes were made often with hilarious results. I remember once feeling overwhelmed by a chatty taxi driver who assumed that I was able to speak Korean because I said “hello” properly. I tried to say “I don’t know” (mo-lie-yo) in response to his words, but ended up saying “How much does it cost?” (ol-my-yo) which of course confused him and prompted him to ask more questions. Another time, I’m pretty sure I told a nice ajumma on the subway who tried to be polite and talk to me that I hate Korea, when I meant to say I don’t know Korean well. I wondered why our conversation fizzled after that.

 mukeunji kimchi frittata with lemongrass and sour cream 2

 

Food was another interesting matter. Cooking and eating traditions are revered and followed with little deviation. These traditions have worked for a millennium or two, so they must be good. Too good to change. As an outsider, I was completely unaware of what these rules were and ruined many a meal in the eyes of the ladies who served me. Having been accustomed to sushi, I wanted to dip my kimbap in soy sauce. This caused a serious stir in the kitchen as no one could imagine why I would ever want to do such a thing. Did I know that the whole point to eating bibimbop was that it must be mixed thoroughly before eating? Apparently not. Once I’d turned some mushrooms over on the barbeque during a galbi meal, thus spilling all of the water they had collected. All of the Koreans at my table gasped in disappointed embarrassment. It seemed I’d rendered them useless.

 mukeunji kimchi frittata with sour cream and lemongrass

 

When I first arrived, I’d had very limited exposure to kimchi. I found it overwhelming and somewhat offensive to the senses. But, as it is one of the main sources of great pride in Korea, I plugged my nose and tossed it down. I now can’t imagine going more than a few days without eating some.

 

mukeunji kimchimukeunji kimchi 2 

Mukeungi is kimchi’s lesser-known elderly cousin. Where kimchi is usually fermented for 1 to 4 months, mukeungi has gone through an extra long fermentation process, usually about a year (!). It is ripe with flavour and smell. It is excellent for using in stews, soups and mixes gloriously with eggs. 

 

mukeunji kimchi frittata with lemongrass and sour cream ingredients

Mukeunji Kimchi Frittata with Lemongrass and Sour Cream

Ingredients

  • 12 eggs beaten
  • 2 cups mukeunji kimchi, chopped
  • 2-3 king oyster mushrooms, sliced and chopped
  • 1 large onion
  • 4 tbsp sour cream
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp lemongrass (preferably fresh), finely chopped
  • ½ tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp black sesame seeds
  • 1 tbsp butter

Directions

Heat a pan on medium high heat on your stove top, melt ½ of the butter. Add garlic, onion and lemongrass and cook for 5 minutes or until slightly brown. Stir frequently.

Add the mushrooms and cook until they begin to release their water (about 4-5 minutes). Add the mukeunji kimchi, including any juice, to the pan. Turn heat to medium and simmer for another 10 minutes.

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

Spread the remaining butter on the bottom of an 8 inch circular baking pan and transfer the kimchi mixture. Pour in the beaten eggs and add salt, and sour cream. Gently mix with a fork.

Place the pan in the oven and cook for about 20-25 minutes. To check if it is finished, insert a pick or fork into the center. If it comes out clean, it is finished. Remove from heat.

Garnish with black sesame seeds.

Vegetarian Lemon Dill Stuffed Eggplant with Couscous and Portobello Mushrooms + Tiny Kitchen

vegetarian stuffed eggplant bite 3

Cooking with eggplant is like painting on a blank canvas. It is full of possibilities. Bitter and spongy when raw (or undercooked… blech), eggplant (A.K.A aubergine, brinjal, brinjal eggplant, melongene, and guinea squash) melts in your mouth when roasted and takes almost no effort to cook to perfection. It is often used as a meat substitute for vegetarians due to its meaty texture and is known to be a good source of Vitamin K, Thiamin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Potassium and Dietary Fiber.
 

vegetarian stuffed eggplant bite 4

Eggplant has a delectable ability to transform; when cooked well, it softens, yet stays firm and loses much of its bitterness. It is also very diverse. The proof comes from all the traditional dishes from around the world that eggplant has played a key role in: ratatouille from France, baba ghanoush from the Middle East, mousakka from Greece, tagines in Morocco and curries in India. Eggplant is kind of a cuisine slut. It can’t make up its mind where it belongs. This is good for the rest of us.

 vegetarian stuffed eggplant bite 2

Since returning to Korea a month ago, my kitchen has been trying so hard to be functional and efficient. Unfortunately, it has mostly failed rather disappointingly. My small Officetell apartment has little space, lacks adequate shelving and is missing an oven and other helpful cooking instruments. This is very difficult for someone like me. Cooking is more than just survival; it is art, science and passion. It is exploration, trial and error and creative expression. It is need and desire.

 Tiny Korean kitchen

So, when my laundry rack is in the way of my cooking utensils and the (stupid) glass elements are just not hot enough, it’s far too easy to throw up ones hands and go get a kimbop instead.

 cut eggplantvegetarian stuffed eggplant with couscous

(Un?)Luckily for me, I am unerringly determined to get my kitchen up to scratch. I will fill my kitchen with the wonderful equipment I need and magically find space for them. I’ll let you know how that goes.

 vegetarian stuffed eggplant with couscous 2

All that said, I’ve been dreaming about roasting eggplant with butter, salt and cumin in my non-existent oven. Until then, here is a stuffed eggplant recipe I made shortly before leaving for Korea.

Vegetarian stuffed eggplant

Vegetarian Lemon Dill Stuffed Eggplant with Couscous and Portobello Mushrooms

Ingredients

  • 1 large eggplant
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 3 stalks of celery, chopped
  • 1 chopped onion
  • ½ cup chopped Portobello mushroom
  • 3 tbsp chopped kalamata olives
  • 1 15 oz. can of diced tomatoes
  • ½ a lemon (juiced)
  • ½ cup couscous
  • 2 tbsp fresh minced dill
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • freshly grated parmesan cheese

Directions

Preheat oven at 375º F/190ºC/Gas mark 5.

Split eggplant lengthwise and scoop out the flesh. Leave 1/8 inch of flesh on the skin and leave the skin in tact. Set the skins aside. Sprinkle the flesh with oil and salt and bake for 20 minutes.

In a stove top pan, fry the garlic and onions with oil on medium high heat until golden. Add the mushrooms and sauté for 7 minutes. Add eggplant flesh, celery, carrots and olives. Saute for 10 more minutes. Remove from heat.

Separate the diced tomatoes from the juice. Save juice in a bowl.

Place the fried mixture in a bowl. Add tomatoes, dill, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Mix well.

Place uncooked couscous in a small bowl. Pour ¼ cup of boiling water and the juice from the tomatoes onto the couscous. The couscous should puff up and be ready to use within 10 minutes.

Turn oven temperature to 400ºF/200ºC/Gas mark 6.

Divide the couscous evenly between the two eggplant shells. Press lightly on the couscous to form a flat, even bed on the bottoms of each shell.

Scoop the vegetable mixture on top of the couscous and pack it in tight.

Place the eggplants in a casserole pan and cover with foil.

Bake for 45 minutes. Remove foil halfway through baking.

If you desire, grate some Parmesan on top of the eggplant halves 5 minutes before they are ready.

vegetarian stuffed eggplant bite

ps- Happy Birthday, mum! I love you!

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.

Roasted Curry Carrots with Garlic Cilantro Raita + Redwoods of Sonoma

It’s winter and I’m out in the country with little excitement. I was struck with the winter blues about 2 weeks ago, and I haven’t successfully shaken them off yet. The Abode has been extremely quiet and the cocoon of winter makes me feel very internal. Having friends scattered literally all over the world and desiring varying sorts of comfort from each of them, I long for a teleportation device to aid me in quick visits. Anyone have one I could borrow?

 

Roasted carrot campfire
Roasted carrot campfire

 

I’ve been spending my days in alternating periods of busy-ness and sloth, but trying to be as productive as possible. I’ve taken to babying my knees, which have sadly become inflamed (winter!), preventing me from my daily runs. Boooo. I predict knee replacements in the future, hopefully many years from now. Poor little guys.

While visiting my sister in CA, we spent one cold, rainy day in Sonoma County. There, my sister, mum and I went to check out a redwood forest near Guerneville. It was very cold that day, and I was underdressed (having come from the east coast, I was foolishly optimistic about Northern California weather when packing my bag) so we didn’t spend as much time there as we’d have liked. But, we warmed ourselves up afterwards at Korbel vineyard tasting wines and champagnes.

redwood sentialsredwoods and us

 

redwood and meredwood detailCA moss and redwoods

I’ve never really been a fan of baked or roasted carrots. Perhaps I’ve held on to some bad childhood experiences, but until this summer I can’t really say that I’ve ever craved baked carrots.

roasted carrots

The Abode farm yielded an excellent crop this year and there was a tonne of every sort of produce you could desire. Cooks were forced into finding creative ways to use large quantities of produce before the food went off. This is extra challenging due to eaters who are understandably bored of eating the same thing over and over. When faced with a huge sack of beautiful carrots that need to be used right away, roasting seemed like the best way to get people to eat a lot. Luckily, I was right.

roasted carrots 2

The (not-so) secret to carrots is knowing how well they respond to sweet and savory combinations. Carrots are already loaded with natural sugars, and don’t need much more sugar to bring out the flavours. Just a pinch of added sugar will make your curried carrots pop.

Raita is a yogurt sauce originally from India. It is used to cool the palate when eating spicy food. Ingredients for raita can vary from region to region, but often contains cumin, cucumber, mint/cilantro and garlic. Even though the fries aren’t spicy, they pair beautifully with the raita.

roasted carrots 3

Roasted Curry Carrots with Garlic Cilantro Raita

Ingredients

For the carrots

  • A dozen large carrots
  • 1½-2 tbsp Indian curry powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp clove powder
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • ¼ cup cooking oil

For the raita

  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • ¼ cup grated cucumber
  • ¼ cup finely chopped cilantro
  • 2 finely chopped cloves of garlic
  • 1 tsp roasted cumin seeds (roasting instructions below)
  • ½ tsp salt and pepper

Directions

Preheat oven at 400ºF/200ºC/Gas mark 4

Peel carrots if they are especially dirty, otherwise, just wash them well and remove the ugly bits. Cut off both ends. Quarter the carrots lengthwise into strips and then cut the strips into shorter pieces. Don’t worry about making the pieces perfectly uniform, and forget about it if using garden carrots. It’s just not possible.

In a large bowl, mix (with your hands) the carrots with the curry powder, cinnamon, clove powder, salt, sugar and oil. Mix until each carrot is well seasoned and lubricated. Add more oil, if needed.

Lay the carrot pieces on (a) baking sheet(s). Allow plenty of space for each piece. Do not crowd them, otherwise, they won’t cook properly. Place in the oven and cook for 35 to 45 minutes. Check every 10 minutes to stir the carrots.

While the carrots are cooking, roast the cumin seeds. Start by placing a frying pan over high heat to get hot. Once the pan is hot, add seeds and keep them in constant motion for 2 to 3 minutes. When the seeds are brown and you can smell a warm roasted smell, remove them from heat.

Mix the seeds with the rest of the raita ingredients in a bowl. Try to not eat all of the raita before the carrots are ready (it’ll be difficult).

Dip, slather, smother, scoop, drip, drizzle cool raita on hot carrots. Warning: You may want to avoid kissing anyone on days eating the raita. Raw garlic is not romantic.