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.

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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.

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.

Molecular Gastronomy or Modern(ist) Cuisine 

Every time I attempt to describe what molecular gastronomy is, a jumble of words escape my mouth in my overexcitement and I can never satisfyingly unravel much more than: spheres, foams and balsamic caviar. I’m also certain the words “cool” and “awesome” materialize uncontrollably about 15 times per sentence. So, what is molecular gastronomy? Here’s how I understand it:

Traditionally, cooking and food preparation have always been considered an art or intuitive skill. We learn cooking methods passed down to us based on accepted techniques or we use our intuition to try (or discover) something new. Molecular gastronomy is a branch of food science that uses physics, chemistry and a bunch of really cool lab equipment to focus on the scientific investigation of cooking. Basic cooking methods and beliefs were put through extensive testing to see if they had any scientific merits to back up what was claimed. Cooking As Art met Cooking As Science and they went to work.

Though molecular gastronomy is a field of food science, one thing that perhaps distinguishes it from other fields (like food microbiology, sensory analysis and food engineering) is that practitioners of the field are cooks working in a kitchen, not scientists working in a lab. Although with some of the better-equipped restaurant kitchens, the line between kitchen and lab is a little fuzzy. This notion is so exciting to me. It seems like this science was developed purely for the love of eating.

Pioneers of scientific cookery were interested in debunking or explaining old wives tales about cooking, experimenting with existing recipes, inventing new ones and introducing new tools and technologies. They investigated the chemical changes during cooking in order to find the most favourable methods of preparing food. Some of their inquiries might have been:

Should beans be cooked with the lid on or off?

Will meat stock produce more flavour if I start with hot water or cold water?

What new cooking methods might produce improved results of texture and flavor?

The term “Molecular Gastronomy” was coined by physicist Nicholas Kurti and physical chemist Hervé This in 1992. It was also the title of the workshops they held, which drew scientists and professional cooks to discuss the science behind traditional cooking. Kurti became one of the UK’s first TV cooks when he hosted a cooking show called “Physicist in the Kitchen” in 1969. Some of Kurti’s demonstrations included making meringue in a vacuum chamber, cooking sausages by connecting them across a car battery and a reverse baked alaska which was hot on the inside, cold on the outside and cooked in a microwave.

Heston Blumenthal at work in his kitchen lab

Top chefs such as Ferran Adria of El Bulli and Heston Blumenthal (my personal hero) of The Fat Duck have become associated with the movement because of their scientific approach to cooking, although they are said to disapprove of the term because it makes cuisine sound inaccessible and snobby. Instead, they prefer to call it modern or modernist cuisine.

The objectives of molecular gastronomy today have changed somewhat. Though scientific approach is still the essence of experiments done in its name, the focal point is more on the experience of eating food and the techniques used to create unique and artful presentations. It is revolutionizing traditional cooking and transforming eating into a sort of multi-sensory experience. For example, scented air is often used to play with diners memories and emotions (the smells of leather chair and fireplace for a Christmas meal). When diners uncover their dish, puffs of air float into their nostrils titillating their sense of smell. Certain techniques have become quite popular and are now easily reproducible, such as making spheres, foams, gels and faux caviar.

Molecular gastronomy has now become more accessible to the at-home cook who doesn’t have expensive lab equipment hanging out in their kitchen. Products can be bought online to help you experiment in your own kitchen and instructional videos can be found on YouTube. Here are a few:

How to make food spheres

How to make foams

How to make faux caviar

How to make gels

I recently bought a few molecular gastronomy kits and have been experimenting in my own kitchen. It is a squeal worthy sort of satisfaction to change flavours and textures around. I will be posting my experiments and I hope they inspire others to think outside the box, too. Happy experimenting!

Order molecular gastronomy materials online here or here.

References
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Molecular_gastronomy
http://www.molecularrecipes.com/molecular-gastronomy/
This, Hervé (2005). Molecular Gastronomy: Exploring the Science of Flavor. Columbia University Press.
Kitchen Chemistry (2007): Ted Lister, Heston Blumenthal

Transformation: Red Wine and Coffee Reduction on Dark Chocolate Raspberry Crepes

 red wine and coffee reduction.jpg

A week ago, I posted my recipe for my coffee reduction along with the mishaps of trying to flavour pair it. I had almost given up. But not before realizing that it belongs on something sweet. I should’ve known from the beginning.

 chocolate raspberry crepe with red wine and coffee reduction 2.jpg

Without further ado, I give you coffee and crepes. Absolutely gorgeous.

chocolate raspberry crepe with red wine and coffee reduction.jpg

Red Wine and Coffee Reduction on Dark Chocolate Raspberry Crepes

 

Serves 6-7

Ingredients

For the crepes:

  • 1 ¼ cup all purpose flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 3 eggs
  • ¼ teaspoon salt

For the filling:

  • 2 cups whole raspberries
  • juice from 1 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 100 grams dark chocolate
  • 2 tablespoon milk

The recipe for coffee reduction can be found here.

Directions

For the crepes:

On the stove top, melt the butter. Then add the milk and heat until warm but do not let it boil.

Sift the flour into a bowl and add the salt. Make a well in the middle of the flour and crack the eggs into the bowl. Whisk the mixture.

Slowly add the milk and butter to the flour mixture in multiple batches.

Heat a fry pan and melt a small tab of butter in it. Ladle a scoop or two of the crepe batter into the pan and roll the pan around to get a nice, thin and even layer. Cook for a minute or two.

Take a spatula around the edges to make sure the crepe isn’t stuck. It should be ready to flip when it moves on its own when the pan is shaken.

Time to flip it. Get a good grip on your spatula. Wedge it under the crepe and flip the spatula and pan in a simultaneous and smooth action. Don’t worry. I messed up a few flips, but the crepes are surprisingly forgiving. Repeat until the batter is gone.

For the filling:

In a small pot, heat the raspberries, sugar and lemon on medium low heat. Crush the raspberries with a spoon and mix well.

In a separate pot, melt the chocolate with milk on low heat.

Spoon 1 tablespoon of coffee reduction onto a plate. Then place a crepe on top. Fill half of it with raspberries and chocolate and then fold in half to cover the filling.

Spoon another teaspoon of coffee reduction on top.

Try not to get a stomachache from eating too much. It might be a challenge.chocolate raspberry crepe with red wine and coffee reduction 1.jpg