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.

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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

Flavour Pairing: Cauliflower Cashew Soup with Curry Yogurt Sauce + Leaving the Road Less Travelled

Cauliflower cashew soup with curry yogurt sauce

I always struggle to answer when asked where I’m from. Do I answer the place I was born? The place I’ve been most recently? Where I grew up? The place I’ve spent most of my life? The place my family lives? Where I’m most comfortable? Any of these could be the actual question behind the posed inquiry and my head swims with possible responses. For me, each would get a different reply.

Shiny
Shiny

The past decade or so of my life has been spent in a relatively nomadic state. I’ve lived and worked overseas, studied abroad and traveled like a maniac. The idea of ‘home’ has been stretched and expanded to mean more than I’ve ever thought possible. Home is where the heart is, yes, but home is so much more, too. I felt at home when I finally stepped on Icelandic soil after having dreams about the place for many years. Montreal is the home of my mum’s side of the family, as well as many of my closest friends, and though I only lived there for my university years, it feels like home. I lived in Seoul (and have now just returned) for 3 ½ years, and it too has a place in my heart and feels like home. I can’t tell my life story to every person who asks me where I’m from, so I usually come up with one short answer or another.

 Cauliflower cashew soup with curry yogurt sauce 2

After a few rushed weeks of fevered packing, random fits of tears and goodbye kisses, I left my home by my mother’s side at The Abode of the Message in New Lebanon, New York to return to Korea. The Abode is the place I was born, rebelled against and returned to. It is the place I lost my father and found a new meaning to the importance of family. It is the place I found love, lost it, and found it again. Eight peaceful months were spent cooking, eating, writing, photographing, running, loving, breathing, blissing out on nature, watching out for bears, catching up with old loved ones and meeting new loved ones. 

 Cauliflower cashew soup with curry yogurt sauce mixed 2

As I was staying with my mother for the first time in 10 years, there were a few challenges to overcome. Mainly involving myself not acting like an entitled 12 year old. This is a tough challenge for anyone reorganizing their lives to be closer to their mum. I took it as an opportunity to better my relationship with her. I didn’t always succeed… with the whole not being a grumpy, misunderstood teenager thing, but I tried.

 

When it came down to saying goodbye, even though I’ve done it countless times before (both to The Abode and to my mum), I found I was only able to remember the good things, the best things. Our connection fills me so much that my eyes start to leak. Home.

 

So, let the reign of debauchery and hilarity in Korea begin.

misspelled English sign in KoreaWelcome to SamcheongdongThe new Seoul City Hall building 

By the way, this cauliflower cashew soup with curry yogurt sauce is perfectly balanced and really pretty. Also, preparing a sauce for a soup makes you feel like you’re on top of things and you know what you’re doing.

 

Besides, it’s so easy.

Cauliflower cashew soup with curry yogurt sauce mixed

Cauliflower Cashew Soup with Curry Yogurt Sauce

Ingredients

For the soup:

  • 1 large head of cauliflower (about 7-10 cups chopped roughly)
  • 2 ½ cups cashew pieces
  • 1 cup chopped potato
  • 1 leek, washed and chopped
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 5 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1 tbsp fenugreek
  • ¼ tsp clove powder
  • 1 ½ tbsp salt
  • 2 tsp black pepper
  • a pinch of paprika
  • cooking oil
  • water

For the sauce:

  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 1 ½ tsp Indian curry powder
  • ¼ tsp salt

Directions

Add some cooking oil, the onions and garlic to a large pot on medium high heat. Let brown for 4-5 minutes. Stir intermittently.

Add cauliflower, leek and potato. Cook for 10 minutes.

Pour water in until all vegetables are just covered. Do not put in too much or the soup will be watery. Add cashews and spices.

Let the soup boil for 20-25 minutes.

Take the soup off the heat. Using an emersion blender, blend the soup until smooth.

In a separate bowl, mix yogurt, salt and curry powder until well incorporated.

Place a dollop of yogurt on top of the soup when ready to serve.

Serves 4-6

Molecular Gastronomy: Bacon Wrapped Acorn Squash with Balsamic Caviar and Maple Sphere

Bacon wrapped acorn squash with balsamic caviar and maple sphere

I’m slightly concerned about my post titles being a bit too long. I can admit that they’re all a mouth full… and somehow, they manage to keep growing. To me, this isn’t exactly a problem as I think naming a dish according to the ingredients it contains gives my readers a clear idea of what the post (and recipe) is about.  I like to list the ingredients I feel are important to each dish, but since my recipe interests include things like flavour pairing and molecular gastronomy, I tend to think ALL of the ingredients are important. Woops. Predicament.

It’s also due to my own personal inability (or laziness) to come up with a catchy title. It’s clearly too challenging for me to plan a dish, make it, photograph it, write about it AND create a catchy title. That’s just taking it too far. Anyway, I personally like to see literal titles. Let the food speak for itself. Most people can look at the ingredients (if they’re relatively familiar with them) in a recipe and get a sense of whether or not they’ll like it. Right? The names and imagined flavours swirl around in your mind, forcing the idea of the dish into your mouth. I appreciate the honesty of a literal title… but again, there’s the whole length issue. What do you think? Let me know what sort of title catches your eye.

Bacon wrapped acorn squash with balsamic caviar and maple sphere

OK, so it turns out that this recipe is ridiculous. Utterly ridiculous in the best way. Nathan and Alex came to visit me some time ago. Just as passionate lovers never leave the bedroom, my foodie friends and I never left the kitchen over the three days they were around. Fevered moments of flavour creativity (some might say delirium) and collaboration were plentiful and virtuous food was abundant.  The guys brought with them a gorgeous array of fresh farmer’s market produce. Most important of this haul was bacon. Locally butchered, farm fresh strips of fatty delight. It created a revolution in my home and became part of almost every meal.

Bacon wrapped acorn squash with balsamic caviar and maple sphere

While we played around with my molecular gastronomy kits, futzing with spheres and such, Nathan remembered once again that we had bacon. How he could’ve forgotten, I’m not sure. I certainly hadn’t stopped thinking about it. Luckily, he took that thought one step further and remembered the acorn squash he’d brought. It came to everyone’s attention that wrapping bacon around grilled acorn squash would be painfully good. I’m still in pain now. Oy vay.

First, we blanched our cut slices of squash in boiling water for 3 minutes (only 4 at a time so the water doesn’t cool).

blanched acorn squash

Next, we grilled those beauties on a stove-top grill (pan frying is totally acceptable). Luckily, there was some bacon fat left on the grill which added extra flavour to the squash.

Grilled acorn squash

Now that our squash had those beautiful grill marks, we wrapped them (so hard) in bacon and baked them. Sadly, I must note that we had run out of bacon by that point, so not every piece of squash was wrapped.

I showed the boys how to make molecular balsamic caviar, which happily features in this dish.

Balsamic caviar

Maple spheres are also featured. And just look at that little guy! Beautiful, isn’t it?

maple sphere

Of all the maple spheres we made (about 8) this one was the only sphere presentable enough for a photo. When making spheres, it is important that your ingredients have a certain level of calcium in them for the thin film to form properly. Apparently, maple syrup is lacking in the calcium department and the film did not form well. They kept sticking and breaking when I tried to move them. In the hopes of getting one or two out of it, I left some in the sodium alginate bath for a long time (about 15 minutes), which paid off. If I were to try making them again, I’d add some yogurt to the mixture to avoid the same problem.

Bacon wrapped acorn squash with balsamic caviar and maple sphere

 

Bacon Wrapped Acorn Squash with Balsamic Caviar and Maple Sphere

Ingredients

1 acorn squash- cleaned of seeds (with or without peel) and divided into 8-10 pieces

Strip bacon- lots

Balsamic caviar (video instructions below)

Maple sphere (video instructions below)

Water

 

Directions

Preheat your oven to 350 °F/ 180 °C/ Gas mark 4.

Boil a large pot of water. Place 3-4 pieces of squash in the water. Blanch them for 3 minutes then remove them from heat. Repeat until all pieces are blanched.

Grill or pan fry the squash on high heat until the surfaces are beautifully brown.

Place bacon wrapped squash in a casserole pan and bake for 25-30 minutes.

Garnish with balsamic caviar and maple sphere.

Eat and be amazed.

Thanks guys! It was fun!

33 1/3rd Birthday + Grapefruit Cheesecake with Lemon Licorice and Vodka Cream

Last week, I celebrated my 33 and a third birthday. 33.33. I know it isn’t commonplace to celebrate a fraction of one’s birthday, but turning exactly one third of a century was too good to pass up without festivities. An old roommate and friend of mine from Montreal invited me to her 33 1/3rd birthday some years ago. It really struck me as a perfect event to celebrate; after all, three is a magic number.

cheesecake with licorice cream 2 Three. Past, present and future. Spirit, mind and body. Mother, father and child. Beginning, middle and end. The Three Furies, the rule of three, triangles, etc. 3 or 33 has appeared as important numbers in history, science, astronomy, sports, spirituality, nature, math and even geography. It symbolizes balance, clarity and wholeness. Threeness had overwhelmingly sold itself to me as something awesome. I was determined to do something great when I hit the big 33.33 and since my actual 33rd birthday was kind of a non-event, it was even more reason to party.

cheesecake bite So, I did. My real birthday is on July 12th. I added a third of a year (4 months) to find that the precise date of my 33 1/3rd birthday was November 12th, 2012. In lieu of all the threeness, I decided that the theme of the party would be: (surprise!) 3’s! Here’s what I did:

Invite: I thought a party with a 3 theme could possibly be confusing and overwhelming for some of my guests, so I outlined the requests of the evening very simply in the hopes that my guests would interpret the theme in their own way. I asked everyone to dress up and bring food with 3 in mind. I told them that this was a very loose idea and could be interpreted in any way they like. It could be as simple as wearing three colours and bringing a 3-bean salad. I encouraged their creative ideas and humour to lead them more than what they thought I was expecting. It was all about fun.

Note: I wanted to celebrate on the exact date, which landed on a Monday. I asked my guests if they could manage coming on Monday or if they preferred Sunday. I tallied the votes before making the decision. Luckily, it worked out to be Monday. The official start time was 3:33pm, but I told everyone to come later.

Ideas: I encouraged my guests with a few ideas to pique their interest. Actually, I really just googled “things in threes” or “common threes” and loads of lists came up such as:

3 minute egg
3 Stooges
3 Cheers
3 Musketeers
3 piece suit
3 dimensional
3 ring notebook
Small, medium and large
On your mark, get set, go
Hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil
Etc…

The list was pretty long. But effective!

Our Trio costume: Ready, Aim, Fire!
Our Trio costume: Ready, Aim, Fire!

Another clever costume: Third eyeAnother clever costume: Third eye

Some of the dishes we ended up with were Shepard’s pie (3 layers), dip (also 3 layers), 3 different snacks, tri coloured soup, multi layered cocktails (details on those to come) and multi alcohol cocktails.

Food: My guests were most confused about food. I guided them with a few ideas like:
3 ingredients
3 layers
3 containers
3 colours
3 dishes

grapefruit cheesecake with licorice vodka cream

My main contribution to the food selection was the grapefruit cheesecake with lemon licorice and vodka cream (with the crust it qualifies as 3 layers).  Gorgeously balanced in flavour and decadently rich.

Grapefruit Cheesecake with Lemon Licorice and Vodka Cream

Ingredients

Crust

  • 2 cups crushed graham crackers
  • 2 tsp grated grapefruit zest
  • ½ cup melted butter
  • 1 ½ tsp cinnamon

Filling

  • 2 grapefruits
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 ¼ cup sugar
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 4 tbsp agar agar (powdered)
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 pound (16 oz) of softened cream cheese
  • 1 ¼ tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 tsp grated grapefruit zest
  • 1 tsp grated lemon zest
  • 2/3 cup whipping cream

Cream

  • 2 cups icing sugar
  • 3 tbsp licorice powder (NOTE: I used hard candies I had brought back from Iceland and powdered them in the food processor. You could experiment with various different licorice candies to see which ones crush and/or melt well).
  • 2/3 cups vodka
  • ½ tsp lemon extract
  • 3 cups heavy cream

Directions

Cheesecake

Mix crust ingredients until evenly combined. Press the crust to the bottom of the pan you will be keeping your cheesecake in (about 9 inches).

cheesecake crustcheesecake crust 2Peel the grapefruits and separate segments into small pieces. Drain the juice for the filling.

grapefruit sections Combine agar agar and water in a pot and heat on high. Stirring constantly, allow the mixture to boil and remove from heat. Separate 2 eggs. Combine the yolks and remaining whole egg, sugar, salt and 1 tbsp of the juice in a double boiler. Stir regularly. Remove from heat when thickened. Combine this mixture with the agar agar in a bowl.

cheesecake stuff Beat the cream cheese with the remaining grapefruit juice (½ cup) and lemon juice/rinds. Combine with the egg mixture. Lightly whip heavy cream. Beat egg whites until they form soft peaks. Gently fold the cream and egg whites into the cheese mixture.

cheesecake mix Pour this on top of the crust and chill for several hours.

grapefruit cheesecake spreading

Cream

Mix licorice powder, sugar, lemon extract and vodka in a bowl. Stir until well combined and smooth.

Icelandic licorice candy

licorice vodka cream Whip heavy cream with a whisk or an electric mixer until stiff and forms soft peaks.

licorice vodka cream mix 2 Gently fold licorice mixture into the cream until well mixed.

licorice vodka cream mix Chill for at least an hour.

licorice vodka cream in jar Serves 8-10 lucky people.

cheesecake with licorice cream 3

Visualizing the Flavour Pairing of Cranberry Curry and Mint Cashew Butter

Firstly, here are a few photos of my hood: The Berkshires of New York. The colours at the moment are absolutely outrageous. My eyes are outraged by all this beauty.

Black and orangemisty treesorange treered leaf

Maybe it’s planetary or the fact that Halloween, hearty soups and pumpkin pie are imminent, but fall always gives me a feeling like something huge is happening in the world. It could be that nature’s insane peacock display of beauty is so overwhelming. Either way, I can practically taste the colours. I love the smell of cold that lingers on you after a crisp walk and the chill that draws us closer to others for warmth. What a super cool time of year. How lucky am I? So lucky.

cashew butter plate

Sometimes, to find inspiration when experimenting in the kitchen, I just set several different ingredients out on a table and see what feels right. Looking at the ingredients, I imagine their flavours and textures and see if they could be paired. On this particular occasion I chose cashews as my base.cashew butter2

cashew mintbutter

Cashews have impressed me so many times with their transformative flavour personalities. The vegan movement has spurred on some pretty ingenious ideas (as well as some truly awful ones) and cashews have been a champion in this process. Anyone who has had cream of broccoli soup with creamed cashews to replace dairy cream will know just how wonderful and surprising they can be. Not only did I not notice that it wasn’t dairy when I tried it, but I remarked on how complex and nuanced the soup was. Cashews are light, delicate and creamy and they combine very well with many flavours.

I futzed around with different ingredients (including a nauseating licorice and smoked salt combo) for a while until I found the winning team. Dried cranberries, Indian curry powder and garden fresh pineapple mint also happened to be on my ingredients table. The results were superbly balanced and sophisticated. No one flavour overpowered the other. The cashews saw to it that every player got along with the rest and played fairly. The sweetness of the dried cranberries, the earthy and spicy qualities of the curry powder and the vigor of the mint blended with the cashews in a glorious way. Imagine that.

cashew butter3

Cranberry Curry and Mint Cashew Butter

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup cashews
  • 2 tbsp dried cranberries
  • 1 tbsp fresh chopped mint (I used pineapple mint but spearmint or apple mint will do. I do not recommend peppermint.)
  • 1 tsp Indian curry powder
  • 1-2 tbsp olive oil
  • a pinch of salt

Directions

Blend all ingredients until creamy. Add more olive oil for a smoother consistency.

Try the spread on a piece of toast with some fresh pesto.

Store in the refrigerator.