Woo hoo! Autumn officially started this week and I’m loving it! Temps are dropping… a little, and everything has pumpkin in it. The one thing I’m missing is the fall foliage. I’m seeing pictures people post of Salt Lake and the leaves are definitely changing there. But in sunny California the leaves are mostly green. Do the leaves change here???

Another great thing about autumn is that it’s the official inception of soup season. You know how much I love my soups. I’ve gushed about my love of a steaming hot bowl of pho on a summer day and the joy of a good soup filled with farmer’s market goodies. I figured since the last post was about making chicken broth, let’s get some recipes for soup made with that beautiful golden broth!

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Remember this? Now let’s make something with it!

I do have one caveat, or confession maybe. All of these recipes I got through process of internet surfing over the years and I always try to give credit to the authors for their creations . I know the authors for all but one and I won’t claim the recipe as my own. I have standards you know. These have just been my favorite recipes that I make several times a year after I’ve made a batch of chicken stock. They have been proven delicious and just circulated into my recipe collection so, I will admit these are not mine but they still need to be shared. Because duh, they’re delicious!

The first soup is a favorite with my hubby (and pretty much everyone who likes chicken soup). Chicken and Dumplings.

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Chicken and Dumplings by Simplyrecipes.com

This is pretty much always the follow-up soup to when I do my chicken stock making dance. It’s soooo good. And my go-to recipe for this soup can be found on one of my favorite food blogs: simplyrecipes.com. My hubby is rarely found in the kitchen while I’m cooking but when I’m making this he tends to hover. I absolutely recommend using cake flour for the dumplings. And really try hard not to lift the lid while the dumplings are steaming. These are the two essential keys to guaranteeing you get fluffy, light, and tender dumplings.

I have just received a request for chicken and dumplings this week. Go figure.

The next soup was a favorite of our (sometimes) paleo, superman, outdoor hero of a roommate, Mike. He was a monster of the back country on his split board (a snowboard that split in to skis so that he could climb mountains on them?!), he volunteered for the ski patrol and in the summer he was biking up canyons for hundreds of miles. He was very interested in learning to cook and finding new ways to pack as many calories into a meal as possible but still be healthy. I would make pots of soup that could feed 8-10 for our household of 3 because Mike was there to pick up the slack. Now… well, let’s just say I really need to learn to cook for 2.

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Paleo Chicken, Sweet Potato, and Mushroom Chili by thetexaspeach.com

This is the ultimate, hearty, healthy, paleo stew. I like a little avocado and salsa on top of my bowl and it’s delicious with tortilla chips (obviously not paleo). I’ve also made a version with butternut squash instead of sweet potato. Very autumny.

The final recipe is the lost recipe without an owner. I emailed it to myself back in July of 2013 and I didn’t include the author. I’m a horrible person. But to the credit of the unknown author, this recipe is delicious! I’ve made it several times and it’s always a crowd-pleaser. So here’s the recipe, but again I am not responsible for this pot of comfort.

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Chicken Tortilla Soup

1 medium onion,  chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp. olive oil
2 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. cumin
1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes, (or rotel tomatoes and chilis)
32 oz. chicken broth
1 14 oz. can corn, drained
2 boneless chicken breast, cooked and shredded into bite-size pieces
1 14 oz. can black beans, drained
3  tbsp. corn meal, mixed with water
2 tsp. freshly squeezed lime juice

Optional Garnishes:
fresh avocado, cut into chunks
fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into chunks
fresh cilantro, chopped
green onion, chopped
tortilla crisps
lots of fresh lime slices

In a large stock pot, heat oil over medium heat. Saute onion and garlic in oil until soft. Stir in chili powder, oregano, cumin, tomatoes, and broth. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 to 10 mins. Stir in corn, chicken, and lime juice. Stir in corn meal and water. Simmer 10 mins., or until heated through.

You can put garnishes out for diners to add to soup or you can plate the soup with at least the avocado and mozzarella. Place avocado and mozzarella cheese in the bottom of individual serving bowls. Ladle the soup over the top, cheese will retain some shape but melt into the soup. Top with remaining garnishes to taste.

This is probably my favorite of all the soups here. I LOVE the lime and the cumin in the soup. My mouth is watering just thinking of it! I think I just put in my own request for this week! Long live Soup Season!

We are heading into cooler months and I’m more than excited about it. I love summer, especially northern California summers but there’s just something about autumn. It smell better, feels better, and the clothes get cuter (IMHO). Instead of having a set uniform of tank and shorts (because I would melt into a puddle if there were any more clothing involved), I get to bust out my favorite jeans, scarves, and boots. YES!

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A big ‘ol pot a something good.

I also LOVE the food of colder months. I’ve said before that my favorite thing to cook is a roast chicken. It’s so comforting and makes your whole kitchen smell amazing while it roasts in the oven. I’ve posted about roasting chicken before and the post also included a few tips and tricks from none other than Thomas Keller, Ultimate Blackbelt Poultry Master. Also, here’s the food blog post that inspired me to try my hand at chicken roasting in the first place: userealbutter.com. You already love the blog just based on the name, right?

My next favorite thing to make after a roast chicken is chicken stock. This is a peek into my weird food neuroses. I love the process of trying to get everything I can out of one chicken and how many meals I can stretch it to. I feel so accomplished and frugal after I’ve completely maximized the utility of a chicken. I am a novice poultry master.

We use the chicken stock for sooo many recipes and I like to freeze some for future use as well. After our roast chicken dinner generally follows a combination of chicken soups and chicken and dumplings. It’s hubby’s favorite part of the roast chicken dinner – everything that follows, that is.

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Chicken and Dumplings

It was a recipe on simplyrecipes.com that inspired me to begin my stock making career. She offers 2 ways to make stock and a basic recipe. I do admit that if you aren’t use to working with raw meat, let alone a whole chicken then you may need to take this in baby steps. In fact, you can skip handling a whole raw bird all together. It’s super easy to get a rotisserie chicken from the supermarket and after you’ve eaten your fill, use the remaining to make stock.

The general recipe for stock consists of chicken bones, skin, fat, mirepoix – just a fancy way of saying carrots, celery, and onions; parsley, water, salt, and pepper. You put everything except the salt and pepper into a big stock pot, bring it to a boil and then lower the heat to a very low, soft simmer. Let the stuff simmer away uncovered for at least 4 hours and occasionally skim off the foam that comes to the top. After a fair amount of simmering, remove all the vegetables and bones. I also like to put the stock through a mesh strainer to get it really smooth. Season with salt and pepper to your taste.

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The delicious beginning

I made stock with my sister for the first time and she even exclaimed about how simple it was. She has a famous lemon rice recipe that uses a lot of chicken stock and when she used our homemade stock in the rice….. oh man, that was some damn good lemon rice. I’ll have to get that recipe from her….like, now.

Sister’s first chicken broth

If you’re a very accomplished chicken stock maker I would love some tips and advice. If you’ve never made stock, you totally should! It is a bit time consuming (make sure you have at least 4 hours to let your broth simmer to full brilliance) but so worth it. Everything tastes so much more amazing with your own homemade stock in it. There will be more recipes to come, including a chicken and dumpling recipe! Go now! Make broth!

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Chicken Tortilla Soup

 

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Lover’s Point Beach in Monterey, CA

Summer is in full swing and we’ve been exploring the beautiful sites around the northern California coast. We made it out to Monterey to meet up with some friends from back home and took a long walk up Lover’s Point Beach. It was breathtaking. I love the weather on the northern coasts, not too hot and the breeze smells amazing. We sampled chowder on the wharf, ate soft-shelled crab sandwiches, and marveled at the gigantic sea lions piled up on each other on the beach. How do the ones on the bottom breath???

We’ve also been going to Chico, CA about once a month for my husband’s work. I really love that town. It’s surrounded by farm country and the produce out there is gorgeous. For such a small town, they have amazing eats. I haven’t had a bad meal out there and a lot of that has to do with access to fresh, seasonal, local produce.

Another great thing about summer? Strawberries. I love strawberries. They are such beautiful red gems of deliciousness and we’re right in the middle of the season. A sea of strawberry cartons cover most tables at the farmer’s market and you can smell them as  you walk by. They all look so perfect and enticing. And apparently there are lots of different kinds of strawberries. I remember buying some strawberries at a market in Paris and they were so different. They were very delicate and almost foamy when you bit into them. Despite the lacey texture, they were very flavorful.

Strawberries in Chico

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Strawberries at the Farmer’s Market in Chico, CA

During the summer, foodgawker and my blog reader are clogged with strawberry desserts, cakes, ice creams and even salads. A big trend I’ve noticed lately is the combination of strawberries and balsamic. I haven’t tried that combo yet but I’m super curious. My absolute favorite way to eat strawberries is Strawberries Romanoff, I have no idea what the history of this dish is but it’s very unique and delicious. You take fresh strawberries, dip them in sour cream then in brown sugar……. I am drooling right now!

I attempted a Japanese spongecake recipe and it turned out pretty good. Although, I had to tinker with it because I didn’t have the right size cake pan and I had to make enough for a group of up to 10. As many of you more experienced bakers know, tinkering with baking recipes is to be done at your own peril. I ended up with a huge sponge cake but it was pretty delicious. And I learned what stabilized whipped cream is. Stabilized whipped cream is a must for any cake served in the summer! It doesn’t melt in the heat! If you’d like to tackle the recipe for Japanese sponge cake, it can be found on a blog called lafujimama.com. It’s a pretty simple recipe but make sure you have an 8″ cake pan for the perfect thickness!

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Japanese style spongecake with stabilized whipped cream

I have also run across a recipe for the best dessert so far this summer. Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta with Strawberry sauce. It’s an Ina Garten recipe but in the original recipe, she uses that popular combo of strawberries and balsamic vinegar. I was going to make this for dinner with a guest and wasn’t sure how that adventurous combination would go over so I just made a simple strawberry sauce instead. The panna cotta was delicious and got raves from my hubs and our guest but I wasn’t satisfied with the texture. It was too soft for me. I made it again and added more gelatin. I like the results better.

The great thing about this recipe is that it can be prepared the day before and is better the longer you let it sit. It’s also a very pretty dessert. I really wanted to find pretty glass brandy snifters to serve it in but ran out of time.

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Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta with Strawberry sauce. See? Isn’t it gorgeous?

I still have some strawberries and cream left. I may just make this again. If you make Ina’s recipe with the balsamic strawberries, please report back with your results! I’d love to know. Enjoy!

Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta with Strawberry Sauce

Panna Cotta adapted from Ina Garten

You will need 4 small bowls or juice glasses. Makes  4 6 oz. servings

For the panna cotta:

1 1/2 teaspoons of unflavored granulated gelatin

2 tablespoons cold water

1 1/2 cups heavy cream divided in half

1 cup plain yogurt

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/2 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped into a bowl

1/3 cup sugar

For the strawberry sauce:

1 cup strawberries, hulled and finely chopped by hand or in a food processor

2 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons water

Extra thinly sliced strawberries and mint sprigs for garnish.

 

Place 2 tablespoons of cold water in a small bowl and sprinkle in gelatin. Stir and let the gelatin dissolve for 10 mins.

In the meantime, whisk together 3/4 of a cup heavy cream, yogurt, vanilla extract, and vanilla bean seeds. Put the other 3/4 of cup heavy cream in a saucepan with 1/3 cup sugar over medium-low heat. Bring to a gentle simmer. Don’t let it boil or the cream will begin to cook and get lumpy. Remove the heated cream from the heat and add the softened gelatin. Stir to fully dissolve.

Slowly and carefully pour the warm cream mixture into the cold cream-yogurt mixture. Stir to combine. I try to stir the mixture as I’m pouring it in to help it temper. Pour the final mixture into 4 small bowls, ramekins or juice glasses. Chill in the refrigerator, uncovered until cold through. Once they are completely chilled, cover with plastic wrap and chill overnight.

Make strawberry sauce ahead of serving it. Let it cool to at least room temperature before putting it on the panna cotta. Put strawberries, sugar and water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat and let simmer for 15 mins. Remove from heat and let cool.

To serve, top panna cotta with fresh, sliced strawberries, and spoon strawberry sauce over berries. Garnish with a little mint, if you like.

 

 

 

 

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Several years ago I found this amazing tomato sauce recipe that was so simple it was deceiving how good it was. The woman and chef behind this amazing sauce was quite a character in the culinary world. She was the chain-smoking, opinionated, Italian alternative during Julia Child’s skyrocketing fame and she was amazing. The more I find about about her the more enamored I become of her, her cooking, and her approach to food. Marcella Hazan passed away just last year but she had such an effect on how Americans cook and eat Italian food; even if you’d never heard of her, you probably cook things a certain way because of her. Here’s a great NY Times article, written shortly after her death.

Marcella Hazan’s tomato sauce is the most requested item in our house and one of the most versatile sauces I’ve ever encountered.  I call it 3 ingredient sauce and it’s beautiful. It’s so simple in it’s makings but the purest, most delicious, perfect tomato flavor. When I made it for my husband while we were dating he began requesting it and soon we had it at least once a week. I wouldn’t go so far as to credit this 3 ingredient sauce for our marriage but it certainly helped.:)

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Homemade margherita pizza with 3 Ingredient Sauce

This sauce makes for a really easy dinner too. As the sauce cooks you can saute chicken or veggies and cook the pasta. When that’s all done, the sauce will be ready. I’ve also made big batches of this sauce and frozen it for later.

Surprisingly, I can’t find photos of me cooking the sauce but it’s such an easy sauce I really don’t think you need a play by play. I prepare it a little differently than the recipe I found on a blog called SteamyKitchen.com. The original recipe instructs you to halve an onion and when the sauce is done cooking, to remove it. I like to thinly slice the onion and leave it in the sauce. It makes for a chunkier, heartier sauce. I also use unsalted butter so I can control my salt intake. So, technically it’s a 4 ingredient tomato sauce but if you were to use salted butter, it would be 3.

I do however have pics of what I’ve use the sauce for. I bowl of pasta with this sauce is super comforting but I’ve also put it on pizzas, zucchini pasta, used in in lasagna, simmered shrimp in it, poached eggs in it and eaten it with just scraps of bread when I’ve run out of pasta. It’s that good.

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Old Bay dusted shrimp with 3 Ingredient sauce over zucchini noodles

So without further adieu, Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce:

1 28 oz. can of whole or diced tomatoes with juices (San Marzano tomatoes are best for this recipe)

5 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 medium onion, peeled and halved (I like a chunkier sauce so I thinly slice my onion)

Salt

Combine the tomatoes and juices, butter and onion in a saucepan. Add a pinch or two of salt.

Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook, uncovered for 45 mins. Stir occasionally and use the back of a wooden spoon to smash any large pieces of tomato. Taste and add salt as needed.

When the sauce is done cooking, you can discard the onion if you halved it. This recipe makes enough sauce for 1 lb. of pasta.

Sooooooooo gooooooood.

 

 

I’ve been told I’m weird about food. There’s a long list involved here but one specific way is that I’m a little too enthusiastic about things at the “wrong temperature” or the “wrong time of day” or the “wrong season” or whatever. So, I don’t mind a warm coke or spaghetti for breakfast and I really do enjoy a bowl of soup in the middle of summer. I’m such a rebel! I regret nothing!

It probably had to a lot to do with my upbringing. Chinese food, aside from dim sum, doesn’t really have rules about when and where and how things are eaten. Things are eaten whenever you’re hungry. There may be special dishes served at certain events, like long beans, fish and noodles on Chinese New Year but the day to day was very open to interpretation in my family. Couple that with two immigrant parents trying to navigate American processed foods for the first time (cereal at any hour is awesome) and you get me.

A few weeks ago on a Sunday, my hubby and I indulged in some pho. Even though the temps were creeping upward and the farmer’s market nearby was in full swing with their summer vegetables, that spicy, steaming bowl of soup was bliss. My hubby and I were sweating and sniffing from the chili sauce and steam was enveloping our faces as we happily slurped away.

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Summer brunch of Champions! Pho and a Vietnamese iced coffee.

Another thing I love about soup in the summer are all of the recipes that are packed with vegetables and can be served both warm and cold. They are also great fridge cleaners. I’m a huge fan of fridge cleaning recipes. I go a little nuts at farmer’s markets and I don’t want my precious produce to go to waste, so once I’m down to scraps of this and that, I make a nice soup to finish them off. And to make room for my next shopping outing🙂. I found this recipe while hunting online for a soup that does the job perfectly. And it’s such a flexible recipe, you can add pretty much whatever you’ve got on hand. Plus, it was delicious and nutritious!

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This soup has a ton of great vegetables and includes cannelini beans for protein. I’m sure you can substitute whatever you have in your pantry, kidney, pinto, or black beans would be delicious in this. I also like that the recipe says to smash half the beans before adding it to the soup. This is a great way to get a thicker, creamier texture in your soup without adding cream. Great for me because despite my love for dairy products, they really don’t love me back. It’s tragic.

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I made a few changes to the recipe. I used fresh diced tomatoes instead of canned because I found these beautiful ripened on the vine tomatoes. And after making several dishes highlighting these ruby gems, I had just enough left for this soup. I also added whole baby spinach leaves as well. I bought a huge bag that I’m still working on but at least a huge chunk of it was used in this soup. That’s right, two birds – nutrition and fridge cleaning- with one soup. Come to think of it, small pasta like macaroni or shells would work really well in this soup too….

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As promised, this soup is really delicious chilled as well. I ate this the next day for lunch straight out of the fridge with a little side salad. It actually helped me beat the heat outside. I even made extra to put in the freezer for later.

So, maybe I’m a little weird with my food. I don’t really adhere to the food rules of appropriateness, but with a soup like this it’s easy to break the rules. Long live Soup Season!

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Tuscan Vegetable Soup

adapted from Ellie Krieger

makes 6 – 8 servings

1 15 oz can of cannellini beans (or pinto, kidney, or black beans)

1 small onion, diced

2 medium carrots, diced

2 celery stalks, diced

1 small zucchini, diced

2 ripe medium tomatoes, diced

2 generous handfuls of baby spinach leaves

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 tablespoon of olive oil

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1/2 teaspoon dried sage

4 cups water or vegetable broth

Salt and Pepper to taste

Grated Parmesan cheese for garnish

Drain and rinse the beans under cold water. Put half the beans in a bowl, you can leave the rest in the can and mash them with a fork or a potato masher, set aside.

In a large soup pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add carrots and onions. Since these take a little longer to cook, let them sweat for a minute or two but no more. Add celery, zucchini. minced garlic and herbs to the pot. Add a pinch of salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally until the veggies are tender. Approx. 5 mins.

Add the water or broth, and the diced tomatoes, let simmer for a minute or two. Bring the pot to a boil and add the beans both mashed and whole. Add the baby spinach and cook until spinach is wilted. Salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with parmesan cheese on top or in a bowl on the side for people to add what they want.

 

I’ve seen Anthony Bourdain ask this on his various television shows while he’s sitting in mixed company. It may be a little morbid but I love asking this question and inciting a good conversation about food. If you were on death row and knew you were going to die tomorrow, what would your last meal consist of?

I’ve heard all sorts of responses. My mom said she would have a bowl of rice and her favorite steamed fish. My sister gave a long, rambling list of items that seemed to have the common theme of “covered in cheese”. My husband said a whole 3 tiered wedding cake. I’m totally lost on the reasoning for that one….

My list is also a bit long and rambling, mainly because that’s so hard to have to pick and choose between may favorite foods and dishes. Most of the dishes I’d want are Asian and many of them are noodle based. But there is one dish that always seems to make it on to my rambling list, so if I really had to choose only one thing. This would be it: Vietnamese vermicelli noodle salad.

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Known as bun cha in Vietnamese, there are several variations but the version I’ve seen the most is grilled pork bun cha. The pork is often marinated in a sweet and salty mixture and char-grilled, allowing the marinade to thicken into a sticky glaze and darken into crispy bits. The vermicelli rice noodles are usually served warm, lettuce and fresh herbs such as cilantro and mint share the bowl as well as pickled vegetables.

I’ve eaten this dish since I was almost too short for the booth at our local Vietnamese restaurant and I love it! But I’ve only recently begun to prepare it myself. I’ve still got a few other recipes to try and I’ll report back on those as well. The recipe I used for this post I found on a blog called pink-parsley.com. It’s a pretty simple recipe and the dressing recipe is a really tasty version of nouc nam, which is a Vietnamese condiment. Well, more like THE Vietnamese condiment.

There were a few things I did differently. I used pork loin chops instead of tenderloin because they’re cheaper. The first time I sliced up the chops first and then marinated them and pan fried them (unfortunately, I don’t have a grill). This left the meat a little tough so the next time I left the chops whole and sliced them after they were pan fried and rested.

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I would also like to make a batch of pickled carrot and daikon radish. It’s a bit more traditional that then marinated carrots and cucumbers in this recipe. But since I did have a cucumber and not a daikon radish in the fridge, it worked out great! I found several recipes for the pickled carrot and daikon by just googling and searching on foodgawker. The other thing I think I might change is using Sambal Oelek in the nouc nam instead of jalapenos. It adds heat but not flavor. For some reason, the jalapeno doesn’t quite taste right to me. I’ll probably make this recipe for pickled carrot and daikon.

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One thing I would absolutely recommend is not to skimp on the herbs! That is half the reason I love this dish! The basil, mint, and cilantro are a knock out flavor combo and they make this dish! These herbs make the salad so refreshing and complex. Don’t skimp on the herbs!

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And just because I know you are out there, a few things to keep in mind to peeps who are new to Vietnamese food. There are a few items that are new to you, maybe they sound a little scary like, fish sauce for example. Don’t be afraid! It’s so delicious! It’s the epitome of umami, that mysterious fifth flavor that’s salty, sweet and sour. It’s in a lot of your favorite Asian dishes like pad thai and bahn mi. I put it in my ground beef when I make hamburgers and it’s transforming! So have no fear! That’s my pep talk for the day – trying for positivity, right? But here’s my confession – when people won’t try something because they think it’s weird, all I can picture is a 3 year old throwing a tantrum over a new vegetable. There I said it. You now know what’s behind that grimace on my face when people turn their nose up at an amazingly delicious adventure. I’m realizing that I’m having dinner at the kids table and I want to leave. All of the foods in this dish have been around for a long time, a culture of proud people have created this dish and hundreds of thousands, possibly more, derive pleasure from eating it. So, it’s hard for me to hide my hurt feelings when others don’t want to enjoy my obsession with me. Obviously, I’ve been burned before…

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I hope you make this recipe or go to your nearest Vietnamese restaurant and order up some bun cha. It’s so perfect for summer and you may just start to develop an obsession of your own. Again, the recipe I made for this post can be found at www.pink-parsley.com.

 

 

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Half Moon Bay

I admit, I’m the worst blogger ever. Food blogging is something I aspire to, I just don’t have the follow through. But lately I’ve been cooking up a storm and have been eating some ridiculously amazing food. I’ve taken photos and I’ve researched recipes so, I’m setting myself up for success, right? Yes! I have a post to make! I want to share some recipes! I want you to cook them! Here we go!

First, let me explain some of the new developments that have allowed me more time to cook and put amazing food in my face. Earlier this year my husband and I relocated to sunny California. My hubby moved out here several months before I did and it’s been a challenging time getting out here and finally getting settled! I’m finding my groove out here and I’m doing this mainly through the food because, duh. There are sooooo many more kinds of ethnic foods to try, lots of ethnic markets – including separate Asian markets! Back in Salt Lake there were Asian markets that leaned Chinese or Japanese but here there are huge markets that offer almost all Korean items, Japanese items and Chinese items. I went to a Korean market that had 4! huge cold tables with a dizzying array of kimchi and pickled vegetables! WAT?! The Latino markets have been fun to explore too. The pastries get me everytime. EVERYTIME!

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Just one of four tables of kimchi and pickled vegetables and seafood at Hankook Supermarket

I think Farmer’s markets are required for every 5 mile block and not just on the weekends. The amount of local produce available in just a commercial grocery store is impressive and then there’s the food trucks. Good God. At our apartment community they have Food Truck Sundays. It’s the best way to build a community, I tell ya. They block off a section of the street, have 4-5 food trucks pull in, provided a DJ, picnic blankets and buckets to sit on and it’s just too much fun.

One big trend in food trucks out here are all the Asian fusion dishes. Some people really hate fusion, they’d prefer to be purists about their food. I totally get it but you will quickly eat your words once you try a Korean-style short rib burrito. Oh man. Or Vietnamese grilled pork tacos or a curried chicken rice bowl. The food these mighty, tiny, mobile kitchens are turning out is outstanding.

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Food Truck Sunday!!!

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Beef Koja (bulgogi beef on a bun made of pressed, cooked rice) with Kamikaze fries (waffle fries smothered in Korean BBQ, kimchi, onions, and Japanese mayo

I’ve cooked some pretty amazing stuff out here as well. I mean, who could resist? With all the awesome produce and products all around and the inspiration from all the restaurants and food trucks, it’s easy to start experimenting. While we’ve been out here, I’ve tried more new recipes that I can remember. Maybe it’s the excitement of living on a coast that’s got me feeling more adventurous. Maybe it’s the fact I have more time on my hands because I’m not working yet. That’s probably the more likely culprit but either way, I’m putting it here!

I’m hoping this will be the kick I need to really get into the habit of blogging. I’m also trying out flickr for the first time. I need a better way to organize and store my food photos separate from the photos on our home computer. Any suggestions on online photo management would be greatly appreciated. Okay, folks! Stay tuned. I have cooking posts on the way!

I initially wanted title this post ” I did a stint as a vegetarian once…” but that made being a vegetarian some sort of punishment, like community service or latrine duty. But I was a sort of part-time vegetarian for several years and it turned out to be some of the best eating of my life. It was pretty easy to cut out a lot of meat from my meals, especially if you ate a lot of Asian food at home.

Many food enthusiasts know the magical benefits of your local Asian market, and to vegetarians and vegans, this is even more fantasmic. The Asian market holds so many treasures for meat alternatives as well as spices and accoutrements to turn that somewhat bland meat substitute into the stuff of unicorns. Also, many products tend to be so much cheaper at the Asian market because they can’t mark the cost up based on exoticness (is that a word?). One of my favorite non-meat proteins is tofu. I was actually raised eating tofu with my meat. My family didn’t view tofu as a meat alternative, it was just another protein to throw into our best sauces and consumed at the same time. Being raised with tofu also makes me very comfortable with the texture. Texture seems to be the numero uno reason sited by most for why they don’t like tofu. To that I say, get over it. Texture is part of the experience, some tastes have to be a certain texture. Take gummi candy for example, there’s nothing like really good gummi candy.

Now, I know what the numero dos reason sited by most for why they don’t like tofu is the blandness. Tofu doesn’t taste like anything. To that I say, I have a solution for both. My baked tofu “recipe”. I use quotes here because I feel a bit sheepish about calling it a recipe. It’s really just a hodge podge of other people’s tofu recipes, flavors I tend to like, and loose interpretations of things I’ve seen my mom do. There aren’t really measurements and I couldn’t give you an exact baking time. And the ingredients and composition of said ingredients tends to change, depending on my my mood and what I’m out of. Yeah… I’m in a pretty off-the-cuff mood this evening.

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This recipe solves the problem of texture and taste because the baking of tofu dries out some of the moisture and firms up the tofu. So, instead of mushy, crumbliness, the tofu becomes denser and more substantial – al dente but not chewy. The marinade is so flavorful the tofu soaks it all up and becomes so tasty I often end up eating a lot of it without anything else and straight from the cookie sheet. I also curse myself a little for doing that because it’s still too hot and I end up burning my tongue or involuntarily ejecting it from my mouth onto the kitchen floor…

The main trick to getting that bland cube to become a flavor bomb is to press the tofu…

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This can be done between 2 plates lined with several layers of paper towels. I just put a can of beans on top and let it press for 30 mins or so. Just be very careful with the tofu brick, they crumble and fall apart easily. Once you press the excess moisture from the tofu, there’s room for it to soak up some of your magical marinade.

After a good pressing, I cut the big cube into smaller cubes and add it to the marinade. Some recipes will just slice the cube into rectangular planks for a “meatier” look but it’s still tofu. I like the cubes because I like incorporating them into recipes like stir-fries and bowls of noodle soup. These little tofu cubes are amaze-balls in a bowl of cheap ramen.

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My marinade is usually a combo of soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, garlic powder, ginger powder, and sesame oil. I have also used teriyaki sauces, orange juice and orange zest in my marinade. You can get pretty creative with your recipe. I will generally make 2 packages of tofu at a time, it goes surprisingly fast at my house. The recipe that follows will be for 2 packages of tofu.

I let the tofu marinate for at least an hour. This amount of time has generally yielded the best result. There have been a few times I’ve been rushed and didn’t let it marinate as long and tried to baste it while it baked. It just didn’t taste as good. After marinating, I line up the cubes on cookie sheets and bake them in the oven at 350 degrees F for 40 mins., turning half way through. But you can bake it longer or for less time depending on how you like the texture. If you like a little jiggle, cook it for less, more bite, bake longer.

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What you get at the end is a beautiful, little, golden cube of goodness. You can do so much with these lovelies. I throw them into stir-fries, on top of rice, over noodles, into bowls of soup, and just by themselves like chips – meaty, proteiny, umami basted, delicious chips… Below is a bowl of baked tofu tossed in a veggie stir-fry over quinoa pilaf.

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Baked Tofu

2 packages of Firm tofu

4 Tbsp soy sauce

4 Tbsp balsamic vinegar

2 Tbsp sesame oil

1 Tbsp garlic powder

1 Tbsp ginger powder

Get 2 plates dinner plates (not too big, the smaller the plate, the easier to balance the can on top), line one plate with layers of paper towels. I usually fold 2 paper towels into quarters and they are just slightly bigger than the tofu cube. Drain the tofu over the sink and place the cube on top of the paper towel lined plate. Add another layer of paper towels on top of the tofu cube. Place the other plate on top of the tofu and paper towels, balance a can of soup or beans or whatever, on top of the plate. Don’t put too much weight on top of the tofu, it can cause it to break. Press tofu for 20-30 mins.

While the tofu is pressing, mix up your marinade. Put soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, sesame oil, garlic powder, and ginger powder into a bowl and whisk to combine.

When the tofu is done pressing, place tofu cubes onto a cutting board and discard the wet paper towels. Cut the tofu into cubes or planks, keep in mind that they will shrink a bit during baking. Place the tofu in a flat bottomed dish and pour the marinade over it. You can also baste the tofu with the marinade to make sure you get all the sides. Let marinade 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place tofu cubes on cookie sheets (you can grease them if you like but I generally don’t). Bake in the oven for 40 mins. Turn over with tongs about halfway through. Remove from oven and let cool (crucial, often neglected step) 5 mins. before serving.

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View from Observation Point in Zions National Park.

We had a trip to Zions National Park planned months ago and then the government shut down. Luckily, our state rallied to fund the national parks during the shut down and Zions opened the day of our trip. We had a short weekend to explore the park and I think we chose some amazing sites. It was gorgeous! It was breathtaking! It was cold as hell! Well, not the entire time. Midday was fine but as soon as the sun went down it was frigid!

We chose a pretty big hike for our first day. We hiked to Observation Point which was about a 5 hour hike total and we climbed nearly 2,000 feet in that time. It was a pretty hard hike for me, I’m not the best specimen of human athleticism but I made it and the view was spectacular. We also found out why feeding squirrels in the park is against the law. The critters are fearless! They headed straight for anyone standing on the rocks. They swarmed your backpack if you set it down and scampered around and across your shoes in the hopes of delectable people food falling from the sky.

The leaves were also changing in bursts of ridiculous colors. The changing foliage seemed to highlight the amazing red rock even more.

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The next day, we got the bright idea of doing a little sunrise hike… That’s right, SUNRISE. Meaning we’d set out on our hike before the sun came up, hike up a steep trail in the dark, brave whatever wild things might still be prowling, oh – and did I mention the freezingness??? It was pretty wicked cold. We set off on the rocky trail with our flashlights and headlamps, hiking higher and higher until we came to this scene. To which my bro-in-law exclaimed, “holy shit!”

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View from Overlook Point, Zions National Park.

It was pretty amazeballs. No photos will EVER do this scene justice. It was scary high and the weathered chain link railing only ran along a small portion of the platform but the view was priceless. You can see the sun shine on the peaks waaaayyy in the back as it came over the hills behind us. This scene and the crisp autumn weather inspires some cooking for comfort.

Fall is my favorite season. By far the most colorful, best season for clothes, best season for sleeping in without waking up in a cocoon of sweat – it’s gross but so true. AND some of my favorite recipes work best with this season. I’m a big fan of roast chicken, it is one of my favorite things to make during the fall. It’s the dish that keeps on giving! I make a roast chicken for dinner one night, strip the meat off the bones and make stock, then I use the stock and left over meat to make chicken soups of all kinds – noodle, dumpling, tortilla… whatever your mood. The basic recipe for roast chicken is pretty easy but there are a couple of things I learned that helped me make an even better bird.

One chef that makes a mean roast chicken is Thomas Keller. On the show No Reservations, Anthony Bourdain does a show entirely of kitchen basics that he feels EVERYONE should know. In the episode he has Thomas Keller, whom he describes as “justifiably revered”, cook up his simple and delicious roasted chicken. Here’s video of the segment:

I like to add a few more things to my chicken seasoning mix, jazz it up a little. My mix usually includes rosemary, minced garlic, lemon zest, and salt and pepper. I like to season my chicken and then let it sit in the fridge overnight to really get the bird tasting jazzy! (yikes – I’ll stop now.) I rub the spices all over the bird and under the skin and then pop it in the fridge to “steep”.

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The next day I take the bird out of the fridge and let it sit for at least 30 mins. before cooking. Like Chef Keller says – it’s important to bring the bird up to room temperature to help it cook thoroughly. And I love a little roasted vegetable action with my chicken so I’ll throw those in under the bird. It’s also important to truss the bird before roasting to help it cook evenly. You’d think someone that understands the value of trussing a bird, would have kitchen twine on hand… I was short on twine so I had to get a little creative with my trussing technique in these pictures. If you want to learn how to truss, there are millions of tutorials and youtube videos on the subject.

After the bird is trussed, I brush melted butter all over it and give it a good, generous sprinkling of salt. Sprinkle the salt from up high a la Thomas Keller for extra chefy flair.

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Into a 425 degree oven for 45 mins. to an hour depending on the size of your bird. Generally, I use a 4 lbs. chicken and cook it for about 50 mins. You can also use a meat thermometer to check if it’s ready. Insert it into the thigh of the chicken and you want an internal temp. of about 170 degrees. Once the chicken is done roasting it will look something like this:

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I usually carve up the bird before it hits the table to make serving it easier but sometimes it’s just too pretty to carve up.

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Oh man, do I love roast chicken! There are so many variations of this recipe and it’s actually really easy to do. This dish is also an economical wonder. After dinner, pick the meat off the bones, throw the carcass in some water with carrots, onions, celery, and a little parsley, boil it down and you have delicious, golden, homemade chicken broth. Use the broth to make soup, chicken and dumplings or freeze it for future use.

Hopefully this inspires you to make some roast chicken tonight! And if you do – I’m coming to dinner, right?

Yeah, the plan didn’t work. But really the problem was I didn’t make a plan, or at least a realistic plan. It’s pretty sad to not write for several months only to go back to your blog and see that the last entry was about wanting to write more. There are a few things going on that I didn’t anticipate when I wrote that last entry in February but they prove to provide interesting material. More to come!

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