A Night of Gumbo and Dancing ~ Chicken Gumbo

Chicken GumboThis week, my hubby and I went out dancing on a beautiful summer night in downtown Seattle as a part of the Dancing Til Dusk series. For 15 nights, different parks around the city host live music and dancing. There is everything from waltz to swing to tango. The night we went happened to have a Cajun-style band, so I made chicken gumbo to get us into the mood before we went out!

I started with a recipe from Southern Living magazine, which was quick and easy compared to many other gumbo recipes. To make it a little healthier, I used half of the amount of oil that the recipe called for, and I only used one link of andouille sausage for the whole stew. If you can, use homemade chicken stock, since it is one of the stars of the dish.Chicken GumboChicken Gumbo

Based on a recipe from Southern Living magazine

1/4 cup high heat oil, such as safflower

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 yellow onion, chopped

1 green bell pepper, chopped

2 stalks of celery, chopped

2 teaspoons blended Cajun seasoning

2 garlic cloves, minced

5 cups low-sodium chicken stock

1 link of andouille sausage, cut into thin slices

½ precooked rotisserie chicken, shredded

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When it is hot and shimmering, whisk the flour slowly into the skillet. While constantly whisking, cook until the flour is the color of dark caramel. Watch very closely, so the mixture doesn’t get too dark.

Reduce the heat to medium. Add the onion, bell pepper, celery, and Cajun seasoning. Cook until the vegetables are softened. Add the garlic, and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the chicken stock and sausage. Increase the heat again to medium-high, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, and simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Stir the chicken into the pot, and continue cooking until warmed through.Chicken Gumbo

A Week at the Lake ~ Maple and Star Anise Crème Brûlée

Maple and Star Anise Crème BrûléeI just finished a lovely summery novel called A Week at the Lake by Wendy Wax. The story transported me to Lake George in New York, which is now on my list of places I would love to visit! But in the meantime, I feel like I just got back from a virtual trip at the lake without leaving home. The fictional characters visited real places around Lake George including the Sagamore Resort and the Inn at Erlowest, and I tagged along with them in my imagination.Maple and Star Anise Crème BrûléeWhen I’m reading a good book that captivates me, I almost always start thinking about recipes that pair well with the storyline. :) One of the characters in A Week at the Lake has an important dinner at the Erlowest, so I decided to look at the menu from their restaurant and make something based on one of the dishes. I chose to make a maple and star anise crème brûlée from the dessert menu.

I based my recipe on a lightened crème brûlée I made several years ago. I just played around with the recipe to make it a maple and star anise flavor rather than the original orange flavor.

Maple and Star Anise Crème BrûléeMaple and Star Anise Crème Brûlée

Serves 2

8 ounces 2% milk

4 pods of star anise

2 ½ tablespoons maple syrup

3 egg yolks

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 tablespoons granulated sugar for the top

Combine the milk, anise, and maple syrup in a saucepan with a heavy bottom. Heat until it almost comes to a boil. Refrigerate the mixture overnight in an airtight container.

The next day, preheat your oven to 325 degrees.

Strain the milk mixture to remove the anise pods. Add the egg yolks and vanilla extract, and whisk until well combined.

Pour the custard mixture into 2 4-ounce ramekins. (A little trick for getting rid of any little bubbles on top is to take your kitchen torch and lightly torch them. They will easily pop. The final result looks better without bubbles.) Place the ramekins in a baking dish. Heat some water until almost boiling, and pour the water carefully around the ramekins until it reaches about half way up the sides. (Make sure none of the water gets inside of the custard.)

Bake the custards for 45 minutes, or until set, but with a slight jiggle in the middle when they are tapped.

Cool in the refrigerator at least 2 hours before serving, or overnight.

Right before serving, dust a tablespoon of sugar evenly over the top of each custard. Take a kitchen torch to the sugar until it is caramelized evenly.A Week at the Lake

Seafair Weekend Anniversary ~ Hibiscus Summer Party Wine Labels and Markers

Summer Party Wine LabelIt’s Seafair Saturday! Our neighborhood is right in the middle of the party, so we don’t need to go anywhere to enjoy the festivities. :)

Today also marks 17 years that I’ve lived in this neighborhood with my hubby, and 20 years that I’ve been in Seattle. Wow!

Between Seafair and our anniversaries, we had lots of reasons to celebrate today…and we celebrated all day long! We started with our favorite crab cake breakfast in the morning. Then I went swimming in Lake Washington while the Blue Angels roared overhead. Awesome! They came to Seattle as a part of the Seafair air show. In the evening, we enjoyed some fresh steamed Dungeness crab for dinner, which has become our tradition on this anniversary.

I made these cute little wine bottle labels to dress up the occasion a bit. They are from Catch My Party, which is one of my favorite websites for free printable decorations. They have so many adorable designs. These labels came with matching wine glass markers, too. Cute! I hope you’ll check out the website the next time you need some festive decorations. :)Summer Party Wine Label

Seafair Weekend ~ Once in a Blue Moon Wine Labels

Blue Moon Wine LabelIt is Seafair weekend in Seattle! My hubby and I checked out the festivities this afternoon including the hydroplane boat races and a wakeboard jumping competition. We even got out our little floating inner tubes and went out on the water ourselves. It was a rare and special day! Dare I say a day like this only comes around once in a blue moon? 😉 Appropriate, since tonight’s full moon also happens to be a blue moon! It is the second full moon in the month of July.

I made these cute little wine bottle labels to mark the occasion. :) The design can be found on a website called At Home on the Bay. So cute! I hope you’ll visit the site to check it out.

We enjoyed our favorite clam dish under the bright moon and our tiki torches with the bottle of wine I decorated for the evening. It was a lovely way to end our fun day by the lake!

Cheers!Blue Moon Wine Label

Polynesian Adventure ~ Tuvalu Tuna, Samoan Tropical Salad, and ‘Otai

OtaiTonight I took a culinary trip to three different Polynesian island nations on this beautiful summer evening! I tried recipes from Tuvalu, Samoa, and Tonga.

All of the recipes were from an inspiring food blog I admire called Global Table Adventure. I discovered the blog when I read the author’s memoir in which she shared her journey to make the website. She went on a culinary voyage in her own kitchen, cooking a meal from every country in the world. (That is 195 countries!) Then she wrote about the recipes and her experiences making them, as well as facts about the countries from which they came. She also added beautiful photos of the food as well as the countries she featured. I have already tried a few of the recipes ranging from a chicken dish from Panama (Arroz con Pollo) to a breakfast dish from Israel (Shakshouka). I have learned about dishes I have never heard of before, and even countries that I wasn’t aware existed. The blog has helped to open up my corner of the world to the greater world, filled my wanderlust, and ignited my passion for cooking on days when I’m not feeling very enthusiastic about making dinner. It really is a wonderful website, and I hope you’ll check it out. :) I plan to cook many more adventures from this collection of recipes.Tuvalu TunaOn tonight’s Polynesian adventure, the main course was called Tuvalu Tuna. Before perusing through the collection of recipes on Global Table Adventure, I wasn’t familiar with the island of Tuvalu. I learned that it is the smallest member of the Commonwealth of Nations. (Coincidentally, all of the nations featured in this meal are a part of the Commonwealth.) In fact, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (Will and Kate) visited Tuvalu a few years back, and they experienced a little of the local food and dance. (If you need a smile, check out the second half of this video. :) )

I lightened the dish a little from the original recipe by reducing the amount of oil to only 1 tablespoon, and using light coconut milk. I also served it with brown rice instead of white.

Tuvalu Tuna – Follow this recipe link to Global Table Adventure

I served the tuna dish with a simple salad from Samoa, which was the perfect accompaniment. It consisted of an unlikely combination of spinach, papaya, avocado, and cantaloupe, which worked together nicely.

Samoan Tropical Salad – Follow this recipe link to Global Table Adventure Polynesian AdventureI paired our dinner with a classic drink from Tonga called ‘Otai. I can’t think of anything that is more summery than watermelon, coconut, and lime blended together! (This was my second batch of ‘Otai, since it is that good!) I used a light coconut milk beverage like this, rather than a can of coconut milk. Serve in a tiki glass for the full Polynesian effect! I think this would also be lovely with a little rum to kick it up a bit. 😉

‘Otai – Follow this recipe link to Global Table AdventureOtai

Makeover for Noon Café ~ Cappuccino Cupcakes

Cappuccino CupcakeWelcome to the brand new look for Noon Café! It got a complete makeover this weekend to keep up with the times. I hope you enjoy the new website as much as I enjoyed putting it together. :)

To celebrate the new look and the new cappuccino logo, I thought I would bake a batch of cappuccino cupcakes! I based my cupcakes on a recipe from Cooking Light magazine. I made three notable changes to the original recipe…I reduced the sugar, replaced the butter with light olive oil, and replaced the all-purpose flour with whole-wheat pastry flour. Then I dressed them up a bit. (After all, this recipe is about makeovers!) Instead of making the espresso syrup in the original recipe, I made a Greek yogurt frosting with a little espresso mixed in. This transformed these coffee cupcakes into cappuccino cupcakes. I also made little coffee cup handles out of chocolate for the side of the cakes. They are cute little cupcakes that are perfect for an afternoon pick-me-up or even for breakfast. (And I promise I won’t tell anyone if you decide to have a cupcake for breakfast! 😉 )

Cappuccino Cupcakes

Based on a recipe from Cooking Light magazine

2 tablespoons boiling water

4 teaspoons instant espresso granules

1/3 cup low-fat buttermilk

1 1/4 cups whole-wheat pastry flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Pinch of salt

1/2 cup granulated sugar

5 tablespoons light olive oil

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 large eggs

12 baking liners

Preheat oven to 350°.

To prepare cupcakes, combine boiling water and espresso granules, stirring until espresso dissolves. Stir in buttermilk.

Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, baking soda, and salt, stirring well with a whisk.

Place granulated sugar, oil, and vanilla extract in a large bowl; whisk until well blended. Add eggs, 1 at a time, whisking well after each addition. Add flour mixture and buttermilk mixture alternately to sugar mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture.

Spoon batter into 12 muffin cups lined with paper liners. Bake at 350° for 20 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool cupcakes in pan 10 minutes on a wire rack; remove from pan.Cappuccino CupcakeEspresso Frosting

1 cup plain nonfat Greek yogurt

¼ cup Neufchatel cream cheese, room temperature

2 tablespoons powdered sugar, (or more if you prefer a sweeter frosting)

¼ teaspoon instant espresso granules, (or more if you would like the frosting to have a more pronounced coffee flavor)

In a food processor, mix all of the ingredients until the espresso is incorporated and no longer grainy. Chill until ready to use.Cappuccino CupcakeCoffee Cup Handles

8 ounces dark chocolate (approximately)

Piping bag or zip lock bag

Small piping tip (optional)

Waxed paper

Place the chocolate in a microwave safe bowl. Heat at 30 second increments, stirring in between, until just melted and smooth. Place piping tip (if using) in a corner of the piping bag or zip top bag. Fill the bag with the melted chocolate. Snip a small hole in the corner of the bag. Pipe the “handles” onto the waxed paper and freeze until hardened. (About 10 minutes.) Place one chocolate handle on the side of each cupcake.Cappuccino Cupcake

Happy Fourth of July ~ Part 3 ~ Strawberry Cheesecake Tart (Updated!)

Cheesecake TartThe grand finale of our Fourth of July dinner was my hubby’s favorite cheesecake tart! It was a special request. 😉

Since I am always trying to improve and learn, I made a couple of small tweaks to the original recipe. Opting for an all natural ingredient, I exchanged the nonfat sour cream with nonfat Greek yogurt. I also omitted the sugar in the crust since I try to cut back on sugar where I can, and the graham crackers are sweet enough on their own.

You can make a few small cheesecakes, or one big one! For the tiny ones, I piped seedless strawberry jam to make the stripes, and placed a few little blueberries in the corner for the stars. So cute! I got the idea from MyRecipes.com. :) For the big one, I topped it with fresh summer strawberries arranged in a pretty pattern. I also added a few blueberries this time around to make it a little more patriotic.

Cheesecake TartStrawberry Cheesecake Tart

Based on a recipe from Martha Stewart

6 full graham cracker sheets

1/3 cup almonds

4 tablespoons unsalted melted butter, or just enough until the crust is moistened

2 8-oz bars of Neufchatel cream cheese

1/2 cup nonfat Greek yogurt

1/2 cup sugar

1 egg

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Pinch of salt

Pint of fresh strawberries, or blueberries, or whatever you’d like to use for your topping

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

In a food processor, grind the graham crackers and almonds until they are finely ground. Add the butter slowly, and process until moistened. (You may not need the full 4 tablespoons.) Transfer to a 9-inch tart pan or three 3-inch tart pans. Press the mixture firmly into the pan(s) and up the sides. Freeze for 15 minutes.

If you have a second food processor bowl, I’d recommend using it now. Otherwise, just clean your bowl and blade very well. Then process the cream cheese, yogurt, sugar, egg, vanilla, and salt until the mixture is smooth.

Place your tart pan on a rimmed baking sheet and fill with the cheesecake mixture.

Bake until filling is set, about 30 to 35 minutes for the large tart. For the smaller tarts, check the progress at about 20 minutes to ensure you don’t over bake.

Cool completely and decorate as you wish!

Cheesecake Tarts

Happy Fourth of July ~ Part 2 ~ Trout Burgers with Tarragon Mayonnaise

Trout BurgerWhat could be more American than a thick, juicy burger on the Fourth of July? :) I made trout burgers with a tarragon mayonnaise for our holiday dinner. The steelhead trout I used came from the Columbia River, which is just south of Seattle. I wanted my celebration of the USA’s birthday to include some of the things I love and appreciate about my corner of this county, like fresh seafood! :)

I based my recipe on a salmon burger recipe from Bon Appétit magazine. The two fish are related, so they can be swapped with each other in most cases. I also changed a few things besides the fish. Most notably, I reduced the amount of mayonnaise and increased the amount of nonfat yogurt for the tarragon mayonnaise spread. I also added lemon zest in addition to the juice, and I used freshly grated horseradish rather than the prepared variety. To serve, I used homemade whole-wheat brioche buns rather than buns made with white flour.

Trout Burgers with Tarragon Mayonnaise

Based on a recipe from Bon Appétit magazine

Serves 4

1 pound skinless trout fillet, cut into 1/4-inch pieces (about 2 1/4 cups)

4 green onions, chopped

1 tablespoon drained small capers

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon fresh tarragon, chopped

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon fresh white horseradish, grated

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

1/4 cup dry breadcrumbs

1 tablespoon high heat oil, such as safflower

4 whole-wheat buns

4 large tomato slices

8 butter lettuce leaves

Tarragon mayonnaise (recipe follows)

To make burgers:

Combine first 10 ingredients in medium bowl, and mix well. (Can be prepared 6 hours ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)

Mix breadcrumbs into salmon mixture. Form into four 1-inch-thick patties. Preheat a heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil when the pan is hot. Add salmon patties; cook until just firm to touch and brown and crusty, about 3 minutes per side.

Assemble each burger on a bun with a generous amount of tarragon mayonnaise, a trout patty, a slice of tomato, and lettuce leaves. Serve immediately.

Tarragon Mayonnaise

1/4 cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup plain nonfat Greek yogurt

2 green onions, chopped

1/2 tablespoon drained small capers

Zest of 1/2 a lemon

1/2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon freshly grated white horseradish, or more to taste

To make mayonnaise:

Combine all ingredients in bowl and mix well. Season with salt and pepper. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover; chill.)

My festive Fourth of July wine bottle label came from Catch My Party. They have the cutest free downloads to kick up your celebration a notch. :)

Fourth of July Wine Bottle Label

Happy Fourth of July ~ Part 1 ~ Homemade Dill Pickles

Dill PicklesI hope you had a lovely Fourth of July weekend!

To celebrate the occasion this year, I made fresh dill pickles from the farmers’ market, trout burgers with a tarragon mayonnaise, and my hubby’s favorite summer strawberry cheesecake tart. I’ll share all three recipes since we really enjoyed them all, starting with the pickles. :)

I stumbled upon a farmers’ market last week where I saw some beautiful Kirby cucumbers that I couldn’t resist, along with a big bunch of fresh dill. (I must admit, I’m one of those people who gets much more excited about beautiful cucumbers and herbs than I do about beautiful shoes and purses. 😉 ) For a couple of dollars, I knew I could make something fresh and delicious with my discoveries.

I used a dill pickle recipe from Food and Wine magazine with only a few small changes. I reduced the amount of sugar by half and added some whole peppercorns for added seasoning. I also omitted the dill seeds and used more fresh dill than the recipe called for (since I had a huge bunch). These pickles were so flavorful and delicious! I have a feeling I’ll be making this recipe again and again. Maybe I’ll try radishes or green beans next time? I can see what my local farmers’ market has to play with next week!

Dill Pickles

Based on a recipe from Food and Wine magazine

1 1/2 cups distilled white vinegar

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

4 teaspoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon mustard seeds

1 teaspoon coriander seeds

1 teaspoon whole peppercorns

2 cups hot water

2 pounds Kirby cucumbers, cut in half lengthwise or sliced 1/2 inch thick

1 1/2 cups fresh dill, coarsely chopped

3 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped

In a large, heatproof measuring cup, combine the vinegar, sugar, salt, mustard seeds, coriander seeds, and peppercorns with the hot water and stir until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Let the brine cool.

In a large bowl, toss the cucumbers with the dill and garlic. Pour the brine over the cucumbers and turn to coat. Place a small plate over the cucumbers to keep them submerged, then cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Refrigerate the pickles overnight, stirring once or twice. Serve cold.

The dill pickles can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

Stay tuned for the trout burger recipe next! :)

Dill Pickles

It’s officially summer! ~ Kalua Pork on Whole-Wheat Taro Rolls with Poi Spread and Pineapple Slaw

Kalua Pork SandwichesWhen summer rolls around, my backyard starts to feel a little tropical. Seattle’s temperatures are about the same as Lahaina’s this week. :) I absolutely love the Hawaiian Islands, and so this warm weather gets me in the mood to cook Hawaiian-style dishes!

Kalua Pork SandwichesI based this dish on a recipe I found on CookingHawaiianStyle.com. It’s a really fun recipe that uses a few of Hawaii’s most famous ingredients in a fresh new way.

I made a few tweaks to make the recipes a little healthier. For the taro rolls, I used whole-wheat pastry flour and skim milk, I replaced the butter with coconut oil, and I reduced the amount of sugar. For the slaw, I used nonfat Greek yogurt in place of the sour cream, and I omitted the sugar altogether. I also reduced the amount of dressing by half, and added a little extra pineapple. (After all, the pineapple is one of the stars of the dish!) For the spread, I used fresh horseradish root rather than prepared horseradish.

And since I don’t have an imu in my backyard to cook the pork, I chose a frozen kalua pork imported from Hawaii to keep it authentic. 😉 (I was able to find all of the ingredients I needed, including the pork and the poi, at my local Asian grocery store.)

Kalua Pork SandwichesKalua Pork on Whole-Wheat Taro Rolls with Poi Spread and Pineapple Slaw

Based on a recipe from Cooking Hawaiian Style

Taro Rolls:

1 (1/4 oz.) packet active dry yeast

1/4 cup lukewarm water

1/2 cup skim milk

1/3 cup coconut oil

2 tablespoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

2 large eggs, beaten

1/2 cup cooked taro, mashed

3 cups whole-wheat pastry flour

All-purpose flour for dusting hands and work surface

In a small mixing bowl, dissolve the yeast in lukewarm water. Let sit for a few minutes until the mixture is a little frothy on the top. (If there is no froth forming after 10 minutes or so, start again with a fresh packet of yeast. This means your yeast was not alive.) Scald milk by heating in a small saucepan over medium heat until bubbles appear around the inside edge of the pan and the milk is just about to boil. Pour milk into a mixing bowl. Combine the milk with the oil, sugar, and salt. Allow to cool, about 2 minutes. Into milk mixture, stir in the eggs, taro, and yeast mixture. In a large bowl, add the flour. Make a well in the center. Add the liquid mixture to the flour. Mix thoroughly until the dough comes together. On a floured work surface, turn the dough out. Knead until smooth. Transfer the dough into a well greased bowl. Cover with a damp towel, and let rise in a warm area until doubled in size, about 1 hour. Flour hands, and punch down the dough. Divide into 16-17 even portions. Shape into small balls and place onto two baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Cover with a damp towel, and let rise in a warm area until doubled in size, about 1 hour. Preheat oven to 350°. Bake until golden brown, about 15-20 minutes. Serve immediately and freeze the extras. Makes approximately 16-17 rolls.

 

Poi Horseradish Mayonnaise Spread:

1/2 cup fresh poi

1/4 cup water

Fresh horseradish, grated (to taste)

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

 

Slaw Dressing:

1/4 cup nonfat Greek yogurt

1/4 cup mayonnaise

1 green onion, green part only, finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon lemon juice

 

Slaw:

1 cup red cabbage, shredded

2 cups green cabbage, shredded

1 cup carrots, shredded

1 cup fresh pineapple, chopped

 

Pork:

12 oz. store-bought kalua pork

 

Poi Horseradish Mayonnaise Spread

In small mixing bowl, combine the poi and water and mix well using a wire whisk. Add the horseradish and mayonnaise, and whisk until smooth. Chill before serving.

 

Pineapple Slaw

In small bowl, combine all of the dressing ingredients. Blend well. In large bowl, combine all of the salad ingredients. Toss lightly. Pour dressing over salad. Mix well. Cover and refrigerate.

 

How to serve:

Take a taro roll and spread with the poi mayonnaise. Add kalua pork and top with pineapple coleslaw.

This pairs well with any drink served in a tiki glass! :)

Kalua Pork Sandwiches

One more culinary stop in Asia ~ Vietnamese Baby Clams with Sesame Rice Crackers

Baby Clams with Rice CrackersAfter my virtual stop in South Korea to try their famous bibimbap, I decided to try a Vietnamese dish on my next stop. After all, it’s only a 4 ½ hour plane ride from Seoul to Da Nang, so I’ll make a quick culinary visit, just long enough for an appetizer in Vietnam. 😉

This is a dish I order over and over again at one of my favorite Vietnamese restaurants, so I decided to figure out how to make it at home! Turns out, it is really easy! It just requires two special ingredients from the Asian grocery store. The first is a Vietnamese herb that is sort of like mint or cilantro called rau ram. The pretty little leaves are a little peppery and delicious. I also used black sesame rice crackers on the side to scoop up the clams. They puff up when they are cooked, which is so much fun to watch!

Baby Clams with Rice Crackers

Inspired by a recipe from Danang Cuisine

1 tablespoon safflower oil (or other high heat cooking oil)

3 spring onions, white and light green parts only, finely chopped

1 teaspoon lemongrass, minced

1 teaspoon fresh chili pepper, seeds and ribs removed, minced (I used jalapeno)

1 garlic clove, minced

5 oz canned baby clams or chopped clams (Just try to find an all natural brand, without any added preservatives)

4 tablespoons (approximately) of rau ram, roughly chopped

1 teaspoon fish sauce

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

1-2 sesame rice crackers

Preheat a wok or nonstick pan. Add oil. When the oil is shimmering and hot, add the onions, lemongrass, and chili pepper. Cook until fragrant and translucent. Add garlic and cook until just fragrant, about 15 seconds. Add the clams. Toss until warmed through. Turn off the heat and add rau ram, fish sauce, and black pepper. Toss and serve.

Take one rice cracker and microwave for one minute until puffy. Break into pieces. Serve as a “spoon” with the clams.

Baby Clams with Rice Crackers

Spice up your kitchen! ~ Bibimbap

BibimbapWhen my menus start feeling redundant and boring, I find inspiration in new dishes and ingredients I’ve never tried before from countries all around the world. Cooking an exotic dish adds adventure to my table and also gives me a virtual culinary trip to another land. I also learn new things, which gets me excited in the kitchen again and revives my love for cooking. Not a bad way to spend a Sunday evening. 😉

Tonight I made a dish called bibimbap! (Fun to say, but more fun to eat! 😉 ) Bibimbap is a Korean dish that literally means ‘mixed rice.’ It is topped with a colorful group of vegetables, marinated beef, and an egg in the center. One key ingredient is a red pepper paste called gochujang that gives the whole dish a distinct and spicy flavor. It is available at Asian markets such as Uwajimaya.

BibimbapThis recipe is from a magazine called Edible Seattle. I only made a few small changes to make it a little healthier. I used brown rice, low sodium soy sauce, a couple extra carrots, and the leanest local grass fed beef I could find. First I made the quick pickles and marinated the beef. Then the final recipe at the bottom puts everything together. (The beef would also be delicious on it’s own with a simple side vegetable and some rice.)

BibimbapBibimbap

Based on a recipe from Edible Seattle

Quick Pickled Cucumber:

1 tablespoon sea salt

3 tablespoons granulated sugar

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

2 tablespoons water

1 pound English cucumber

Stir together the salt, sugar, vinegar, and water until dissolved. Pour the liquid into a small bowl. Slice the cucumber as thinly as possible with a knife or mandoline.

Place the cucumber into the bowl of pickling liquid. Allow to sit 20 minutes. Remove the cucumber from pickling brine before serving.

Bulgogi Beef:

1 pound lean high-quality steak (I used sirloin)

½ Asian pear

6 garlic cloves

½ small yellow onion

2 teaspoons grated ginger

¼ cup low-sodium soy sauce

¼ cup mirin

¼ teaspoon black pepper

2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

2 green onions, finely sliced

Trim any excess fat off of the steak. Cut into thin strips, about ¼ inch thick, against the grain.

Place all remaining ingredients, except green onions, in a blender or food processor, and run on high until puréed.

Pour the puréed mixture and the green onions into a gallon-sized zip lock bag, and add the streak strips. Close the bag, and massage the marinade into the beef. Let sit in the refrigerator for at least at hour.

Preheat grill pan on high heat. Remove the beef from the marinade, and lightly shake off excess liquid before grilling. Grill each side for about 1 to 2 minutes, or until browned.

Bibimbap:

(Final steps and assembly)

For the gochujang sauce:

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

2 tablespoons water

2 teaspoons rice vinegar

2 garlic cloves, minced

¼ cup gochujang pepper paste

2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

For the bowl:

2 cups medium grain brown rice

4 small carrots

3 sheets roasted nori seaweed

5 ounces mushrooms of your choice (I used crimini)

4 large eggs

2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds

To make the gochujang sauce, dissolve the sugar into the water and vinegar in a medium bowl. Add the garlic and gochujang paste, and whisk until well combined. Whisk in the sesame oil. Set aside.

Rinse the rice in cold water until the water runs clear. Cook according to package instructions. Cover with a lid to keep warm until serving.

Shred carrots, and set aside.

Cut the nori into ¼ inch strips with kitchen shears. Set aside.

Slice the mushrooms. Preheat a medium sauté pan. Once it is hot, cook the mushrooms until they have released their liquid and begin to caramelize. Set aside.

Before cooking the eggs, set the table with side dishes. (The sauce, extra nori, extra pickles, etc.) Then prepare the individual bowls. Each bowl starts with a mound of rice in the bottom. Then arrange the toppings around the top of the rice to fully cover it. Toppings include the beef, pickled cucumbers, carrots, mushrooms, and seaweed.

In a large sauté pan with a lid, heat about 1 cup of water until steaming. Place the cracked eggs in the water and cover the lid. Cook until the white is cooked through, but the yolk is still runny. (I call this shallow poaching. It requires no oil, and you don’t need to wait for a pot of water to come to a boil as you do for traditional poached eggs.)

Place a cooked egg in the middle of each bowl. Sprinkle some sesame seeds over the top, and allow each individual to add sauce and other extra toppings at the table.

Bibimbap

Easter Treats ~ Simnel Cupcakes

Simnel CupcakesHappy Easter!

To celebrate the holiday this year, I made a batch of simnel cupcakes. :)

Simnel cake is a British confection eaten around Easter time. It is a type of fruit cake with some warm holiday spices mixed in, but I think the most interesting part about this dish is the decoration. These cakes are decorated with a ring of 11 small balls of marzipan symbolizing 11 Apostles, with the exception of Judas. I love dishes such as this one that combine culture, history, and deliciousness! 😉

Simnel CupcakesI only decorated a few of the cupcakes, and I froze the rest of them without any decoration to keep them fresh for later. (By the way, microwave one frozen cupcake for 30 seconds, and it tastes like it came right out of the oven. I like to eat them plain as a snack.) I ended up using one small 150 gram package of marzipan because I only decorated a few of the cakes. This amount will be enough to decorate about 8 cupcakes, depending on how thin you roll it. If you would like to decorate the whole batch, you will probably need three packages to be on the safe side. Marzipan keeps well in the refrigerator for later if you don’t use all of it. I also only used about ¼ cup of apricot jam. Again, if you plan to decorate all of your cupcakes, you will probably need more.

Simnel CupcakesSimnel Cupcakes

Makes 20

¾ cup light olive oil

½ cup plain nonfat yogurt

6 tablespoons skim milk

½ cup fine or caster sugar

3 eggs

2 ¼ cups whole wheat pastry flour

3 teaspoons baking powder

Pinch of salt

1 ¼ teaspoons mixed spice or pumpkin pie spice

½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1 ½ cups mixed dry fruit (finely chopped apricots, currants, etc.)

Marzipan (one 150 g package will cover and decorate about 8 cupcakes)

Powdered sugar, for dusting work surface

Apricot jam (¼ cup will be enough for about 8 cupcakes)

Preheat oven to 350. Line 2 cupcake tins with 20 paper liners.

Combine oil, yogurt, milk, sugar, and eggs in a medium bowl. Whisk to combine. In a separate large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and spices. Add the wet ingredients to the dry, and stir until just combined. Add the fruit, and mix until evenly distributed.

Fill each baking cup about ½ full. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

In the meantime heat jam until it is more viscous, and sieve it through a fine mesh strainer. Reserve the smooth portion of the jam, and discard the solids.

On a clean and smooth surface, sprinkle some powdered sugar to keep the marzipan from sticking. Roll out the marzipan with a rolling pin until it is very thin. Cut out rounds with a round cookie cutter that is approximately the size of the top of a cupcake. With remaining bits of marzipan, make small, evenly sized balls.

When the cupcakes are cooked and cooled, brush a small amount of the jam over the top of each one that you would like to decorate. Place a round of marzipan over the jam, and press gently to adhere to the cake. Lightly brush the top of the marzipan with jam, and also lightly coat 11 little balls with jam. Stick the balls in a circle on top of each cupcake.

Simnel Cupcakes

First Date Anniversary ~ Hot Date Muffins

Date and Banana Muffins17 years ago today, my hubby and I went on our first date together. To celebrate this little anniversary, I thought I would bake him some Hot Date Muffins! 😉

Date and Banana MuffinsI wanted to try making a muffin that was 100% fruit sweetened, with no refined sugar. These are sweetened three ways, with dates, applesauce, and a ripe banana. They are also vegan, gluten free, and almost fat free. And I should add, they are quite delicious, which is probably the most important point of all! 😉 If a recipe is super healthy but not very tasty, it doesn’t make the cut for me. My hubby and I both thought these were pleasantly surprising. (Kind of like our first date! 😉 ) They are concentrated moist sweet morsels, perfect for a quick and hearty breakfast or snack.

Date and Banana MuffinsHot Date Muffins

1 ¾ cups oat flour

2 ½ teaspoons baking powder

1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground ginger

Pinch of salt

1 ¼ cups Medjool dates, pitted

1 cup applesauce

1 very ripe banana

1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract

¾ cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 325. Line a muffin tin with 12 paper liners.

In a large bowl, whisk together the oat flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, and salt.

In a food processor, add the dates, applesauce, banana, and vanilla. Process until smooth.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, and stir until well combined. Add chopped walnuts if you are using them, and stir to distribute evenly.

Fill 12 muffin cups evenly with batter. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until a wooden skewer inserted in the middle of one comes out clean.

Let cool completely, or they will stick to the paper liners.

Date and Banana Muffins

April Fool’s Day ~ Rhubarb Fool

Rhubarb FoolWhat’s the perfect way to celebrate April Fool’s Day? With an English fool, of course! 😉 I couldn’t think of anything more fitting for the occasion. (Except perhaps this. 😉 Love it!)

A fool is a blend of cooked and puréed fruit combined with a creamy base. It is typically made with whipped cream or custard, but I cut down on the fat and calories by combining the cream with nonfat plain Greek yogurt. I also boiled the rhubarb with orange juice to sweeten it without a lot of refined sugar.

Rhubarb FoolRhubarb Fool

½ pound rhubarb, cut into ½ inch pieces

¼ cup fresh orange juice

Zest of ½ an orange

¼ cup sugar

½ cup heavy whipping cream

½ cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt

Place the rhubarb, orange juice, orange zest, and sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, and simmer until the rhubarb is soft. Strain the excess liquid. Purée the rhubarb in a food processor until smooth. Chill.

Beat the cream until soft peaks form. Whisk in the Greek yogurt. Then stir the cooled rhubarb mixture into the cream mixture, leaving some streaks. Serve immediately.

I hope you have an April Fool’s Day filled with fun and surprising twists and turns!

Rhubarb Fool

Sweets for my sweet ~ Date and Almond Fudge

Date and Almond Fudge17 years ago, I met my hubby on this date. We like to celebrate the anniversary every year in some way. :)

This year I chose to make some healthy, vegan fudge to mark the occasion. The fudge is sweetened completely with dates. It is something to feel good about eating, and they are sweet and chocolaty. Those two benefits rarely go together! 😉

Date and Almond FudgeDate and Almond Fudge

14 ounces Medjool dates (about 2 cups), pitted

½ cup almond butter

¼ cup extra virgin coconut oil

6 tablespoons cocoa powder

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Line a square 8-inch baking dish with parchment paper, leaving a few inches to overhang on the sides. (These will be your handles to pull the fudge out when it is set.) Combine all of the ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth. Spread the fudge evenly into the baking dish. Refrigerate until firm, about an hour. Pull the fudge out of the baking dish, and cut into desired shapes.

The little flags came from a website called Honey Bear Lane. They were created for Valentine’s Day, but I thought they were perfect to dress up this fudge. You could also sprinkle it with shredded coconut, sliced almonds, or anything else that strikes your fancy.

Happy anniversary, my sweet!

Date and Almond Fudge

Family Dinner ~ Tuscan Sausage and Caramelized Onion Ragù

Pasta SauceThe flavors of this dish will transport you to the beautiful Tuscan countryside. You can almost see the rolling hills from your spot at the dinner table as you eat al fresco under the grape arbor. 😉

This sauce is perfect for a dinner party since it’s a crowd pleaser, and it doesn’t need a lot of attention on the stove once everything is combined. The house will smell delicious when your guests arrive, and the sauce can simmer on its own while you chat with your company.

The original recipe was from a homemade pasta cooking class at Sur La Table. To make the dish a little leaner than the one from class, I used olive oil rather than butter, and I chose lean ground beef and chicken sausage rather than ground chuck and pork sausage.

Tuscan Sausage and Caramelized Onion Ragù

Based on a recipe from a cooking class at Sur La Table

Yield: 8 servings

For sauce:

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 large yellow onion, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice

1 large carrot, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice

2 large celery ribs, trimmed and cut into 1/4-inch dice

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1/2 pound lean ground beef

1 pound sweet Italian chicken sausage, casings removed

2 (28 ounce) cans San Marzano whole tomatoes

1 cup dry red wine

2 bay leaves

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

For onions:

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 large yellow onions, peeled and thinly sliced

2 tablespoons aged balsamic vinegar

Sauce:

In a large pot or large, wide skillet, add oil and heat over medium-high heat. Add onion, carrot, and celery, stirring well to coat with oil. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables turn golden brown, about 12 to 14 minutes. Add tomato paste and cook, stirring occasionally, until paste turns a darker red, about 2 minutes. Add sausage and beef, stirring occasionally to break up large clumps, and cook until meat begins to brown, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add tomatoes, wine, and bay leaves, stirring well to combine. Reduce heat to medium and simmer sauce until thickened and reduced, about 40 to 50 minutes. Taste and season with salt and pepper if necessary. Keep warm.

Onions:

While sauce simmers, heat oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add onions and stir to coat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are deep golden brown, about 20 to 25 minutes. Add balsamic vinegar, stirring well to combine.

Just before serving, stir onions into the sauce. Taste and season as needed with salt and pepper. Use immediately with fresh pasta, or allow to cool and refrigerate up to 3 days. Any unused portions can be packed in an airtight container and frozen up to 1 month.

To make this meal even more authentic, make homemade fettuccine with your guests! It’s a fun and interactive project to do together, which is a nice icebreaker. The recipe for fresh pasta dough can be found here.

The time of the year for all things Irish ~ Individual Cottage Pies

Cottage PieSt. Patrick’s Day is one of my favorite holidays, and I love to make Irish recipes every year to get into the spirit. Cottage pie is a classic Irish dish, likely dating back as far as 1791. If you change the ingredients slightly, it is a different dish altogether: Use lamb, and it is a shepherd’s pie, sprinkle bread crumbs on top, and it is a Cumberland pie, and if you use turkey and ham, it is a St. Stephen’s Day pie. Those could be fun alternatives to try later to mix things up. It is also a simple and quick weeknight dinner, which is perfect since St. Patrick’s Day falls on a Tuesday this year. You can make it in one large casserole dish, or individual ramekins are very cute. The mash on top can be either traditional mashed potatoes, or better yet, steamed and puréed cauliflower.

Cottage PieCottage Pie

Based on a recipe from Bon Appétit magazine

For topping:

1 head of cauliflower, cut into florets

3 tablespoons skim milk, or more for a smoother consistency

Earth Balance to taste

Salt and pepper to taste

For base:

1/2 pound white mushrooms, sliced

1 tablespoon high heat oil, such as safflower or sunflower

1 pound leanest ground beef

1 small onion, chopped

4 garlic cloves, minced

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 cup beef stock

1/2 cup chopped fresh flat leaf parsley

1 large carrot, chopped finely

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

Salt and pepper to taste

Steam cauliflower florets in a medium saucepot with the lid on until tender. With a slotted spoon, transfer the cauliflower into a food processor. Add milk and blend until it is a smooth purée. Add Earth Balance, salt, and pepper to taste, and pulse to combine.

Preheat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil, heat until shimmering, and then add mushrooms. Cook until tender, about 7 minutes. Transfer mushrooms to a bowl. Add beef, onion, and garlic to same skillet and cook over medium-high heat until beef is brown, breaking up with spoon, about 8 minutes. Add flour and stir 2 minutes. Add mushrooms, carrot, stock, parsley, and Worcestershire. Simmer about 4 minutes, or until the stock is almost evaporated, stirring occasionally.

Spoon the beef mixture into an 8-inch round baking dish or individual ramekins. Spoon the cauliflower purée over the top, and serve immediately.

Cottage Pie

Shrove Tuesday (Pancake Day!) ~ Mini English Pancakes

PancakesMardi Gras came on the heels of Valentine’s Day this year, and since I was still in a British mood after our Downton Abbey themed Valentine dinner, I decided to celebrate this day as the British do…with pancakes! In England, what we call Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday is known as Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Day. They celebrate by eating pancakes, and they even have pancake races! This video of the yearly Parliamentary pancake race from a couple of years ago made me giggle. It gets quite competitive, as the video shows! Ha! This year’s race video featured a pancake-cam, which is also quite hilarious. 😉

In honor of this fun tradition, I made mini pancakes to celebrate Pancake Day. English-style pancakes are much thinner than American pancakes. They are almost like French crêpes. The cakes are traditionally served with a little caster/fine sugar and lemon rather than maple syrup.

I chose to make a basic recipe from BBC Good Food. I replaced the plain flour with whole-wheat pastry flour, and I used fully skim milk rather than partly-skimmed milk as the recipe called for. I also made my cakes mini for an afternoon tea snack, but otherwise followed the recipe fairly closely.

PancakesEnglish Pancakes

Based on a recipe from BBC Good Food

100g whole-wheat pastry flour

2 eggs

300ml skim milk, plus more if needed

1 tbsp light oil such as sunflower or safflower, plus extra for frying

Pinch of salt

Lemon slices, for serving

Caster/fine sugar, for serving

Blending in the flour: Put the flour and a pinch of salt into a large mixing bowl and make a well in the center. Crack the eggs into the middle, and then pour in about 50ml milk and 1 tbsp oil. Start whisking from the center, gradually drawing the flour into the eggs, milk and oil. Once all the flour is incorporated, beat until you have a smooth, thick paste. Add a little more milk if it is too stiff to beat.

Finishing the batter: Add a good splash of milk and whisk to loosen the thick batter. While still whisking, pour in a steady stream of the remaining milk. Continue pouring and whisking until you have a batter that is the consistency of slightly thick single cream.

Getting the right thickness: Heat the pan over a moderate heat, and then wipe it with oiled paper towel. Ladle some batter into the pan, tilting the pan to move the mixture around for a thin and even layer. Leave to cook, undisturbed, for about 30 seconds, or until you see the edges getting a bit dry and golden. If the pan is the right temperature, the pancake should turn golden underneath after about 30 seconds and will be ready to turn.

Flipping pancakes: Hold the pan handle, ease a fish spatula under the pancake, then quickly lift and flip it over. Make sure the pancake is lying flat against the base of the pan with no folds, and then cook for another 30 seconds before turning out onto a warm plate. Continue with the rest of the batter, serving them as you cook or stack onto a plate.

PancakesThe little flag was generated from the Keep Calm-O-Matic website. You can make your own personalized signs based on the classic British “Keep Calm and Carry On” poster. So fun!

Pancakes

Downton Abbey Valentine Dinner, Final Course ~ Battenberg Cake

Battenberg CakeFor the grand finale of our Downton Abbey-inspired Valentine dinner, I made a Battenberg cake! It is a classic British checkerboard-style cake, held together with jam and a marzipan coating.

The tale behind the cake is that it was created to celebrate the wedding of Princess Victoria (Queen Victoria’s granddaughter) to Prince Louis of Battenberg in 1884. Given the romantic story about the cake, I think it is the perfect dessert for Valentine’s Day! A little more about the cake’s background and some fun facts can be found at SeriousEats.com.

I decided to make a chocolate and vanilla version rather than a traditional pink and yellow version, so I would not require any food coloring. (Or rather, since I am in a British state of mind, I should say “colouring.” 😉 ) I started with a recipe from Jamie Oliver, but I changed it so significantly that the final result was a completely different cake. For my healthier Nooncafe Battenberg, I wanted to use whole grains rather than self rising flour, so I used whole-wheat pastry flour with the addition of baking powder and salt. I also didn’t want to use butter, so I replaced it with coconut oil, and added less oil than the recipe called for. To offset that change, I added more milk for moisture. I also reduced the sugar quite a bit in the batter, since the jam and marzipan also added a lot of sweetness. The final product was denser and heartier than a traditional sponge cake, but it was quite delicious!

For decoration, I dyed some of the marzipan pink with beet juice. Just grate a raw beet on a cheese grater, place the grated beet inside of 2 or 3 layers of cheese cloth, and squeeze out the juice. Knead a little of the juice into the marzipan until it is uniformly pink. It’s a little messy, but so pretty! In the book A Year in the Life of Downton Abbey: Seasonal Celebrations, Traditions, and Recipes, it mentions that in the era of Downton Abbey, the food was highly decorated. Even the serving platters would have been decorated. Inspired by that fact, I cut out hearts with my pink marzipan and placed them all around my cake platter, as well as on top of the cake.

Since this is a very British recipe, I wrote most of the measurements in grams (and even gave you the Celsius temperature for the oven if you please!)

Battenberg CakeBattenberg Cake

200g coconut oil, plus extra for greasing the pans

250g fine or caster sugar

6 eggs

½ tbsp vanilla extract

6 tbsp milk

285g whole-wheat pastry flour

3 tsp baking powder

Pinch of salt

50g ground almonds

40g cocoa

125g apricot jam

450g marzipan

Preheat oven to 180C/350F. Grease 2 small loaf pans, line the bottom with parchment paper, and grease the parchment as well. This will ensure the cakes come out of the pans in one piece.

In a bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder and salt until very well combined. Set aside. Divide the coconut oil and sugar evenly between 2 bowls, and whisk until well incorporated. Beat 3 eggs into each bowl. Stir the vanilla and half the milk into one bowl, then fold in 175g of the flour mixture until just combined.
In the other bowl, fold in the remaining flour mixture, almonds, cocoa and remaining milk. Mix until just combined. Take care not to over mix the flour. Spoon the two batters into the greased pans. Bake both together for about 40–50 minutes, or until a wooden skewer comes out clean. The chocolate cake may take longer to cook than the vanilla, so check often towards the end of the baking time. Cool for 10 minutes, and then turn the cakes out onto a rack.

To assemble, warm and strain the jam. Level off the tops and sides of the cakes with a serrated knife so each cake is a rectangle and the same size. Cut in half lengthwise so you have 2 long strips of each. Place 1 of the vanilla cakes on a board and brush the top and sides generously with jam, then do the same with a strip of chocolate cake and stick the 2 together, side by side. Gently place the remaining cakes on top, opposite colors on each, brushing all the edges with jam. Trim the cake so the sides are straight, if necessary.

Roll out the marzipan on a board sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar so it is large enough to completely cover the cake (with a little extra to use for decoration.) Place the cake on one of the shorter sides, and bring the marzipan up and over the top to cover 4 sides. Pat to make sure the marzipan adheres to the jam on all 4 sides. Trim to neaten the two exposed checkerboard edges with a serrated knife.

I find that videos are easier to follow than words when I have a technical recipe such as this one, so here is a link to a video I found helpful when assembling my Battenberg.

Battenberg Cake