ostroconophobia

For many, the very thought of oysters sends them bolting straight to the opposite direction. I found this somewhat true in Taiwan where oyster pancakes, popcorn oysters, and dilled oyster fritters. Seriously, how can you not like oysters?

This phenomenon only inflated when I came to Vancouver, yes, sushi capital of North America (sorry, Los Angeles), where I learned that two of my best friends mentally vomit when they see, not just oysters, but shellfish in general. And then I came to Waterloo, practically a fish desert.

Fish? What fish?

But then again, you can’t blame the region for being landlocked. And they do preserve fish very well, especially the oily Atlantic fishes such as mackerel, cod, and sardines. These are generally processed by means of smoking, salting, or confiting then canned. All of these concentrate the fish flavour into the intensity of shellfish.

And when the same things are done to oysters, you essentially end up with the bacon of the sea. Except with the ever-welcomed addition of umami, the latest culinary beau.

I cared for you in the wilderness,

in the land of drought.

Hosea 13:5

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The key to mellowing the smoked oysters’ intense brininess (which is mostly concentrated in the oil) into a lovely umami base is by cooking it out. The baking then further transforms the flavour through caramelization and bringing out the sweetness of the cream. What you end up with is something so ridiculously addictive with a je ne sais quoi that nobody will suspect to have come from smoked oysters.

Ingredients for the Oyster Creamed Kale, serves 4-6:

1 tin smoked oysters in oil

3 tbsp butter

small brown onion, finely diced

60 grams AP flour

375 ml light cream (10%~18% MF)

125 ml water

pinch nutmeg

sea salt, to taste

2~3 bunches kale, leaves only, wilted and squeezed dry

To make the oyster bechamel, tip the oil from the oyster tin into a saucepan, reserving the oysters. Add the butter and heat until melted and beginning to sputter. Add the onions and fry without coloring until soft, about 3 to 4 minutes.

Stir in the flour to form a paste, then gradually whisk in the cream a little at a time until smooth and creamy. Whisk in the water, nutmeg, and sea salt to taste. Remove from the heat.

Transfer the bechamel to a blender, add the reserved oysters and puree until completely smooth.

In a large bowl, mix the cooked kale thoroughly with the pureed sauce and spoon into a baking dish.

Bake at 425 degrees F until golden and bubbly.

Enjoy with whatever cool-weather offerings you plan to dish up!

 

Foodie’s Gold

For me, a good recipe should always hit the spot on taste, that is, flavour and texture. A recipe that I’ll make over and over again, however, must also be wittily simple, nourishing, and dirt cheap. I mean, sure, a delicate entremet is surely delicious, but let’s be honest here, ain’t nobody got time to chill and set six frickin’ layers. And yeah, totally, if I bacon anything (yes, it’s a verb now) I’m pretty sure I can tag it #mattprestonlikedit, but I’m sure I’ll enter a sweaty bacon coma shortly after eating it. And heck, I could practically do anything to a piece of chilean sea bass and it’d be yum, but I’d be broke in a week.

Thus arises the dilemma of a poor foodie: sacrificing taste vs sacrificing time/health/wallet’s embonpoint. But you can’t starve a foodie, it just doesn’t work like that. We are a very advanced type of people in terms of our ability to self sustain because a huge part of our brain specializes in just that: nom and nosh.

I am thankful that I can tell when tofu’s gone sour. I am thankful that I am educated to choose those foods that help me thrive. I am thankful that I am not rich, should the abundance turn me a glutton. Yet I give thanks that I am not poor, should the words that fill my mouth become bitter and dry. I am thankful that there is not one perfect way to make a dish, but many different ways to make a dish perfect. And I am thankful that I can find my way.

What are you thankful for?

Remove far from me vanity and lies:

give me neither poverty nor riches;

feed me with food convenient for me:

Lest I be full, and deny thee,

and say,

Who is the Lord?

or lest I be poor,

and steal,

and take the name of my God in vain.

Proverbs 30:8-9

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Far from being traditional, this paella still hits all my check-points as far as a recipe is concerned: delicious, simple, healthy, and cheap. I ditched the saffron and gave turmeric a try. I used regular brown rice instead of imported paella rice. Excuse me for using frozen seafood, but excuse you for not knowing that flash-freeze technology has hugely improved since two decades ago. Also, I didn’t bother with any type of stock because I have no intention of using store bought, and time or spirit for simmering my own. Hence I added depth of flavour by charring my corn, tomatoes, and pepper which brings out their sweetness.

Delicious, simple, healthy, and cheapo points: check, check, check, check!

Ingredients for the paella – part I :

3 cups brown rice, soaked overnight

1 large red bell pepper

1 ear corn, husk removed

3 tomatoes on the vine

To prep for the paella, char the pepper, corn, and tomatoes on the gas stove by holding them with metal tongs over direct flame until the skin blisters blackens all over. Be careful when you try to do this with the corn – it will pop a bit! Leave them until cool enough to handle.

Core and remove the seeds from the pepper, then thinly slice. To remove the kernels from the ear of corn, hold it vertically over a large mixing bowl and slice downwards along the core. This way you save all the sweet juice and the hassle of chasing after kernels flying through the air. Finally, dice the tomatoes. Reserve until needed.

2 tbsp olive oil

1 large red onion, diced

1 spicy chorizo, sliced into 1-cm thick coins

1 fat garlic clove, minced

1 tbsp smoked paprika

1 tbsp ground turmeric

1 tbsp fish sauce (yes it stinks, I know, but it’s practically msg-less shellfish bouillon)

4 1/2 cups water

sea salt and black pepper, to taste

1 pkg (16 oz.) frozen mixed seafood, do not thaw

1 pkg (16 oz) frozen raw mussels on the half shell, do not thaw

To make the paella, heat the oil in a large roasting pan. Sweat the onion and chorizo on medium heat until the onions are translucent and the chorizo is browned. Add the garlic, paprika, turmeric, and fish sauce and fry until fragrant. Add the prepared vegetables and cook on high heat until the tomatoes lose their raw flavour, about 5-7 minutes. Stir in the soaked rice and water, then season well. Cover and bring to the boil.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F, with the rack placed in the lower third of the oven. Once boiling, remove it from the heat, stir well, and arrange the frozen seafood on top. Do not stir once you add the seafood!

Cover and bake in the reheated oven for 1 hour, or until the liquid has been completely soaked up by the rice. Turn off the oven and leave the paella in the oven to rest for a further 10 minutes, undisturbed.

Serve immediately with a simple herb salad.

Enjoy!

 

A Bit of Spring Cleaning

Get ready! Because you’re about to be hit by a blizzard , no it’s not winter anymore, I mean, explosion of recipes, all of which are vegan, super vibrant, fresh, and absolutely delicious! For those of you who are staying in touch via instagram (it’s on the right-hand-side, just click and follow to stay up-to-plate with everything I’m whipping up), you’ve probably been wondering why I haven’t put up the recipes to those pictures and I apologize!! Sorry, I truly am because sometimes I click on something that looks totally yum hoping to find its recipe but then it just turns out to be foodporn, and that makes me really disappointed.

I get that. So here’s a treat: a collage of recipes to kickstart spring!

Here I wanted to feature some of those under-acknowledged ingredients such as beet greens, parsley stems, green peas, and grainy mustard. Beet greens and parsley stems tend to just get trimmed off and thrown into the garbage which I find to be such a waste. Beet greens are actually loaded with all the great nutrients its roots has, but with more fibre and less sugar while parsley stems have even more flavour than the leaves, not to mention the nice texture it gives to the green falafel mash (recipe below!). Green peas and grainy mustard, on the other hand are like ugly christmas sweaters – you have them lying around not because they’re a kitchen staple, but because there was this one day when some magazine or trend convinced you to buy a bag/jar of the stuff (like how your friends convinced you of the sweater at Value Village). Then ever since that day it’s just been a shameful lump stuck in your pantry or fridge door.

It’s okay, it’s all good, literally. And I encourage you to really take this as a new starting point, see what poor miserable thing is your fridge or pantry that you’ve been wanting to get rid of, and cook dat thang!

For those who exalt themselves will be humbled,

and those who humble themselves

will be exalted.

Luke 14:11

Collage

Rice with Beet Greens (Top Left):

1 tbsp avocado oil

1 medium brown onion, finely diced

1 bunch beet greens, stem portion diced, leaf portion shredded

2 cups cold, cooked red and brown basmati or jasmine rice

sea salt

white pepper

pinch of cinnamon

To make the rice with beet greens, heat the oil on medium in a skillet or wok. Add the onions and let it sweat until translucent and fragrant. Turn up the heat to high and add the chopped beet greens, continue stirring until tender, then add the rice and season well to taste. Stir until the liquid is fully absorbed and mixture is heated through.

Serve immediately, with an earthy wild mushroom or nutty pureed squash soup.

 

Garlic Coconut Butter Grilled Naan

with Green Falafel Mash, Parsley Mango Slaw, and Sriracha Aioli (Top Right):

for the garlic coconut butter grilled naan:

2 fat cloves of garlic, minced

2 tbsp coconut oil

4 pieces whole wheat naan bread

To make the coconut butter, put combine garlic and coconut oil in a small bowl and microwave for 30-45 seconds until fragrant. Brush the mixture onto one side of the naan and put that side down on a hot grill pan (it’s still pretty cold where I am, but if it’s summer wherever you are and you have the luxury of using a grill, by all means fire it up!). Lift up a corner to see if it’s nicely charred, once it is, brush the oil on the upper side and flip it over to get it grill-marked.

for the green falafel mash:

2 cups flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped (throw the stems in there!)

1 can (540 ml) chickpeas, drained

1 generous tbsp madras curry powder

3 tbsp tahini

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

juice of 1 lemon

sea salt, to taste

Put all the ingredients in a food processor and pulse until a coarse puree forms. Transfer to a bowl and drizzle with some more EVOO and set aside.

for the parsley mango slaw:

1 large mango, ripe but firm, thinly sliced

1 cup finely shredded flat leaf parsley

Stir together the mango and parsley in a bowl and set aside.

for the sriracha aioli:

2 heaping tbsp good quality mayonnaise, feel free to use your favourite vegan mayo or cashew cream!

1 tbsp sriracha hot sauce (don’t tone it down, go beyond if it’s your thing!)

1 tbsp lime juice

In a small bowl stir together the mayo, sriracha, and lime juice, adding a bit more sriracha or lime juice to get a nice drizzling consistency. To assemble, spread the falafel mash onto the grilled naan, top with the mango slaw, and drizzle with the sriracha aioli.

Serve immediately with a minty cooler : blend together frozen yellow watermelon cubes + fresh mint + lime + coconut water!

 

Roasted Aloo Gobi (Bottom Right):

1 head cauliflower separated into bite-sized florets

1 large baking potato, diced into 1-inch pieces, boiled for 12 minutes

8 cremini mushrooms, sliced

1 cup shelled green peas, frozen is fine

3 tbsp madras curry powder

2 heaping tbsp grainy mustard

1 cup crushed tomatoes

2 tbsp melted coconut oil

sea salt, to taste

2 tbsp honey or agave

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Combine all ingredients besides the honey and place into two large baking trays. Bake for 1 hr, stirring every 10~15 minutes. Drizzle with honey and bake for another 10~15 minutes until vegetables are tender and caramelized.

Serve with coconut steamed basmati rice or garlic coconut butter grilled naan (above).

 

Lemon Butter Bean Tartines  with Spring Sugar Peas, Butter Lettuce, and Radishes (Bottom Left):

for the Lemon Butter Beans:

1 can (540 ml) white or butter beans, rinsed and drained

1 heaping tbsp grainy mustard

zest and juice of 1 small lemon

2 tsp honey or agave

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

sea salt

black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until smooth, you might need to scrape down the sides of the bowl a couple of times. Set aside.

for the tartine assemby:

few slices toasted baguette or spelt or dark rye bread, really anything goes

1 head Boston or butter lettuce, leaves washed and patted dry

1 cup shelled sweet peas, frozen ones are fine, just let them sit at room temperature for 20 minutes

2 scallions, thinly sliced

4~5 radishes, thinly sliced

Spread a bit of the bean puree onto the toasted bread, then put the lettuce on (that way the lettuce will actually stay on the tartine). Fill the lettuce with more of the puree and garnish with the peas, scallions, and radish rounds.

Serve  with a strawberry almond milkshake: blend together frozen strawberries + almond milk + agave + vanilla extract

Happy spring cleaning your body, mind, and pantry!

 

why am I always in a curry..

Two weeks into university and the new people I’m meeting have already thrown at me a  stupefying sum of questions.

What’s your name?

Jen, but you can call me Ann, whichever works.

Why did you choose this program?

Well, for the longest time I wanted to be a plastic surgeon, but then one day Jesus told me to go into ActSci and PoliSci so..

Are you vegetarian?

Um, I’m actually closer to vegan (and wheat-free) since I don’t consume dairy, but I do eat meat on occasion.

Then what are you?

(**What kind of question is that!?**)

Well, it’s not that I’m contre-cruelty or pretending to be a health fanatic, because I do thoroughly love food and the rich stories that go along with it. So basically, I’ll eat with respect.

Huh?

For example, if it’s a piece of local, organically farmed short rib, carefully and patiently cooked with the most simplicity such that the natural deep earthy flavour of the marrow and fat permeates every fork-tender strand of flesh, then yes I do. I do very much want to consume that piece of meat.

So in the end, I guess I found my answer.

I don’t have a problem with “meat” – the concept.

Rather, I am appalled by inhumain farming practices, and the greed for money that is the root of this evil.

After all this, it’s only fitting that I dish up some heart-warming breathing space.

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Ingredients for the thai basil pesto:

30 g thai basil, woody stem trimmed

2 medium garlic cloves, roughly chopped

handful raw whole almonds, roughly chopped

generous pinch of sea salt

60 ml avocado oil, or other mild oil

To make the pesto, put all ingredients in the food processor (a small one will work better, or use a mortar and pestle) except for the oil. Pulse until evenly chopped and mixed, then slowly stream in the oil until incorporated. Store in a small glass jar and pour an extra layer of oil to seal, then cover and refrigerate until needed, up to two weeks.

Ingredients for the curry:

1 tbsp coconut oil

2 tsp minced ginger root

1 small onion, chopped

3~4 cups cut-up vegetables of choice, such as broccoli, cauliflower, bell peppers, carrots, mushrooms, asparagus, green beans, water chestnut, etc..)

3 tbsp thai basil pesto (above)

1 can coconut milk

ground chili pepper, optional

sea salt, to taste

water

lime wedges, to serve

To make the  curry, heat the coconut oil in a hot wok or large saucepan. Add the ginger and onions and saute on medium heat until fragrant and the onions are softened. Add the vegetables and stir in the pesto. Saute for 1~2 more minutes. Add the coconut milk, chili, sea salt to taste, and enough water to barely cover the vegetables. Turn the heat to high and cover, until brought to a rolling boil. Check the seasoning, and the vegetables should be tender but still vibrantly colored.

Serve as is or with brown jasmine or basmati rice, and a wedge of lime should bring the whole plate alive with its fresh brightness.

Enjoy!

She mutters

Last Friday, when I was spooning hummus (with my index finger), Magdalena made a fascinating remark.

“If one day this girl breaks up with her boyfriend, instead of seeking comfort from a pail of ice cream, she’ll be watching some chick-flick with a tub of hummus, which she would obviously make by herself.”

True.

The thing is, I love creamy things, but I don’t drink milk, nor do I use butter, or cream, other than in baking, where it’s a whole different story (since rarely do I get a piece of what comes out my oven).

The thing is, with a Vitamix, magic happens.

The thing is, I love Indian food for its thick rich gravy that’s spicy, savoury, sweet, sour, and aromatic.

Which, by the way, I did not get from my latest lunch venture downtown.

So, put two and two together…

of course she did.

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Ingredients for the mutter paneer:

3 tbsp grape seed oil

1 large brown onion, finely diced

2 tbsp fresh ginger root, finely diced

3 tbsp madras curry powder

1 tbsp ginger

1 tbsp paprika

1 tsp fennel seeds

1 can (796 ml) crushed tomatoes

1.2~1.3 L water

4 tbsp dark brown sugar

1 1/2 tsp sea salt

2/3 cup roasted cashews

400 g paneer cheese, cubed (about 1/2-inch) or firm organic tofu for vegan/dairy free version

2 scant cups frozen sweet green peas, no need to defrost

To make the creamy cashew sauce, saute the onion and minced ginger in a large pot with the oil over medium heat, until fragrant and the onion is beginning to soften. Add all the spices and stir until very fragrant and just starting to brown. Add the crushed tomatoes, water, sea salt, brown sugar, and cashews and bring to the boil. Turn down the heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes. **Let this mixture cool for at least an hour before proceeding with the recipe to prevent damaging your blender.**

Pour the contents of the pot into a blender, preferably a Vitamix, but even a hand-held should work if you do it in batches. Puree on the highest speed until very creamy and smooth, then return the pureed sauce to the pot.

Add the paneer cheese cubes and heat over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally to prevent sputtering. When the sauce starts to  bubble, about 6~7 minutes, add the peas. Continue stirring until thoroughly heated and adjust the seasoning, adding more salt or brown sugar as needed.

Serve over steamed jasmine or basmati  rice. (I used a mixture of red and brown jasmine rice this time ’round.) This recipe makes enough for six to eight, so store any leftovers in the fridge. I find the flavour’s better once it’s sat for a night.

Enjoy!

Pretty Chill

Often I feel like I’m speaking in a completely different dialect from my guy friends. Especially now that my brother’s not living at home for his diction to rub off on me. But one word I learned, and has stuck with me ever since is “chill”.

That’s chill. So chill. Pretty chill. You get the idea.

I think it’s a rather subjective adjective. So when things are hot and clammy, whatever you’re talking about simply, by default, becomes pretty chill.

Generally, when it’s sunny out and I have daisy-yellow butterflies fluttering in my heart, I just can’t slave around in the kitchen! I like to keep things cool and fresh, with the most vibrant ingredients I can find, and I don’t consider the word “frozen” to be taboo.

This is my favourite soup to enjoy on any warm day; not only is the pastel green a breath of fresh air, the peas are also tender to the point where, if whizzed to delicate enough a soup, becomes a clean, sweet cream. The mint is subtle and aromatic like steeped tea, but cools the palate and accentuates the pea’s sweetness, while atoning with the reserved sweated onions and garlic.

What’s even better? No defrosting, and no vegetable stock. Yup, pretty chill eh?

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Ingredients for 4 servings of chilled pea soup, derived from Jim Lahey’s My Pizza Cookbook:

1 tbsp grape seed oil

1 boiler onion, finely diced (about 1/2 a cup)

2 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced

1/2 tbsp sea salt

3 cups water

small handful of fresh mint leaves, about 20

500 g frozen shelled green peas

extra-virgin olive oil and more mint leaves, to garnish

To make the pea soup base, saute the onions and garlic with the oil in a sauce pan on medium heat until soft, without browning them, about 2 minutes. Add the salt and water, then bring to a boil. Throw in the mint leaves and allow it to boil for 1 more minute. Remove the pan from the heat and bring the contents to room temperature.

Put the frozen peas and mint soup base in a blender and blend on high speed until very velvety and smooth. If you don’t have a powerhouse blender, no worries, just strain your soup through a fine strainer.

Serve immediately, garnished with a drizzle of good olive oil and a few more mint leaves. This soup can be made in advance for up to 8 hours, covered, and chilled in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Enjoy!