Archive | vegetables

Go-To Light Sesame Ginger Dressing for The Salad Impaired (Like Me)

I’m salad dressing combo-making inept.

I grew up in a culture and age where salads were mostly either made with vinegar + salt + pepper or mayo. I don’t remember salads being a big part of our meals in Manila when I was young. We had our double starches (rice, bread and noodles — any combination of those) to go with the main courses. Fresh or steamed vegetables were dipped in sauces like vinegar with anchovies, soy sauce and calamansi (my favorite), or mayo and ketchup. I have a very good taste memory, but without any childhood recollection of taste combinations, I’m at a loss in a salad-inclusive North America. I even avoided volunteering to bring a salad to potlucks. It stressed me out just to think about it. [It still does.] I would gladly make you pie or cake. You can just see my deer-in-the-headlights look.

One of my cooking-related goals this year is to get in there, try as many dressings/salads (sorry, friends and family), and make some more until I can whip them together with ease. I have a 50% failing rate as far as my own rating system goes–I’m hard on myself, but that helps me keep improving. I still have a lot to learn.

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We’ve been enjoying the summer bounty from our local farmers markets. Here I used shaved carrots, radishes and a variety of tomatoes.

This dressing I’m sharing today is not one of those failures. This is my go-to recipe over the past year, my saving grace when my mind is blank at the end of the day and we have some beautiful vegetables to eat fresh. It’s a light sesame ginger dressing that has been well-received during family dinners. If we can make the kids eat a few bites of veggies, it’s considered a win.

It tastes similar to the light dressing that comes with the house salad at a Japanese restaurant. If you like that, you will love this. There’s just enough boost of flavor, but it lets the vegetables shine. It’s good to start with some lovely produce.

Sesame Ginger Dressing
Recipe type: Dressing
Cuisine: Asian
Active prep time: 
Total hands-on & cooking/baking time: 
Serves: Makes about ⅔ cup of dressing
Easy light dressing for a variety of summer vegetables.
  • 4 tablespoons water
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1½ tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • ½ teaspoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon minced shallots or red onion
  • 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar (you can also use maple syrup or honey)
  • ⅛ teaspoon fresh ground pepper
  1. Whisk all the ingredients together in a small bowl and drizzle or toss with your salad ingredients. Add salt, pepper and sweetener according to your taste. Just remember that it would usually taste sweeter later on.
What you can use for the salad:

Vegetables: Works very well with tomatoes, radishes, cucumbers, carrots, lots of salad greens (lettuce, arugula, etc.), sprouts, etc.

Nuts: Lightly toasted shaved almonds and pecans, pepitas, sesame seeds.

Dried fruits: Cranberries, blueberries, etc.

You can also add some fresh or fried tofu, seared beef or tuna, slices of chicken breast.


Posted in appetizer, dressings and sauces, healthier choices, quick & easy, raw, salads, vegetables, vegetarian0 Comments

Change, Rituals and a Go-To Recipe for Pate Brisee

Last Monday was Blue Monday, supposedly the most depressing day of the year, according to a publicity campaign from a travel company. This pseudoscience was based on a formula including factors such as weather conditions, debt level (i.e. debt from the holidays, I assume vs ability to pay), time since Christmas, time since failing new year’s resolutions, low motivational levels and the feeling of a need to take action. Needless to say this is rubbish. Any day could be really bad for anyone, just as it could go stupendously well for another.

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Ground frost from our New Year’s Day walk in the park.

My Monday was very busy and long, given a rare 16-hour workday, but not depressing in any way. While it has kept me indoors, it didn’t deter me from enjoying and appreciating the generous amount of sunshine we’ve been getting this week.

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Grass and dried winter leaves in the backyard; slithers of sunshine through our fence.

Of course, all this sunshine reminds me of Spring’s not-so-distant arrival. I get a little anxious, I’ll admit. I stop in my tracks to think about what I might have forgotten to schedule or do, or what I should have done or should be doing by now. I ruminate on these things in the morning when everybody’s out the door, and find comfort in a fresh cup of coffee. I never realized how a simple ritual such as this could be so calming. Being the only coffee drinker in the house, it’s one of the few things only I (get to) enjoy. Sure, cleaning that little French press each time could be a drag, but the whole process is pretty grounding. Coffee pun, unintended.

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And then there are the seasonal food-related traditions I look forward to, like making silky smooth Meyer Lemon Curd.  My winter liquid gold. Getting Meyer Lemons from California is not the most 100-Mile diet-friendly choice out there, but this is one of the few guilty pleasures I allow myself. It sure brings a sunny welcome to long cold days.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not a New Year Resolution kind of person. Instead, I stick with a word–a mantra, if you will–to guide me through the year. Can you guess what it is this year?

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An effort to simplify and declutter.

We have been doing our own “eating down the fridge” meals to clean up, too. Roasting vegetables and putting them in a sturdy buttery crust elevates their almost-forgotten state. When I have to foresight to do so, I pre-make pate brisee dough for freezing. It lasts for a couple of months frozen and is a lifesaver both for savory and sweet dishes.

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You couldn’t tell, but we also pre-roasted the vegetables a week before we baked this:

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Do enjoy this recipe. Go crazy with it!

Tart Shell (Pâte brisée) recipe and Vegetable Filling "Template"
Recipe type: Dough
Active prep time: 
Cooking/Baking time: 
Total hands-on & cooking/baking time: 
Serves: 6 to 8
A great all-purpose and sturdy tart shell to hold savory and sweet fillings, plus a "template" for creating your own vegetable tarts.
For the Tart Crust
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • 10 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons ice cold water
For the Tart Filling
  • 1-1/2 to 2 cups roasted vegetables, cooled
  • ¼ cup and 2 tablespoons (or 6 tablespoons total) plain or herbed goat cheese
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons heavy or whipping cream
  • salt and pepper to taste, depending on how seasoned your cheese and vegetables are
Preparing the Dough
  1. Combine flour, salt and sugar in the bowl of a food processor and pulse 5 times.
  2. Add the butter cubes and mix until the texture of the flour resembles coarse sand, with some pea-sized pieces.
  3. Sprinkle ice cold water a tablespoon at a time on the dough and pulse. Continue to process until it more or less forms one mass and the pieces stick together.
  4. Transfer dough onto a cold work surface or kitchen counter and roughly shape a 6-inch disc. Tightly cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour.
  5. Unwrap dough and place on your work surface that is lightly dusted with flour.
  6. Roll out the dough using a rolling pin, down to ⅛-inch in thickness thickness, creating a 12" to 13"-diameter disc. If the dough is too cold and stiff to roll out, leave it on the counter for 5 minutes or so, until it becomes more pliable.
  7. Carefully pick up the rolled dough and drape over the 9" x 1" tart pan (with removable bottom), without stretching. Gently pat the bottom, corner and sides to make sure the pan is fully covered. Trim the edges of the dough about ¼" from the top of the pan. Fold the extra dough into the sides touching the pan, top flushed to the top edge of the pan. Gently press the sides into the curves of the tart pan to secure the dough into the fluted sides. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Partially Bake the Crust
  1. Pre-heat oven to 350°F. Line the top of the crust with a sheet of aluminum foil or parchment paper and fill the bottom with pie weights, uncooked beans or rice to keep the crust flat when baking.
  2. Bake for 25 minutes, then remove the weights and the aluminum or parchment sheet. Bake for 5 to 10 minutes more, until the dough starts to turn light brown ever-so-slightly at the edges. Take out to cool on a wire rack while you prepare the filling.
Assemble the Tart
  1. Whisk the eggs, heavy cream, 2 tablespoons of goat cheese, and a sprinkle of salt and pepper together. The cheese doesn't have to be fully disintegrated; small pieces can be left in the mixture.
  2. Spread the roasted vegetables on the cooled crust, then pour the custard mixture over the vegetables. Dot the top of the tart with torn pieces of the remaining goat cheese. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the custard is set and the top of the tart is golden. Allow to rest in the tart pan perched on a cooling rack for at least 10 minutes before serving.

Prep Time does not include time for roasting vegetables

Planning Ahead: I must warn you that you cannot start this at 6:00pm and expect to have dinner in an hour. There are many things you can do ahead of time. The tart shell can be prepared and partially baked beforehand, just make sure to cool it before wrapping in plastic film for storing in the fridge (if using the next day) or in the freezer (for up to 2 months). The tart dough can also be pre-made and kept in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or frozen for up to 1 month. Another option would be to freeze the unbaked crust in the pan and bake it directly from the freezer--just remember to add 5 or so minutes to the baking time.

Roasted Vegetables: You can make your roasted vegetable mix by chopping chunks of vegetables (e.g. zucchini, tomatoes, eggplant, bell peppers, cauliflower, etc. ) and tossing them in olive oil, salt, pepper, and some herbs and spread evenly on a baking sheet. Roast in an oven preheated at 425°F for 25 to 30 minutes. Cool and store in the fridge (if used within 2 days) or in the freezer. This can be used in your savory tarts, mixed with noodles, or even just with some goat cheese and crackers. When pulsed in the food processor with some caramelized onions, it makes a very hearty vegetable dip.


Posted in baking, cheese, Meatless Monday, tarts, vegetables, vegetarian0 Comments

Adventures in South Asian Cookery: Indian Lentil Curry

I love trying different cuisines, although I’m not adept at making most of them. At all. This may come as a surprise that as much as I throw myself at the mercy of the most complicated and time-intensive baking recipes, I am timid about cooking beyond my comfort zone of Filipino, Southeast Asian, and North American dishes. I used to shudder at the thought of having to prepare Indian dishes. Luckily, Jens is a fantastic cook and prepares Indian food like a boss. When we started dating, this Indian lentil curry was the first thing he ever cooked for me, with the addition of prawns in it (yum). I remember being led away from the kitchen and asked to just relax on the couch and “eat bonbons” (his words, not mine, and sadly there weren’t really any bonbons, boo) and watch TV. I think I turned on the news, pining for those phantom sweets. Ha.

I could smell the onions being sautéed with cumin and there was much banging of pots, pans and chopping board. At the time I was really glad I wasn’t the one toiling over the stove, smelling of onions, and only had a small chance of partaking in the cleanup afterwards. (Or did I? I can’t remember.) All that was left of the memory of that dinner was how good this was, and how I needed to get the recipe.


It’s the one thing I ask him to make  a couple of times a month and with the summer months over, I’ve been craving it even more. I’m not the only one who loves it–anyone who’s tasted it wants the recipe. We recently brought it to a Thanksgiving lunch and as expected several people asked us how to make it. It didn’t help that half the soup was spilled in the car en route to Maple Ridge, so guests only had a little bit of it, left wanting more.

Up until then I’ve never actually cooked it. As a rule, I don’t post recipes I haven’t tried myself. So I made it twice last week: Batch #1 was for dinner for one and a few work lunches between Jens and I, and Batch #2  with fried paneer (i.e. fresh cheese) was our contribution to the family dinner at my parents’ over the weekend. We finished that second pot of soup down to the last spoonful. My poor brother who was hoping for leftovers never stood a chance.


Cooking it was much easier than I thought. I’ve avoided preparing Indian food for the longest time because I thought I’d never get the spices right. This simple curry has changed all that and I’m ready to tackle more Indian dishes. It means I’ll get to use the other third of our spices, which I have been ignoring. Hurray!

The following recipe was based on the the Moong and Masoor Dal recipe in Vij’s: Elegant and Inspired Indian Cuisinewith several modifications. Jens has always used green lentils instead of the moong dal (mung or moon bean) in the original dish. We use 2 cups less water with a corresponding 1/4 tablespoon reduction in salt, and half the ghee, a type of clarified butter. I’ve linked uncommon ingredients to helpful pages for reference when you’re shopping for ingredients. Here in Vancouver we are lucky to have numerous Indian stores where we could source our asafoetida and ghee. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Superstore has them.

Did you know that Canada is the top lentil-producing country in the world, ahead of India?

Continue Reading

Posted in soups, vegetables, vegetarian0 Comments

Linguine with Braised Chard and Prosciutto

After a busy day, there’s nothing more that I want than fast food. Not the McD kind or the pizza kind. I want something I could fix ASAP without having to fret over ingredients I’m missing. You must think I just bake and eat baked goods all the time with everything that I’ve been posting lately, but I still do cook. I want to spend my time in the kitchen wisely (=quickly), making something that’s good enough to eat and enjoy, but still healthy. I mean, cutting out the part where I drink wine is eating healthier, right? Aha.

There were still fresh pasta and prosciutto from my last trip to Granville Island, and a bunch of almost- forgotten Swiss chard that commanded attention or they will take a direct trip to the food scrap recycling bin. And then there’s the leftover ricotta from my crumb cake baking, plus a lonely shallot bulb.  I’m not organized enough to have my market loot assigned into dishes and menus, so this is a regular plight: Get available and/or in-season ingredients and figure it out in the kitchen later. The pantry and fridge supplies my cooking notes, and sometimes we orchestrate some magic. This one will be added to my pile of go-to quick food, with the greens adapted to what’s in season or easily available.

Simple food can be satisfying, you just have to be willing to try. And don’t forget to check what you already have in your kitchen. Yes, that is a lesson for myself as well.

If you’re into Swiss chard, check this other recipe, too: Eggplant & Chard Lasagne. It’s a vegetarian dish that has a good chance of winning the meat lovers over. :)

Happy weekend!

   Get the recipe for Linguine with Braised Chard and Prosciutto

Posted in cheese, experiments, Fuss Free Fridays, main dishes, original Gourmeted recipe, pasta, quick & easy, vegetables3 Comments

Fuss Free Fridays: Steak with Green Peppers

I foresee simple meals until the end of Christmas.

I’ll tell you why: I’ve wanted to be able to make all the gifts I’ll be giving for Christmas for the longest time and I think this year it’s finally going to happen. [Right, I could be crazy.] Of course, whenever I make that decision, things happen. However, I’m going to tough it out and fight my odds through the years. I’ll be sewing and baking like there’s no tomorrow.

It’s only this year that I really appreciated the fact that the Canadian Thanksgiving is in October, I have to say. It really does give me more time to prepare for Christmas, even though I’m still trying to catch my breath and hoping I make all my deadlines.

When I was in the midst of my cross-stitching frenzy, I cooked this quick stir-fry of sliced steak with green peppers and onions, eaten over a steaming bed of rice.

Heaven for the weary.

Anyway, back to the dish. This is easy to make, and you don’t really need a recipe. So below is a “guideline” to create your own recipe. It’s something you can put together with whatever you have. :)

Sorry, this is short and sweet, BUT I promise you: Donuts this weekend!

Serves 2 to 3


  • 19 0z of steak
  • 1/2 green pepper, sliced into thin strips
  • 1 tsp oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground pepper


1. Heat oil on medium high and saute peppers for 2 mins. Transfer to a plate.

2. Place onions in the pan and cook for 1 minute and put on another plate.

3. Heat garlic and meat sprinkled with salt and pepper. Turn occasionally and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, until all the liquid from the meat is almost gone.

4. Add back the pepper and onions and toss with the meat for a few seconds before transferring onto a serving plate. Enjoy with some pita bread or place over a bed of fresh steamed rice.

Posted in beef, Fuss Free Fridays, original Gourmeted recipe, quick & easy, vegetables1 Comment

The Mummy Diaries, Part 1: Spanaspookyta

Up until we moved from Manila, the Halloween holidays were spent going to cemeteries to visit our loved ones who passed away. We begin this cemetery-hopping with family from All Saints Day through All Souls Day. They weren’t ever about parties or making ghoulish treats, which would seem inappropriate when you’re visiting your loved ones’ graves. Nowadays it’s a long way from “home” to do our annual visits. I haven’t forgotten our roots, but I’m slowly adapting Western Halloween festivities. When in Rome, do as the Romans do, right?

Fact: I avoid horror movies and can’t watch them alone. I can’t handle haunted houses, unless you can stand me screaming my brain off, then your brain off. I’m afraid of the dark. Halloween food and costume parties are as far as I’d go for Halloween. Thanks to Renee‘s #GreatHallowTweet BlogHop, I’m getting into the spirit! I’m fumbling my way through while my Hallow cohorts have better things up their sleeve. Look for the pumpkin on the sidebar and click on their links to see what they’re up to. Whooo!!!

My first Halloween “treat” for you this year isn’t a sweet treat and requires some imagination…so forgive me. I love vegetables. For some people, knowing that this has spinach inside it is spooky in itself. Haha. [You can also check out last year's Macawrongs.]

Mummified spanakopita!

If you poke a couple of holes with the tip of knife, boring through the filo to a glimpse of the spinach before baking, the "eyes" would well up like this.

I’ve included some photos of the process of mummifying them. These are basically snack size and would also make excellent appetizers! I already have half of mine in the freezer for later.

Spread the spinach mixture (use your go-to spanakopita filling recipe) on two filo sheets greased with olive oil or butter.

Fold over, and slice the whole length of filled filo into 2-inch width strips. You will end up with about 12 filo mummies. If you do, you will need 4 more filo sheets to for mummification.

To create the mummification strips, brush half of a single filo dough and fold crosswise. Cut in half.

For one of that halves: Cut into quarters. For the other, cut into 8 strips crosswise, which will be the mummy strips.

Get one of the quarter sheet and fold over one of the spanakopita pieces.

Use a dab of olive oil to stick them together if needed.

Lightly and sparsely brush the thin strips of filo pastry with olive oil and wrap around to create the mummy effect.


Posted in appetizer, baking, cheese, events, snacks, vegetables29 Comments

Pan-Fried Eggplant with Lemon-Soy Sauce Dip

Hmm…so much for Fuss-Free Fridays! How about Too Lazy Tuesdays? Hahaha.

I used to be a picky eater as a young child. It’s not that I won’t eat vegetables or that I will only eat burgers (McDonald’s burgers were actually a rare treat because it wasn’t a place we .). The thing is, when I likes something in particular, could you just please cook it for me everyday until I tire of it? I had a lot of phases: fried chicken, corned beef, Mah-Ling, Spam, tomatoes, green beans, peas, broad bean, mung beans, etc. My blood was also half soy sauce and calamansi juice because I will dip almost anything in that sauce. Take for example, one of my favorite Filipino dish,  Pritong Talong (PREE-tong Ta-LONG; talong = eggplant; prito = fried). It’s as simple as what the name suggests: Fried. Eggplant. No salt. No pepper. Just wash, cut, and fry in oil.

Our Philippine eggplants are long and slender, similar to the Chinese and Japanese ones, and they’re cut in half lengthwise and crosswise, leaving you four pieces per eggplant. You can also use the much plumper variety, American globe, for frying, just cut them across, about a third of an inch in thickness.

Now depending on who’s cooking, it can be very oily, and that’s one thing I avoid. The older I get, the more naturally averse I am to oily food. What I do instead is to fry them in little oil and then steam by adding a small amount of water, just like when you cook potstickers.

The Method: Put enough vegetable oil on a frying pan, just enough to coat it. Heat on medium. Place eggplant slices (about 1/3 of an inch thick) sliced side down and cook until it it begins to turn brown on the edges. Flip to the other side, and wait until the edge starts to brown. And then quickly add about a tablespoon of water per slice of eggplant in the pan and quickly cover the pan until all the water evaporated. Transfer eggplants onto a plate. Coat pan with oil with every batch of eggplants cooked.

The sauce is just soy sauce with calamansi juice, lemon or lime juice. The salty and tangy sauce with the slightly sweet eggplant is a match made in heaven. Filipinos are huge rice eaters, and the fried eggplant is one of rice’s concubines. Give me plain steamed rice with fried eggplants for breakfast and I’ll be happy. Unless you make me some Tortang Talong (Eggplant Omelette), which I also love. I’ll be posting about that soon!

What about you — How do you cook your eggplants?

Posted in Asian dish, Filipino dishes, fried, healthier choices, vegetables, vegetarian6 Comments

Recipes Lost in Notation and Other Recipe Testing Fails

It’s funny how when I get my writing mojo back, I can’t seem to lay off of it. [This is a Leo thing, right Tracy?] So here I am, burning the midnight New Moon oil with a lot of things swirling in my head. I still have two or more IFBC posts, but I’m giving it a break or you might think I’m utterly stuck waxing poetic about food blogging conferences and friends.

I’m sure you other food bloggers will agree that not everything we prepare in the kitchen makes it on our respective blogs. In my case, about half of what I cook and bake never gets featured here because they:

  1. taste meh, bad, or just okay,
  2. look gross,
  3. accidentally fell on the floor or disintegrated before taking photos,
  4. were not photographed,
  5. were badly photographed,
  6. inedible,
  7. or most likely: lost in notation

I had this Filipino dish to have you try, called Tortang Talong (Filipino Eggplant Omelette), but it had a case of #7. It’s super simple, but my limited short-term memory didn’t retain the oven setting and time. It’s easy enough to search online on how others do it, but I just don’t include a method, technique, or other parts of a recipe if I didn’t test it myself. So this will have to wait until I buy more eggplants and oven-roast them again. On the other hand, more eggplant goodness for my belly.

Still on a Southeast Asian Motherland kick, I’ve been wanting to share the  Filipino Chicken Empanada recipe that I learned while observing relatives of relatives on the East Coast. BUT. Guess what? #7.

If this keeps going on, I don’t think I’d even get to my golden years!

Tonight I wasn’t particularly keen on cooking. I began reviewing a friend’s book draft (I’m not a professional, but she asked me to check it out…as a friend) after a 4-hour meeting the previous night, and now with 3 hours of sleep. Long story short, this Energizer bunny needs to rest. All my residual charge could muster up to do was boil, peel, and slice beets. And then I decided they need some other color, like pluots. And then I wanted something salty and creamy, there goes the feta.

A light drizzle of blood orange olive oil later…

Beets with pluot and feta cheese

Beets with pluot and feta cheese

…an excited first bite was superseded by great disappointment. That’ll be number 1 and 7.

However, all is not lost as I discovered that pluots and feta party together. I mean, Hi, let’s go on another date tomorrow! I’m feeling creamy feta-pluot in my next 24-hour future. What it would end up as, I’m not sure, but I’m getting them a room already. Hopefully it works out.

Have you put together something that seemed brilliant in your head and ended up in a pile of disappointment, beside newly delivered pizza? Or maybe, you have recipe testing fails to share? Do tell!

If you have other pluot-feta recipes, I’m yours. Oh, just remember I have 1/8 cup of butter left. That’s all I can use for now. It’s ghastly to have less than 4 sticks of butter available. That’s just not right.

Energizer bunny out.

Posted in cheese, experiments, fruits, vegetables, vegetarian8 Comments

Quick & Easy: Endives with Lox & Cream Cheese Spread

Here in Vancouver, we are quickly shifting into summer and it is getting HOT. I don’t know if it’s because of this that I am suddenly lethargic, but this has to stop soon because I have a lot of things to do! That includes our newsletter (which is looking more like June would be the next) and the roundup of the virtual Tea Exchange party I hosted. My apologies, dear participants!

Going along this lack of energy theme, I could (figuratively) barely lift a finger to prepare anything that requires cooking these days. I feel like my body’s battery is mimicking the iPhone’s. Ha ha. I haven’t baked or cooked in a while. Perhaps all the eating out has contributed to my body blues? In any case, quick and easy isn’t so bad…

I got the idea to make this from Danielle’s Home-cured Salmon Spread & Endives. She made home-cured salmon, while I used up some leftover lox. And I didn’t follow the quantities of the recipe, I just glanced at the ingredients and made a quick mix of chopped lox, walnuts, cream cheese, a drizzle of lemon juice, a few wisps of lemon zest and a sprinkle of sea salt.

Serve that in crisp endive leaves and enjoy it with a glass of wine or fresh ice tea…mmm. They make a good summer combo.

It’s the easiest thing to make and it was surprisingly filling. Again, there’s no (strict) recipe required, only your imagination and an openness to taste.

I love being inspired by other people’s recipes, especially from food blogging friends. Although we don’t see each other that often (or most of the time, have never met in person), we could share the same feast.

Do you have any other no-cook recipes (or recipes that require little cooking)? Please share!

Posted in appetizer, healthier choices, quick & easy, seafood, snacks, vegetables13 Comments

Steel Cut Oats with Asparagus and the Merits of Uncomplicated-Yet-Still-Good Meals

Simple. Healthful. Delicious.

I’m talking about sliced asparagus topped with fried pancetta, on a bed of steel cut oats.

Who needs a recipe for something as easy as that? (Some do, if only for the methods, and I will happily oblige at the end of this post.)

People underestimate the value of their taste buds and instincts in the kitchen. I know that too well having been cooking-challenged for most of my life. I didn’t even bother to cook, because I (and everyone else) knew I was incapable. I was the one family members would silently worry about because I had no interest in spending time in the kitchen. Part of the reason for that was because cooking was not only a daunting chore, I was also afraid of the judgments to be made with the way I cook and the end product of my rare culinary attempt. The thought of cooking anything that does not provoke victorious gasps among meal partakers was just too much to bear.

So what changed? As much as I cannot stand to watch Rachel Ray these days, I used to like her pre-pre-Oprah…in her $40 A Day days when extended cable was my friend. Then I caught a few episodes of 30-Minute Meals when it started, when I had Food Network on all day, like…all day. Finally in September 2006, I found the very first recipe in my twenty-something adult life that, for some crazy reason, made me try cooking. It was..drum roll…Rachel Ray’s “You Won’t Be Single For Long Vodka Cream Pasta [The name of the dish still make me cringe]. Perhaps, I didn’t have to hide under the kitchen sink when asked who wasted all the ingredients with that kind of cooking. It was actually quite good, now that I looked at my blog entry then (not here). I enjoyed it so much that I cooked it again with linguine with sliced beef sausage and ham:

Yes, this is the actual photo I took of the 2nd dish I cooked, back in October 2, 2006 (thanks to Flickr and my blog archive, I don't have to commit everything to memory). It's inspired by Rachel Ray's "You Won't Be Single For Long Vodka Cream Pasta."

I’m much more confident in my cooking these days, and can make something out of whatever is available. The kitchen and I, we’re like bread and butter now. Cooking and baking relax me, like meditative symphonies, and the outcome is something that others can enjoy–everyone’s happy.

Ms. I-Don’t-Cook, I am no more. Good-bye to the days of subsisting solely on someone else’s cooking, or making reservations for dinner so I can have my crème brulée fix. Today, I’m the one who misses cooking at home when I travel. I’m the one gently encouraging to friends and family to try recipes, because cooking good food could be so very easy AND delicious. It doesn’t take a magician or a day of labor.

And it took Rachel Ray to inspire me to get out of my (non-cooking) shell.

Recently, she and Jamie Oliver have been called out in this article as advertising and marketing “on behalf of the processed food industry.

Jamie, for one, has promoted real food for the longest time. Both their recipes can be really quick, but they are a far cry from Hungry Man and Lean Cuisine dinners. Quick and easy meals may raise the eyebrows of food snobs, but the bottomline is:

Rachael Ray and Jamie Oliver bring people to the kitchen.

Jamie’s Food Revolution has stirred interest in the school lunches of America, and the way people eat in general. People need to start somewhere, and if these two can bring people home from the takeout/drive-thru line and out with their pots in front of their stoves and to the dining tables, then so be it.

A lot of us in the online food blogging circles take the time to cook, because first and foremost, we already love to cook. I have to constantly remind myself when I write and post recipes that, not everyone is like me. It is so easy to get tunnel vision when you live a certain lifestyle, are comfortable, and have time to ruminate on the good things in life, or how you could be less busy to make meals, but…

People do get busy. And tired. And lazy on some days. I don’t have kids, I don’t have any obligation to cook for anyone or attend to anyone, I work from home, and YET, there would still be days when I am just too swamped with work, too exhausted, and too famished to cook. I speed dial the pizza place. Or I take some French bread, slice some cheese, rinse some fruits, open a bottle of wine and call it Joy’s Awesome Dinner. There would be week-long stove lulls in favor of eating out with friends and re-heating take-outs, meeting work deadlines or riding over the lazy days. I’m sure you’ve had that. I can’t imagine what it must be like for parents who both work and have kids, and no sitter.

And then, there are so many people who don’t know where or how to begin cooking. And this could be for a variety of reasons: they never cooked, they don’t like cooking, they couldn’t care less about cooking, didn’t grow up around people who cook, etc. I  grew up with good food and family and household help who cook, and I was lucky enough to have learned the basics in school, and we even had meal-planning as part of our Home Economics subject. We even had to come up with our own recipe! It was a drag then, I admit. University was a cooking write-off, limited to a one-range stove to make breakfast, boil water for ramen, re-heat take-out, and make the occasional leche flan.

If you told me 5 years ago that I have to learn cooking for my own good, I would have brushed you off (and something worse that’s for your imagination). I wouldn’t see you eye to eye. Someone who loves to cook take joy in even talking about food, while someone who doesn’t would think the food lover needs to shut up about the juicy, garden fresh tomatoes already. Try to feed someone some good, simple, home-cooked meals and at one point or another you could get a conversation going about how easy it is to make and they could make it, too. It’s a process. You can’t push it, but you’ll just have to try and it’s not a chore for you because it’s something you love to do.

I used to avoid cooking at all costs. I progressed from a kitchen miser because of an inspiration. Oh, love! My approach to food is romantic at its very core. I’m not trying to make people cook or bake if they really don’t want to. I would love for people to appreciate good food, if not love it. Food is not only physical nourishment, but a body of more than the sum of all its ingredients–with it comes conversation, momentous occasions, a time to pause and relax, a wink, a smile…memories!

Of course, not every meal could bring butterflies in your stomach or be imprinted on your mind, but it can be enjoyed…alone, with company, to celebrate something, to banish a bad day, or seal a good one. Food can be that good. And it doesn’t have to be complicated, such as Asparagus with Steel Cut Oats.

Here’s the “Un-Recipe” for 2 vegetarian loving eaters, or 3 to 4 people enjoying this as a side dish:

For the asparagus: Wash about 450 grams of medium asparagus spears to make 2 cups, sliced. Slice diagonally, about a third to a quarter of a centimeter in thickness. In medium heat, melt a tablespoon of unsalted butter in a large frying pan until froth starts to turn brown. Saute asparagus for a few minutes until the bottom of the pan is almost dry. Add a tablespoon of water and allow to steam. Add 3 more, evaporating in between additions. Add salt and pepper to taste. Eat as is, with rice, quinoa, or with cooked steel cut oats and top with some fried-till-crisp pancetta or bacon for flavor.

Cooking steel cut oats (also called Irish or coarse-cut oats) as a stand-in for rice: Place 1/2 cup of steel cut oats with 1 cup of water in a small pot and cook in med-high heat. Once it boils, lower the heat to medium-low and cook for about 10 minutes or more, until you reach the doneness you prefer (I like it really chewy). Add water by the tablespoons if needed. I typically cook it like this when I am going to eat it for something savory. For breakfast, I go with the 1:3 oats to water ratio.

Do you have any favorite dishes that require no recipes? I’d love to know, so please share them in the comments!

Posted in healthier choices, original Gourmeted recipe, quick & easy, vegetables7 Comments