Friday, December 19, 2014

Fettuccine with Creamy Onion Mushroom Pork Chops

Okay, so you may think that I'll never be caught dead with a can of Campbell's in my hand. That is indeed true to a very large extent. But hey, on a clammy winter day when you are time-pressed and in need of some TLC, cracking open that creamy can of Campbell's that's been sitting quietly and patiently in the rear of the pantry might just do the trick.

Like anything from a can, using canned soup doesn't have to be boring or bland. This is the time when you gourmet things up a little bit with some added basic ingredients and a touch of fresh herbs. 

And so I dashed to the supermarket for some half-lean, fresh bone-in pork chops and cremini mushrooms and ended up with easy breezy creamy pork chops served two ways, two different days. Instead of pan-frying the chops, I deployed my Panini Grill for a speedy way to flash cook my chops before dunking them to a simmer in the creamy sauce, keeping them still tender, moist, juicy, and minimizing the mess and cook time!
Smother your tender chops and pasta with creamy onion and mushroom sauce!

To prepare...
Fettucine, for two servings
4 bone-in pork chops
1 can (305g) condensed cream of onion
1/3 cup water
1/2 lb. (227g) cremini mushroom, cleaned and sliced
1 onion, brown, yellow, or red, roughly chopped
3 cloves of garlic
Butter or cooking oil
Fresh thyme sprigs
Parsley, chopped, for garnish
Salt and fresh ground black pepper

1. Cook fettucine al dente according to package instructions in well-salted water.

2. Sprinkle pork chops with salt and pepper. Grill on preheated Panini Grill lined with baking paper until barely done, flipping once, about 3 minutes. Reserve drippings. Alternatively, pan fry on skillet with vegetable oil over medium-high heat for about 10 minutes or until browned on both sides.
3. In a saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Saute garlic and onion with mushrooms and thyme. Set aside.

4. Stir cream of onion and water in saucepan and bring to a boil. Add pork drippings, mushrooms mixture, and pork chops and simmer until the pork is cooked through. Drain pasta and serve topped with pork chops and creamy onion mushroom sauce. Buon appetito!

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Serve with sauteed sugar snap peas and baked sweet potato for a lower-carb take

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Grilled Swordfish with Mango Pineapple Passionfruit Salsa

For the last couple of weeks, Hong Kong has gone under a shroud of gloom that summoned artic precautions both in and outdoors. With my penthouse smothered in a dense, dreary fog that made it difficult to tell day from night, food photoshoots at home came to a complete halt. As the cold front finally lifted, revealing once again breezy, crisp mornings, the Penthouse Kitchen is brisk to get back on track with something sunnier than ever. Hold off on the down jackets and long johns, 'cuz we are going tropical this time!

My pantry recently overflowed with produce I lugged home from Bangkok and Singapore. Mangoes, chilies, red onions, and limes (all of which cost a fraction of what we will pay in Hong Kong) unite with the pineapple and passionfruit that I have at home, and it occurs to me that I have everything needed to create a vibrant tropical salsa that could brighten up even the gloomiest of days.

Mango Pineapple Passionfruit Salsa - sweet, refreshing, with a kick of fire!
This cool, sweet, fresh salsa, highlighted by a tang of citrus and emblazoned with a kick of heat, pairs exceptionally well with hot seafood as it provides delicious contrast to the rich flavors of the ocean. Passionfruit pulp adds an interesting crunch to the salsa. Pair this refreshing salsa with firm, meaty grilled swordfish - also known as "steak of the sea" - and you could almost picture a lazily swinging hammock and hear the splashing surf on a warm Caribbean beach.

To prepare...
2 swordfish steaks
Olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the salsa:
2 ripe mangoes
1 cup diced fresh pineapple
1 passionfruit, flesh scooped (optional)
1 very small red onion, minced
1 long red chili, seeded and finely diced
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint 
1 lime, zested and juiced

 1. Slice off the two fleshy cheeks on either sides of the mangoes, cutting as close to the pit as possible. Score flesh into a 1/4-inch dice. Scrape fesh from mango skin with a knife and let drop into a medium bowl.

2. Combine mango with pineapple, passionfruit, red onion, chili, cilantro, lime zest and juice. mix gently and set aside.

3. Preheat grill. Rub or spray surface of fish with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill, flipping once, until barely just cooked through, about 4-5 minutes. Transfer swordfish to serving plates, and top with mango salsa. Enjoy!!

Note: Try this salsa with grilled chicken, or toss in a salad with avocado and butter lettuce!

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It's a trip to the tropics with this simple, colorful combo of fruit & surf!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Mentaiko Pasta | Cod Roe Pasta

Browsing through Lonely Planet Japan, one line sticks in my head: "...drawing influences from the entire continent, the Japanese have spent millennia taking in and refining the cultural bounties of Asia to produce something distinctly Japanese." Japan's exceptional ability to assimilate, adopt, and ameliorate foreign ideas and creating something uniquely their own while keeping its deep-rooted traditions intact is truly fascinating.

In fact, Japan's geographic scope of cultural influences far extends beyond Asia, as is particularly evident in its well-established culinary arena. From beers to bread and pastry-making, from pasta and pizza to curry, Japan has absorbed influences and mastered techniques from India to Italy and, in turn, successfully created culinary specialties that are as authentic as they are distinctly Japanese. This simple Mentaiko Pasta (明太子パスタ) is a case in point.

Consisting of as few as just a couple of main ingredients and requiring no more than ten minutes to prepare, this popular dish is a classic example of East meets West and a testimony that simplicity rules. Mentaiko, essentially fresh pollack or cod roe that is brined and seasoned (color may range from pink to bright red, and flavor from mild to hot), is the star of this dish, its brininess balanced out by the creaminess of olive/avocado oil and butter, while shisho leaves offer up an interesting herbaceous note that contrasts impeccably with the intense "essence of the sea." Each ingredient practically sings on your tongue as you savor every mouthful!

Simplicity - and fusion - at its best. Now, care for chopsticks... or a fork?

I recently returned home to my penthouse kitchen set to work with mentaiko fresh from the supermarket in Japan. While some home cooks swear by heavy cream and even mayo, I opt for avocado oil (and some butter) for slightly more heart-healthy and - in my opinion - even better results.

To prepare...
400g dried spaghetti
1/2 cup, approx. 80g, mentaiko (I used mild mentaiko)
1/4 cup avocado or olive oil
Black pepper
1 tablespoon butter
Green shiso leaves*
Generous sprinkling of nori strips
Dried chili pepper, finely sliced, for garnish (optional)

*Note: if unavailable, substitute shiso with other aromatics such as Vietnamese mint as in my case, which works wonderfully!

1. Boil pasta al dente according to package directions.

2. Cut each roe sac in half, squeeze and scoop out the roe from each half, discarding the membrane. Add avocado/olive oil and black pepper and gently stir to combine.

3. When the pasta is done, drain thoroughly and add to the bowl with the mentaiko sauce. Add the butter and toss until butter is melted and each strand of pasta gets an even coating of sauce. Serve garnished with nori, shiso, and chili slivers. Bon appetit いただきます!

Adapted from Marc Matsumoto's recipe on No Recipes
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Sunday, December 7, 2014

Whole-wheat Flaxseed Carrot Cake Pancakes

Weekend is finally here, and nothing can beat a leisurely brunch of fresh fruits and a stack of steamy, fluffy pancake hot off the griddle, piled high. Trade ordinary flapjacks for bright, nutrient-rich wholewheat carrot cake pancakes fortified with flaxseeds and warm spices and you have a satisfying, feelgood breakfast that even kids will love.
I recently opened my fridge to a bag of Australian carrots waiting to be finished and I thought "hey, pancakes." Hearty pancakes. No one needs an excuse for pancakes, especially when you put carrot cake into a pancake, and realize these decadent stacks of joy can be an easy way to incorporate flaxseeds - which are packed with fiber and omega-3 - into your diet. Replace, or mix in, plain flour with whole-wheat flour, and you have more reasons to enjoy pancakes as they hold you over lunchtime.

If you incline to indulge a little, just a little, drizzle some pure maple syrup over your pancakes and dust with some cinnamon sugar. If you want to go all the way out, make a maple cream cheese frosting, or top with a pat of Whipped Maple Cinnamon Butter, and drool as it magically melts over those hearty, fluffy, warm blankets.

Kate Taylor's recipe on "Cookie+kate" calls for a cup of buttermilk, a commodity not readily found in many countries. Thanks to her sharing, I have learned how to make my own buttermilk with as simple as milk and fresh lemon juice.

Decadent, fluffy pancakes with loads of goodness!
To prepare...
1 cup plain flour
1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
2 tablespoons ground flaxseed
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Dash of ground cloves
1 egg
2 tablespoon brown sugar
1 cup buttermilk*
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups finely grated carrots
Cooking oil, for griddle

*Tip: Combine 1 cup milk with 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Let stand for 5-10 minutes then proceed as directed.

1. Preheat oven to 90C/200F to keep the pancakes warm before serving. In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, ground flaxseed, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.

2. In another bowl, whisk together the egg, brown sugar, buttermilk, and vanilla.

3. Stir in the carrots, then dump the wet mixture into the dry mixture all at once. Stir just until incorporated. Do not overstir. Let the mixture rest for 5 minutes while you make the whipped maple cinnamon butter, if using.

4. Heat a large nonstick skillet or griddle and coat with oil. Spoon a scant 1/4 cup batter into the hot pan, using the measure cup to slightly pat down the batter. Cook, flipping once when tops are covered with bubbles and edges look cooked, until the pancakes are golden on both sides.

5. Keep pancakes warm in the oven while you continue with the remaining batter. Serve with maple butter and real maple syrup. Enjoy!

Updated 17 Nov 2018.
Adapted from Kate Taylor's recipe on Cookie+kate
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Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Whipped Maple Cinnamon Butter | 自製玉桂楓糖軟牛油

I was never really fond of maple syrup. Maybe the likes of Aunt Jemima's Original Syrup - readily found on many American breakfast tables, laden with high fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors and unintelligible chemicals - have forever tainted and mangled my taste for "maple syrup." For years I have shunned the wildly misunderstood amber liquid and reached for honey. Until recently I did no more than picking those glass bottles up on a supermarket shelf - sometimes shaped like a maple leaf - gawking at their prices then putting them down - all the time erroneously believing that pure maple syrup tasted the same as dear Aunt Jemima's. But as temperatures drop, and as leaves turn auburn and golden, my craving for the unique, rich flavor and caramel-like sweetness of maple syrup grow. I returned home from San Francisco with my first ever bottle of hundred percent pure, Grade A maple syrup. One taste, and I bid farewell to Aunt Jemima. Real maple syrup, much to my delight, is much runnier, lighter, and less cloying than its artificial cousin. A revelation that is grievously belated, but never too late.

Wonderful as a flavored spread on toast... or more!
Not long ago America was all head over heels for anything maple and bacon. Maple syrup shone in myriad forms - as a glaze, as a compound butter, as a main component of the sweet-and-savory duo. I remember how maple butter makes anything on a menu instantly a notch fancier. There is no denying that this airy, fluffy whipped butter makes anything good - from pancakes to waffles, french toast to cornbread, baked yams to sweet potato fries - just slather some on and experience pure magic as the butter melts into something warm.

Try it with Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Wilted Baby Spinach in Honey Butter. Replace butter with whipped maple butter!

Whipped Maple Cinnamon Butter may sound fancy, but it is certainly easy. Sara Wells from "Our Best Bites" shares her secret of adding powdered sugar to make dreamily fluffy, sweet compound butter - just gotta give it a try!

To prepare...
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1 1/2 tablespoon powdered sugar
2 1/2 tablespoon real maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1. Place butter and powdered sugar in a mixing bowl and beat with a mixer until combined and smooth.

2. Add maple syrup, cinnamon and nutmeg. Beat slowly until incorporated then whip on high speed until light and fluffy. Serve at room temperature, or keep for about a week in the fridge, and up to several months in the freezer. Enjoy!

【 自製玉桂楓糖軟牛油 】
無鹽牛油                           113 克
糖霜                                    1 1/2 湯匙
純楓糖漿                           2 1/2 湯匙
玉桂粉                               1/4 茶匙
荳蔻粉                               1/8 茶匙

1.  牛油置室溫中待軟。把軟化牛油和糖霜置於大盤中,用電動搞拌器打至幼滑。
2. 加入楓糖漿和香料。用低速打至拌勻,再轉高速打至細緻及帶空氣感,即成!可存放於雪櫃裡一星期。           

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Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Thanksgiving Sandwich, with Caramelized Onions

I have many reasons to be grateful this year. Friendships come and go; some fade over time, some bud and grow unexpectedly, and some are made to last. I was invited to two hearty thanksgiving dinners this year, one on a dear colleague's handsome terrace near downtown Hong Kong, another on Thanksgiving Day in suburban Piedmont, California, at the charming family home of a dear friend whom I have known since college. 

Thanksgiving this year is particularly memorable, not only because I have finally had my first official turkey dinner, but also because of the friendships that it strengthens and creates, the love that goes into preparing this age-old tradition, and the warmth that travels around the table. Need I mention the food - the turkey, the scrumptious sides, the stuffing, the homemade cranberry sauce, the pies (my college friend Kelley prepared not one, but five pies - namely pecan, pumpkin, and apple pie - It was like a salacious fantasy come true). Having the chance to work alongside Kelley's mother - a remarkably loving, gentle, and soft-spoken woman - made the night all the more special.

Kelley and her mother, Miye, made sure no one walked out hungry
Of course, neither nights did I leave hungry nor empty-handed. Both my colleague Ava and Kelley's mother spoiled their guests with an inexhaustible array of food and leftovers. I greedily lugged home turkey, stuffing and all the works, which I happily devoured over the course of several days. For variety's sake, I changed up the presentation a bit, and one obvious way to go is the almighty Thanksgiving sandwich. 

To up the ante, I topped the fixings with caramelized onions - the tender, candy-sweet-and-savory topping that complements beautifully the savoriness of turkey stuffing and plays off the tart sweetness of cranberry sauce. An already luscious sandwich just sky-rocketed to the next level.

To prepare...
Several slices of hearty farmer's bread, grilled or toasted
Turkey meat
Salad greens
Cranberry sauce
Caramelized onions

For the caramelized onions...
2 onions (yellow, brown, or red), sliced
1 tablespoon butter, extra-virgin olive oil, or a mix
1-2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Brown sugar (optional)

Pile on the icing on the cake!
1. Heat olive oil and butter in a wide, thick-bottomed pan on medium high heat. Add onions to pan and cook very slowly on medium low heat for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent onions from sticking and burning. Scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan as the caramelization proceeds.

2. When onions are softened and tinged golden, add sugar and cook a further 10 minutes. If necessary, add a little water to prevent onions from drying out or sticking. When onions have reached a desired shade of brown, deglaze pan with balsamic vinegar and salt onions to taste.

3. Stack your sandwich and top with cranberry sauce and loads of caramelized onions. Enjoy the taste of Thanksgiving!

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