cocoaedit3

nothing ordinary from ordinary

Life always does that. It sneaks up on you. You can make as many resolutions as you want. You can build up walls to keep things out. You can send your heart and effort in hopes of bringing in the finest of life’s treasures. But life is clever. It is brilliant, but it is clever. It has a mind of its own. Whether you choose to laugh freely along with its jokes, or be insulted and pout with your top lip against the tip of your nose, it tumbles, stumbles, and rumbles on.

There are things, just ordinary, small things that make frigid hands a little warmer, tight eyebrows a little looser, and the lazy afternoon sun a little cozier.

I am leaving you with a gift – 

peace of mind and heart.

And the peace I give

is a gift the world cannot give.

So don’t be troubled

or afraid.

John 14:27

cocoaedit3

 

This hot cocoa doesn’t rely on cream to give it creaminess. Instead, it’s the oats that do most of the magic here to make a silky smooth, creamy, and rich hot chocolate that’s borderline unsweetened and intensely spiced. But, my favourite part is still, after at least a dozen of these, the thick froth cap.

Ingredients for the Savoury Spiced Hot Cocoa:

2 medjool dates, pitted

4 raw walnut halves

2 tbsp oats

2 tbsp Dutch processed cocoa, feel free to use raw

few drops vanilla extract (the real stuff please!)

pinch each of sea salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and chili (optional)

2 1/2 c filtered water

 

To make the hot cocoa, place all ingredients in the Vitamix. Blend on maximum until steaming and piping hot. Pour into your favourite roll-up-on-a-couch-with-a-book mug and sip away!

If you don’t have a Vitamix, I totally understand, I was there once too. Just combine all the ingredients in a saucepan and simmer until the oats have been cooked out. Transfer the mixture to your blender and blend until smooth. Serve it up all the same.

Happy cold weather!

 

IMG_4448edit

add avocados – $2

I despised cilantro for the longest time. Blame the Taiwanese street vendors – they put it on everything. Taiwanese beef noodle? Cilantro it. Oyster vermicelli? Cilantro it. Sticky rice cakes? Why not, let’s cilantro the heck out of it! Thank God for Typhoons Saola and Tembin, which saved me my misery when I was there in 2012.

Yeah, no. When there’s something good, you don’t just put it on everything, bacon being the rare exception.

Growing up, honey avocado milkshakes were a weekend brunch treat that Ma would blitz up as my brother and I covered our ears and dashed to plop down on our own respective chairs at the table. That must have been around the year 2000, when they were still as alien to most kitchens as Shuvuuia eggs.

If I were born today, I’m pretty sure I would despise avocados as well. Now a cliché symbol of upscale minimalism much like the chair-stand iPhone shots of artisan latte art, it’s become more and more of a thoughtless commodity procured simply to serve as a vessel of vaunting for the consumer.

Restaurants are surfing this wave as well. Everywhere I go I see plain, untreated avocados – void of any culinary innovation – sold as legitimate menu items priced at upwards of $3. Avocado smeared on piece of multi-grain toast, $8. I don’t know about you, but I go to Costco for my avos.

Don’t get me wrong, I love avocados, which is exactly why the mindless consumption of these green eggs makes me cringe. Here’s something original to try. And no, avocados here are not an afterthought.

“Vanity of vanities,”

says the Preacher,

“Vanity of vanities!

All is vanity.”

Ecclesiastes 1:2

IMG_4448edit

Black sesame oil is different from the more commonly found and used toasted sesame oil. It has a distinct bitterness laced with molasses and black tea, making it particularly compatible with ginger, poultry, and rice-derived alcohols. It plays triple-duty here, first to crisp up the ginger chips, then to fry the duck eggs, and finally, it becomes the sauce for the rice. The avocado lends a creamy texture which complements the nutty flavour from the black sesame oil and mellows the punch of the ginger. And the savouriness of the duck egg combined with the mirin soy reduction practically creates an oozing volcano of umami. For under 10 ingredients, it really doesn’t get more epic than this bowl.

Ingredients for the Duck Egg Donburi with Avocado, Soy Caramel, and Ginger Chips:

serves 2

2 tbsp soy sauce

2 tbsp mirin

1 tbsp honey

splash of water, about 2 tbsp

1/3 c black sesame oil

1 small knob of ginger, sliced as thinly as possible along the grain

2 local duck eggs, or free range chicken eggs

1 small ripe avocado, thinly sliced

3 cups steamed sushi-grade white rice

toasted white sesame seeds, optional

To make the sweet soy reduction, bring the soy sauce, mirin, honey, and water to a boil in a small saucepan. Let it reduce by a third and becomes a thin glaze consistency. Remove from the heat and reserve.

Meanwhile, heat the sesame oil in a wok until a piece of ginger dropped in bubbles vigourously. Fry the ginger slices, in batches so the oil temperature stays relatively constant until crisp. You’ll know when they quiet down because that means they’re fully dehydrated. Drain the ginger on a plate lined with paper towel.

Tip out most of the oil into 2 large bowls (which will be used directly to serve). Use the remaining oil to fry the eggs, sunny side up. Watch the whites around the yolk – the eggs are done as soon as the whites become opaque because the yolk will become part of the sauce to coat the rice.

Divide the hot rice among the bowls. Arrange the avocado and egg to cover the rice, drizzle with the sweet soy reduction, and finish with the ginger chips and sesame seeds, if using.

To eat, take two spoons and hack the heck out of those bowls to mix together everything. Then spoon in. You’re welcome.

IMG_4484edit3

bad breath? suck it up.

Recently in my econ class my prof reminded me of the essence of each choice we make: there is always a trade-off. And each choice we make means that there’s something else we’ve given up. You’re reading this, hopefully to wring from it a few droplets of pleasure, and you’ve forgone the opportunity of finishing up the last bit of paperwork left on your desk.

That’s your choice, and you made it all by your rational self. But I’ll make an effort to convince you (that you’re using your time rather wisely) anyway.

No guarantees, but this post will probably most likely perhaps certainly change your weekday dinner cycle forever. Yes, I get it, there are lots of 5-ingredient broke-ass student dinners out there that are actually quite dexterous in composition and thought, but many of those involve processed products (i.e bottled sauces, pre-cooked produce, or compressed meats) which are at best perfunctory and exorbitant.

You don’t need five dozen different ingredients to make a 5-ingredient meal. That should make sense on more levels than one.

Oh wait, I lied, add to the 5 ingredients some 15 minutes and a good friend for decent conversation.

Blessed are you who are poor,

for yours is the kingdom of God.

Blessed are you who hunger now,

for you will be satisfied.

Blessed are you who weep now,

for you will laugh.

Luke 6: 20-21

IMG_4484edit3

Ingredients for the Scallion Dry Ramen, serves 2:

1/2 cup neutral flavoured oil, such as avocado or rice bran

bunch scallions, thinly sliced

packets fresh ramen or thin udon noodles

teaspoon fine sea salt

pinch ground white pepper

To make the scallion oil, heat the oil in a saucepan until hot and shimmery. A piece of scallion dropped in should bubble vigourously. Tip in all of the scallions at once and fry, stirring occasionally, until well browned and crisp. This will take about 8 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the salt and pepper.

Cook the noodles as directed on the package. Rinse under hot water and drain thoroughly. Toss the noodles with the fried scallion oil and serve immediately.

Enjoy!

stubborn as crust

“Ideas are like pizza dough, made to be tossed around.”

- Anna Quindlen

In addition, the longer they ferment in your lukewarm cranium, the more mature and profligate they become. Whenever an idea is conceived, it takes its time with unabated liberality right up until its eventual delivery. This bubonic pie sort of matter was one such illumination.

But then of course whenever your brain finds something worth latching on to, demons creep in and dissuade you, telling you the most realistic stories on failure and how you must be crazy to dare an attempt. “You don’t have this, you don’t have that,” he says, “ It’s not going to work.”

Well, how about this: Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me. I don’t have a stone oven, nor do I have a pizza stone. But the pizza’s right there.

Let you in on a few tips on how to get your oven to attain that high temperature, which is what most things boil down to anyway:

1. Blast that box. Most recipes call for a relatively timid 500 degrees F. However, most restaurants serious about their pies have specialized ovens whose internal temperatures range from the not-so-humble end of 1000 F to upwards of 1200 F (537 ~649 C). At home, the closest you can get would be to preheat your oven to the maximum baking temperature (mine goes up to 525 F). Keep in mind, broiling won’t do – you’re concern is with crisping up the crust, not reducing all those delicious toppings to sad little carbon lumps.

2. Don’t skip the oil. Huge thanks goes to water’s property of being unable of going past 100 degrees Celsius, which is roughly equal to 212 degrees Fahrenheit. Which means, simply cranking your oven to 525 degrees F will not cut it in terms of charring your pizza that’s only been dusted with flour. Yet, even bigger thanks goes to oil whose capacity to retain heat is at least twice as effective than water. Thus, the film of avocado oil (which is safe at higher cooking heats) will actually cause the moisture at the surface of the crust to quickly vaporize, and thereby dehydrate the surface. in short, minus the moisture, the dehydrated starches are now able to attain higher temperature, which results in gelatinization then caramelization. But that’s hardly relevant – the result is a light, crunchy exterior with a moist, springy interior.

But then again, all good things take practice – I’ve barely made it past my fourth pound of flour.

The kingdom of heaven is

like yeast that a woman took

and mixed into about

sixty pounds of flour

until it all

worked through the flour.

Matthew 13:33

IMG_4136edit2

 

Adapted from Jim Lahey’s “My Pizza”

Ingredients for the pizza dough for four pizzas:

250 g all purpose flour

1 g active dry yeast

6 g fine sea salt

175 g water

To make the pizza dough, mix together all ingredients in a large bowl, cover with a lid or damp towel and leave to rise at room temperature for at least 18 hours. Once it has doubles in size, punch it down and divide it into two equal portions. If your dough is sticky, simply dust with more flour. Shape into 2 balls with your hands and cover loosely again with a damp cloth to let it rise while you prep the toppings and preheat the oven.

Ingredients for topping the pizza:

olive oil for the pans

1 cup fresh o frozen blueberries

120 g fresh ricotta cheese (ask for a taste before buying it at the deli or cheese shop – you want it to taste creamy and sweet with a bit of pale nuttiness, it should not taste watery)

1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves

2 tbsp walnut oil

sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper

To make the pizza, preheat the oven to its highest possible setting – anywhere from 500 to 550 degrees F will do, but of course, the higher the better. Drizzle olive oil liberally on two baking sheets.

Now, stretch out the dough, which should be very soft and well dusted with flour. The way I do it is I start off by pulling it into a flatter shape, then I put the dough on my knuckles to stretch them gently by moving my knuckles away from one another and rotating the dough. If this sounds too complicated, you can just leave it on the counter and pull it in every direction to flatten it. There’s only one rule: don’t use a rolling pin – it will smush out all the bubbles in the crust and leave it hard and flat.

Transfer the stretched dough onto the baking sheets and scatter the thyme and blueberries evenly on each. Dot with chunks or ricotta, drizzle on the walnut oil, and season well with sea salt and lots of black pepper.

Bake for 12-14 minutes, or until the crust is puffed, blistered, and the blueberries have melted.

Serve with an arugula salad (toss arugula with balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil then season with a bit of salt and pepper).

Enjoy!

IMG_4125edit3

a monumental predicament

I say, they’re a fruit. Because the ones that taste like fruit are the best ones.

When you’re looking for a tomato, you’re not looking for a bright green one nor a very firm one. You’re looking for intense reds, (perhaps even oranges, and yellows) with a bit of give when gently squeezed  – both are signs for high sun exposure and full ripeness which imply higher sugar content and flavour compounds.

Essentially, we’re looking for all the qualities that make fruit delicious. If deep down we really believed that tomatoes are a vegetable, we would’ve probably select bred the red out of them back when cauliflower became white. By the way, most green tomatoes are actually just unripe red tomatoes. Same goes with bell peppers.

But don’t we “treat them like a vegetable” by roasting them, stewing them, putting them in salads, and/or pairing them with cheese? Last time I checked, we’ve been doing all of the above with apples and strawberries. Guess those two won’t count towards my morning fruit bowl anymore. Pity.

So if you’ve ever found raw tomatoes too raw or bland, you’re probably-very-likely-basically-99% missing the acid-sweet fruitiness and juiciness you’re so accustomed to tasting in red berries, grapes, and plums.  I’ve got a few tips for you:

1. Buy fully ripe local tomatoes. Like all fruit, intense color and aroma are signs of ripeness in tomatoes. Give them a little pinch between your fingers – they should feel soft, like they might burst from the tiniest bit more pressure. Sourcing locally guarantees less travelling, which means they are vine-ripened instead of being picked prematurely. Get to know the farmers and vendours, start by asking for their favourite type and a few samples!

2. Season in season. Two birds with one stone here, but first, buy in season. I can’t stress this enough, there’s a time for everything. For tomatoes, it’s July through October here in Ontario. Second, but equally important, season with sea salt and a bit of freshly ground black pepper. I’ve already clarified the perks of salting your fruit.

3. Make the cut. Pretty sure I don’t need to tell you to cut your beefsteak tomatoes, but cherry tomatoes deserve fair treatment also. Remember, you eat with your eyes first, and as soon as they see something red and round like a fruit they start searching for the nectar that’s presumably inside. Know that fact and manipulate it, so slice them tomatoes open and let their juice shine. (Also, salt and other seasonings tend to slide right off uncut tomatoes. That’s no rocket science.)

And let us not grow weary

in doing good,

for in due season

we will reap,

if we do not give up.

Galatians 6:9

IMG_4125edit3

 

I have to admit, the first salad I ever became drawn to since being exposed to western culture was the caprese. Yet, I seldom attempt it simply because it’s so difficult to find truly delicious tomatoes that are bright and robust in flavour. Indeed, there is not a single perfect tomato, but as I was reading Andy and Michael’s Collards & Carbonara one morning with a lovely pairing of coffee that’s cooled significant from when I first poured it, I realized that I needed a variety to cover all the notes I wanted to hit in my caprese (for me those would be a mellow-sweet one, a bright-sweet one, and one that has a strong “tomato-y flavour”) . So don’t be discouraged by a couple of bland attempts! Go try out varieties that are grown close to you, ask for a taste, and choose the ones you loved most. Remember, if you liked it enough on its own, it can only get better from there!

Ingredients for the heirloom caprese, serves 4:

30 g fresh basil leaves

125 ml extra virgin olive oil

450 g local tomatoes (I used zebra cherry, lady finger, cerise orange, sweet olive, and lemon drop)

150 g fresh mozzarella, torn into 4 pieces

sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper

To make the basil oil, pound the basil roughly with a mortar and pestle (or cup and muddler, whatever to thoroughly bruise the basil),  with a drizzle of the olive oil. If you want the oil to stay clear, don’t grind, just stick to pounding. Pour in the remaining oil and let it steep while you slice the tomatoes.

To get the best slice surface, observe your tomatoes. There is a wall of membrane down the center of the tomato that spans across the flatter, slightly pinched-in sides of the tomato. Make your slice perpendicular to that membrane to expose the juicy seed chambers.

To plate, put the mozzarella on four small plates, arrange the tomatoes on and around each. Drizzle with the steeped oil generously (leave out the basil), and season to taste.

Enjoy!

 

IMG_3819edited - Copy

all in eh?

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the result of other peoples’ thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.”

-Steve Jobs

It’s that awkward time of the year where the skies are churning thickly with blobs and streaks of saturated grey and the air is heavy like an underground parking lot on a rainy day. In the morning I look out the window and glumly pull out the next season’s clothing, which I didn’t think I’d need for another three weeks.

I slip into brick red jeans, and wiggle my head through the peppered sweater. Two seconds later, both articles of clothing are scrunched and stranded beneath my bare feet as I grope in dull frustration for the familiarity of nude shorts and a faded T.

Such a curiously bland event has happened more times than necessary in this past week. Indeed, summer being washed away by an early arrival of autumnal shower.

There is no time as melodramatic, though hardly sorrowful, as the current: the thriving green of summer sent upwards in vibrant splashes as the heft of autumn’s amber abundance falls into place.

Gremolata and kabocha, there is not a better time for the two of them to marry. Of course, goat cheese would be more than welcome, as always.

Love colour. Send those sparks flying against the walls raining down.

Let no one despise you for your youth,

but set the believers and example

in speech, in conduct,

in love, in faith,

in purity. 

1 Timothy 4:22

 

IMG_3819edited - Copy

Ingredients for the gremolata:

8 almonds

1 lemon, zested

1/4 c extra virgin olive oil

1 c lightly packed flat-leaf parsley

1 large garlic clove

sea salt, to taste

To make the gremolata, combine all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until it forms a textured sauce. Stir in a squeeze of lemon juice. Cover and set aside as you roast the squash and onions.

Ingredients for the roasted kabocha and onions:

1/2 small kabocha squash, seeded and cut into 1-inch thick wedges

2 small brown onions, cut into 1/2-inch thick wedges

3 tbsp avocado oil

sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste

few dried rosemary needles

To roast the vegetables, preheat the oven to 410 degrees F, with the rack placed in the middle of the oven and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Toss the vegetables gently with oil, sea salt, and black pepper. Arrange on the baking sheet and sprinkle on the rosemary needles.

Bake for about 50 minutes, or until the vegetables are caramelized and tender.

To serve, drizzle the gremolata over the roasted squash and crumble on some goat cheese, if using, to finish.

Enjoy!

IMG_3782edited

slake

“1. to allay thirst by satisfying

2. to make less active, vigourous, intense, etc.

3. to cause disintegration by treatment with water”

- dictionary.com

That’s slake for you.

For some reason I thought that would be appropriate for this post, which is all about watermelon, which we’re all very familiar with. Most of the time we just eat things without giving it a second thought. Don’t worry, it’s not about world hunger today, nor is it about the dark side of food production. None of that sociological stuff. Rather, today we’re going a little deeper. Let’s get lost in chemistry.

Osmosis, actually.

Ever wonder why people salt their watermelon? Or if you’re gawking a what you’ve just read, you should start doing it too. Well, aside from what I mentioned over last time, salt also makes your watermelon sweeter. In a spoonful, a light sprinkle of salt makes osmosis happen on the surface of the watermelon – the water inside the cells get “sucked out” in attempt to balance sodium concentrations in and outside of the cell.

Blah blah blah, did I just lose you?

That’s okay, because here are the important 1-2-3 bits:

1. the drawn-out moisture that’s now sitting on the surface of your slice of watermelon makes it look more juicy and appetizing. You eat with your eyes first.

2. the moment you bite, the moisture is the first thing that comes in contact with your palate, so you’re tricked to thinking that it tastes juicier.

3. that moisture quickly leaves your palate, and you’re left with the slightly dehydrated watermelon, in other words, a mass of cells which are carrying a higher concentration of sugar.

But of course all that’s just too much info, so let’s just get down to the noshing bit. Who needs knowledge?

Leave your simple ways behind, and begin to live;

learn to use good judgment.

Proverbs 9:6

IMG_3782edited

Ingredients for the balkan granita:

1/2 c balkan style yoghurt, 6% MF

To make the balkan granita, place the yoghurt in a freezable container and place in the freezer for 30 minutes. Take it out, stir it, and freeze again for 30 minutes. Repeat until icy and set but still scoopable.

Ingredients for the assembly:

chilled watermelon slices

small handful fresh sweet basil leaves

extra virgin olive oil

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

To assemble, first chill your serving plates; place them in the freezer for 7-8 minutes. Meanwhile, roll up the basil leaves tightly into a cigar. Pour some olive oil over it and slice very thinly with a sharp knife. (The oil coats your knife as you slice and seals the broken cells from the air to reduce oxidation – keeping your lovely green basil from turning black.)

Once that’s done, take the plates out of the freezer. Put the watermelon on the plates, dot with the balkan granita, garnish with basil, drizzle with olive oil, and season. (Just get everything on that plate.)

Enjoy!