Friday, May 3, 2013

Mom's "sweet" minestrone

There's a Japanese expression "ofukuro no aji." A literal translation would be "mom's taste/flavor." The closest English equivalent would probably be "comfort food" - something soothing, that brings back childhood memories.

But Ofukuro no aji particularly refers to a probably-universal idea that you'll always think the way your mom made a certain dish (usually a common dish that has multiple interpretations) is the best, or "the" way. Like the way your mom makes lasagna. Or meatloaf.

And usually, when you think of that dish, what pops in your mind is the way your mom prepared it.

This is especially true for me when it comes to minestrone soup.

When I crave minestrone, I don't envision the pasta-laden thick, murky soups that most supermarkets and restaurants have. Nor do I feel like meat should have any part of it.

What comes to mind is the way my mom made it - colorful with tons of veggies, floating in a clear broth, and the clean, sweet taste of tomatoes.

How does your mom make minestrone?

~ Mom's "sweet" minestrone ~

Makes 6~8 bowlfuls (depending on your bowls, and who's devouring it)

a few nice glugs of olive oil
1 medium onion
2 medium carrots
2 medium zucchinis
2 stalks of celery
4 of the reddest, ripest tomatoes you can find (variety doesn't matter)*
4~6 cups of broth or water
salt & pepper
optional: a handful of kale or savoy cabbage
optional: 1 can of beans (cannellini, northern, broad, etc)

*I usually leave the peels on my tomatoes, but if you want to peel them, here's a trick my grandmother taught me: make a shallow crosswise incision in the butt of the tomatoes, throw them in boiling water for 5 seconds, and shock them in a bowl of ice water. The peels will come off easily.

1. Chop all the veggies into small (1/2~3/4inch) cubes, or pieces of roughly the same size. If you're using kale/cabbage, just chop the leaves roughly.
2. Put a large pot (I like to use my Le Creuset) on medium-high. Once the pot warms up, add in the olive oil. The oil should swill around easily when the pot is hot enough.
3. Add the onions, sauté until translucent.
4. Add the carrots, sprinkle with some salt, sauté for a minute, then add the zucchini. Repeat this for the zucchini, celery, and tomato, so all of the veggies get incorporated with each other and the oil. (don't add the leafy greens yet!)
5. Pour in the broth/water in, bring to a boil on high, then lower the heat to low. Add the beans, and let the soup simmer until the veggies are cooked through and tender.
6. A few minutes before serving, toss in the leafy greens and cover the pot just long enough so the greens wilt.
7. Serve in thick, hearty bowls.


You can add more salt & pepper at the end, but I like to let each person salt & pepper to their taste.
For presentation, drizzle some nice olive oil, or float a dollop of creme fraiche.

Bon appétit!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Spicy Root Beer BBQ Sauce

Spicy Root Beer Barbecue sauce

I've never been a big fan of soda.
Never been big on juices either. Think it's probably the sugar.

I used to have a sugar allergy, so my mom avoided feeding me (and herself) any refined sugars until I became three.
My snacks of choice as a toddler were onigiri (savory rice balls) and dried persimmons, and my drinks of choice water & green tea.

Nowadays, even though I'm more than capable of imbibing (and of course enjoying) all types of beers and sparkling wine, I'm really not big on sweet drinks. (translation: keep those chick drinks away!!)

So whenever we have visitors, hubbie and I buy soda solely for them; and by the time they leave, we have a couple bottles of sodas lying around in the garage with no one to drink them.

Today I'm slow-roasting some country ribs courtesy of Elise's recipe and seeing her Dr. Pepper barbecue sauce, I figured I could use those forlorn bottles of root beer sitting in the garage.

A quick Google search led me to this recipe on All Recipes.

I tweaked the spices a little, since we like things hot around here.
Feel free to tweak my version to your liking too!

* Spicy Root Beer BBQ sauce *

2 cups root beer (one bottle is actually 1.75 cups)
2 cups ketchup
juice of 1 meyer lemon (or half a regular lemon)
about 1/2 cup apple cider (put the lemon juice in the measuring cup, and fill up to the 1/2 cup line with apple cider)
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup molasses
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 teaspoon ground ginger*
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon cayenne chili powder
1/2 teaspoon chili powder blend (Whole Food's Valle de sol)
1/2 teaspoon hot curry powder*
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

saucepan (2qt or larger)
heat-resistant spatula or wooden spoon
half-cup measuring bowl with a mark at the 1/4 cup line (or regular measuring cup)
1/2teaspoon measuring spoon


1) Mix all ingredients in a saucepan, and set the pan over medium high heat.
2) Once the mixture boils, reduce the heat (low to medium low) and simmer for 15 minutes or until the desired consistency is reached.

*I use Penzey's spices - if you've never tried their spices, I really really recommend it! They're so fresh and much more potent than any other spice brands I've tried, including Morton & Bassett's.


I simmered my batch for a good 30 minutes for a thicker consistency.

Pack it away in a glass jar, or paint immediately onto some ribs. Enjoy :)

Thursday, April 4, 2013

first official Paleo recipe: garlic-roasted parsnips & sunchokes

Sunchokes. Have you had them?

There was a book my mom had (one of the few English books in our house when I was little) and it was a mini-encyclopedia of veggies. One of the pages in there that I would read over & over was the page on sunchokes, or Jerusalem artichokes. Maybe it was because I loved artichokes. Maybe it was because they looked like ginger. Or maybe even, because it had the word "sun" in the name. Whatever the reason was, I was in love with those little veggies even before I tasted my first one.

This is where I'm supposed to tell you about my dreamy experience of eating my first sunchoke. I wish I could. But my memory sucks so much I can't really remember when I had my first one. Probably in California. Probably bought at the farmers market.

I just know that every time I have them, I love the taste. And every time I cook them, I've forgotten how they taste. (they taste like artichoke hearts!)

So when I came across this roasted parsnip & sunchoke recipe in my Practical Paleo book, I knew what to make for dinner.

I adapted the original recipe to make it extra-garlicky, but feel free to leave out the garlic entirely if you're not so partial.

~ Garlic-roasted Parsnips & Sunchokes ~

Serves 2 generous portions, or 4 smaller if you have other side dishes

3 tablespoons herb butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 garlic cloves, sliced thin
1 large parsnip, skin kept intact
3~4 sunchokes, skin kept intact
salt & pepper

Preheat your oven to 425°F.

Melt the herb butter in the microwave (30 seconds should do it). Add olive oil and sliced garlic and let stand. If you don't have herb butter, just use regular butter and add a dash of salt & dried or fresh herbs of your choice.

Slice the parsnip and sunchokes into 1/4in-thick pieces about 2 inches long. You want them to look like  2x10 lego blocks. I like to keep the skin on root veggies since there are tons of nutrients right between the skin and flesh, but you can peel them if you like.

Throw the veggie sticks in a large ovenproof dish, toss with the butter/herb/garlic mixture, and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Roast for 30~40 minutes.


Right before you serve, give the veggies another toss, making sure they get re-coated with the butter/oil mixture that's settled at the bottom of the dish. We had this tonight with steak au poivre (pepper steak - I'll post the recipe soon), but any nice protein would do.

Bon appetit!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Going Paleo

So we (hubbie & I) have been on a mainly low-carb, gluten-free diet up till now without much difficulty. It takes some amount of creativity to find substitutions in recipes (cauliflower instead of rice, agave nectar instead of granulated sugar, spaghetti squash instead of get the picture), but it hasn't been all that hard.  Naturally, I thought I could take on any sort of health-diet challenge because of this..that is, until I was introduced to the Paleo diet a few days ago.

What is a Paleo diet? To be honest, I didn't even know the diet existed until my midwife recommended the book Practical Paleo. The author, Diane, also has a blog on the subject. In short, it's a full-fat, omnivorous diet that avoids all legumes, all grains, and all factory-processed, refined foods.

Coming from a gluten-free diet, I sort of understand the no-grains part. But..oats and brown rice? Quinoa? And forget the no-legumes part. I thought tofu, miso, and soy milk are healthy?? My Asian self is screaming in defiance.

Diane explains that any food that causes excessive gas indicates that your system doesn't digest that food well. Eating legumes (beans) makes you gassy - hence legumes should be avoided. Part of me agrees with her. Before I found out about my gluten sensitivity, I was extremely gassy (chill people, it's a natural phenomenon). After I began avoiding gluten, my system stopped producing so much gas. And yet I still can't accept why home-made soy milk (which requires soaking the beans overnight) or freshly-made tofu from a mom-and-pop tofu shop would be unhealthy. But, I have a feeling it's the Asian culture that's embedded in my brain, willing me to believe that soy products are healthy without scientific proof.

Or, I'm just resisting change..which is, sadly, a natural human tendency.

Whatever the case, I'm still willing to give this Paleo diet a shot.

If I count today as Day 1, I failed already, since in my hurry to get out the door this morning I had a cheddar melted on a corn tortilla as breakfast. For lunch I made "egg in a nest" with sautéed kale & bacon as the nest, and a raw chocolate milkshake. Tea-time was chocolate mousse (made with a sprinkling of refined sugar since I was too big of a wuss to use an alternate sweetener for the meringue) with banana, and for dinner I'll probably make mapo tofu (another no-no). Great.

Hopefully in a few days I'll have the hang of this new diet and maybe some new recipes to post.