Belizean Brown Sugar Mini-Donuts Recipe

Not sure what came over me, but I woke up early Saturday morning with loads of energy, inspired, and ready to bake. I haven’t had a working oven down here in Belize in well over a year, but I recently moved into a new condo that has a beautiful American style stove and oven. Figured it was time to try it out, and I baked a lot in Taiwan with horrid humidity, how bad could it possibly be here, right?

Wrong! 

Belizean Brown Sugar and Cocoa Donuts http://ourtastytravels.com/recipe/belizean-brown-sugar-mini-donuts/ #recipe #belize #donuts #ourtastytravels #cayetobelize

Belizean Brown Sugar and Cocoa Donuts

 

I attempted two recipes, and while my mini-donuts were quite good, I had an epic fail with my cookie butter cardamom cookies. What was supposed to be a batch of light and fluffy cookies ended up as a single, very thin cookie-blob that might as well have been run over by a steam roller.

Thank you humidity!

I should’ve known better after having to freeze the dough to even roll the cookies in the first place. My mistake was not putting the dough balls back in the freezer to set up before putting the cookies in the oven to bake.

Despite their hideous appearance, the cookies were rather tasty and I’ll try them again so I can write up a recipe.

In the meantime, I did manage to pull off pretty tasty mini-donuts that were baked rather than fried. And the best part is, these were made utilizing local ingredients like Belizean brown sugar and cocoa.

Belizean Brown Sugar and Cocoa

Belizean Brown Sugar and Cocoa

If you have a Wilton Nonstick 12-Cavity Mini Donut Pan, try your hand at baking these Belizean brown sugar mini-donuts.

Belizean Cuisine: Breakfast Style Johnny Cakes from Belize (Recipe)

The more I travel within Belize, the more I fall in love with the cuisine, and I have barely scratched the surface of what really makes up the country’s best dishes.  Breakfast in Belize is one of my favorite meals and this is easily attributed to an overindulgence of fry jacks and Johnny Cakes over the years.

Johnny Cakes are really just like hard sandwich rolls, but there is something so homey and addicting about them.  You might be familiar with them from other cultures around the Caribbean and Native American Indians.  Some people refer to them as Journey Cakes as they would stay fresh for weeks, making them the perfect travel food.

Johnny Cakes served on a mainland Belize tour http://ourtastytravels.com/recipes/belizean-cuisine-breakfast-johnny-cakes-belize/ #belize #ourtastytravels #cayetobelize

Johnny Cakes served on a mainland Belize tour last month

 

Also called Jonnycake, these are commonly eaten in places like Jamaica, the West Indies, Dominican Republic, and more — especially along the Atlantic seaboard.  You might know them in the Southern US as hoecakes.

Traditionally, Johnny Cakes were made with cornmeal, salt, hot water (or milk) and may or may not be sweetened.  However, in Belize, the Johnny Cakes you find are made with flour.

I recently became friends with Tanya, a very talented cook in Belize who recently started a food blog dedicated to Belizean cuisine.  Through the good fortune of a number of mutual friends and Facebook, I was immediately hooked in by her blog.  This week, she mentioned on Facebook that she was going to make Johnny Cakes and post a recipe.  She sent me the link and I gave it a whirl Sunday morning. Well, I have a long way to go in getting these right, but it will be fun trying in the meantime.

My problem has been baking in Taiwan with the humidity and the differing flours.  Most flours, even the general all-purpose ones, are high in gluten, which I’ve been told need extra kneading and special care when trying to use in traditional bread making.

Tanya’s recipe for Johnny Cakes on her Tizzle Sizzles blog is quite easy, although if you are hungry when you start making them, better nibble on something as these are not a quick 30 minutes in the kitchen.

I will refer you back to her blog for the actual recipe, but it is quite simple in that you only need:

  • White all-purpose flour
  • Crisco shortening
  • Baking Powder
  • Coconut Milk
  • Salt
  • Water

Personally, I think this is a good excuse to travel back down to Belize and sample more Johnny Cakes — for research sake!

First attempt at making Johnny Cakes at home came out pretty flat http://ourtastytravels.com/recipes/belizean-cuisine-breakfast-johnny-cakes-belize/ #belize #ourtastytravels #cayetobelize

My first batch of Johnny Cakes that came out pretty flat

Although mine did not rise as much as I had hoped, they were still quite tasty. Most people use them to make a breakfast sandwich with meat and cheese, and I learned a great tip from Tanya — Cheese Whiz is heaven! I added beans, eggs with onions, Cheese Whiz, and of course Marie Sharp’s hot sauce from Belize (a must try!).

I didn’t bake all the dough and let a few balls sit up overnight in the fridge. Surprisingly, these actually fluffed up a bit and were much better than yesterday’s batch (lowered the oven rack and used the convection setting today as well). Still have some work to do, but making progress!

Baking Johnny Cakes at home http://ourtastytravels.com/recipes/belizean-cuisine-breakfast-johnny-cakes-belize/ #belize #ourtastytravels #cayetobelize

Let’s try round two of baking Johnny Cakes!

Homemade Johnny Cakes : Belizean Breakfast Staple http://ourtastytravels.com/recipes/belizean-cuisine-breakfast-johnny-cakes-belize/ #belize #ourtastytravels #cayetobelize

These Johnny Cakes aren’t looking too bad this time!

And now, I am munching one of my fresh and fluffy Johnny Cakes today while writing this post — thanks Tanya!

Open-face Johnny Cake with Cheese Whiz, beans, eggs, onions, and Marie Sharp's hot sauce! http://ourtastytravels.com/recipes/belizean-cuisine-breakfast-johnny-cakes-belize/ #belize #ourtastytravels #cayetobelize

Made an open-face Johnny Cake with Cheese Whiz, beans, eggs, onions, and Marie Sharp’s hot sauce!

Recipes: How to Make Chinese Tea Eggs at Home

Tea eggs are sold all over Taiwan and are a popular snack consumed in many Chinese communities worldwide.

 

Chinese Tea Eggs are simple to make at home. http://ourtastytravels.com/recipes/recipes-how-to-make-chinese-tea-eggs-at-home/ #recipe #ourtastytravels

Chinese Tea Eggs are simple to make at home.

 

Tea eggs are a delicious snack consumed by many Asian cultures. They can be found everywhere around countries like Taiwan – from practically every 7-11 convenience store to more remote locations like a tiny food stall on Lalu Island at the popular resort destination, Sun Moon Lake.

As with most food items, there are good and bad tea eggs, and then some phenomenal ones that people travel long distances to get. One of the best places for visitors to try delicious tea eggs is at local Taiwan night markets.

What are Chinese Tea Eggs?

Basically, these are hard boiled eggs that are marinated in a variety of spices and tea leaves. The original recipes used various spices, soy sauce, and black tea leaves in the recipe. One of the most common seasonings used is Chinese five-spice powder, which contains star anise, cinnamon, fennel, cloves, and Szechuan peppercorns.

The most common tea leaves used include Pu’er and black tea, which are excellent varieties of Taiwan local teas. Other teas like green tea are considered far too bitter to work well. Some variations of the tea eggs include other spices and ingredients, like mushrooms, and some do not even use tea leaves, but are still called tea eggs.

How to Make Chinese Tea Eggs at Home

Ingredients

  • 6 eggs
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 2 tbsp Chinese five spice powder
  • 1 star anise
  • 1 tea bag – either black or pu’er tea
  • Optional: earthy mushrooms

Directions

  1. Fill saucepan with water and bring the water to a boil, over medium heat.
  2. Add the eggs, turn the fire off and let sit for 15 minutes.
  3. Drain and allow eggs to cool.
  4. Once cool, place each egg on the counter and gently roll with the palm of the hand so the shell cracks all over. Do not remove the shell from the egg though.
  5. Fill the saucepan with clean water and add soy sauce, five spice seasoning, star anise, salt, tea bag, and mushrooms if applicable.
  6. Bring water to a boil and place the cracked eggs in the saucepan.
  7. Place on low heat and let the eggs simmer for 20 minutes.
  8. Remove saucepan from heat and allow eggs to continue steeping in the mixture.
  9. When slightly cooled, place eggs and liquid into a glass or ceramic container to steep further in the fridge.
  10. Eggs can be served either hot or cold based on personal preference.

For best results, allow the eggs to steep at least two days in the refrigerator to ensure the spices fully blend into the eggs. For those who like sweeter eggs, consider substituting a couple tablespoons of sugar instead of salt.

Appearance and Taste of Chinese Tea Eggs

If the eggs are properly steeped, they should have regions of light and dark brown when the peels are removed. Long dark brown tones should appear along the cracks of the shell. The yolks should have a thin greyish layer with the inside center being a normal yellowish color.

The flavor of these eggs can vary based on spices and the type of tea used. Typically, Chinese tea eggs have a salty and earthy flavor. The tea enhances the flavor of the egg yolk, and the use of mushrooms really brings an earthy quality to the whites. For those watching cholesterol, just remove the yolks and eat the hard boiled egg whites, which are delicious when consumed on their own.

Tahitian Cuisine: Recipe for Poisson Cru

Have you heard of Poisson Cru?  If you’ve traveled through French Polynesia, you are likely quite familiar with it and — like us — quite enamored with it.  Poisson Cru is essentially the Tahitian version of ceviche and I’d go out on a limb to say that if Tahiti had a national dish, this would likely be it.

What sets this apart from typical ceviche you find in other parts of the world?

Coconut milk!

Tahitian Poisson Cru

The coconut milk provides such an unexpected layer of flavor and works surprisingly well against the acidity of the lime.  We ate Poisson Cru every chance we could during the French Polynesian Paul Gauguin cruise we took last year.  Fortunately, during our one day at sea, there was a Poisson Cru culinary demo!  Brett captured the demo on video so we would know how to recreate this at home.  Thankfully, the Paul Gauguin and Guillermo Muro, Chef de Cuisine, also provided a written copy of the recipe to everyone who attended.

Bowls of Poisson Cru at BBQ on Fakarava Atoll in French Polynesia

Here in Taipei, it can be difficult to get large amounts of sushi grade fish (especially since March with Japan’s natural disaster situation still continuing).  City Super, a chain of grocery stores from Hong Kong, will sometimes receive a giant tuna that they carve fresh in the store, which draws in large crowds.  Typically, the fish sells out within hours.  We had the opportunity to watch them once last year — it was like a feeding frenzy (no pun intended) as people swarmed the counters to get the fish as it was being packaged.

Crowd gathered at Taipei City Super to watch tuna carving

Cutting the delicious yellowfin tuna

Last weekend we lucked out and apparently stopped by the store on the right day.  Not much tuna was left that didn’t require a cosigner (there was a nice piece of toro (fatty tuna) that was left for about $120 US and a few pieces of yellowtail for around $30 US each).  Rather than destroy $200 in fish for something I’ve never made (not to mention toro is just too darn tasty to mix in anything), we went for a combination of ahi tuna and a local Taiwanese white fish — any mild white fish like halibut or hamachi would probably work.

Fresh yellowin tuna being prepared for packaging

Here is the recipe for Poisson Cru (slightly altered from Chef Muro’s).

Ingredients

  • 1/2 lb yellow fin tuna (blue fin and other sushi grade white fish work well also)
  • Salted Water
  • 2 fresh limes
  • 2 med Roma tomatoes, coarsely chopped
  • 1 /2 small cucumber, peeled, julienned
  • 1 small onion, halved and sliced
  • 1 small carrot, julienned
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk (unsweetened)
  • Sugar
  • Green Onion (for garnish)

Directions

Cut fish into thick strips and marinated in salted water

  1. Cut the fish into thick strips.
  2. Marinate the fish in salted water for about 15-20 minutes.
  3. While the fish is marinating, squeeze limes (or lemons) into a clean bowl and add sugar — the idea is to achieve a balance between sweet and sour flavors.
  4. Cut the carrot and cucumber into small strips (julienne) and chop tomatoes into coarse chunks.
  5. Halve onion and cut into thin slices.  Add carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions to lime and sugar mixture.
  6. Take fish out of salted water and add to mixture.
  7. Mix in just enough coconut milk to thoroughly coat all ingredients in the bowl.
  8. Garnish with chopped green onion if you desire.

Mix Poisson Cru ingredients with coconut milk

Serve alone or with white rice.

Have you eaten Poisson Cru? Would love to hear any other variations you’ve tried!

Asian Cooking at Home: Vietnamese Pho Recipe

My Home Recipe: Vietnamese Pho http://ourtastytravels.com/blog/asian-cooking-at-home-vietnamese-pho-recipe/ #recipe #ourtastytravels

Vietnamese Pho

Growing up 20 minutes from “Little Saigon” in Los Angeles, I distinctly remember my first taste of authentic Vietnamese Pho.  I was used to Campbell’s condensed soups — what were all these bean sprouts, basil leaves, and onions for?  Thankfully, having a Vietnamese cuisine expert by my side, I quickly learned all about the art of eating Pho…and I was quickly hooked.  And while the Pho in Los Angeles never disappointed, there is just something magical about eating it in Vietnam.

We were in Saigon a year ago and I think I had Pho two or three times a day because I just could not get enough (even room service at the Intercontinental Hotel!)  There are a few places in Taipei that serve decent Pho, but they are not always convenient to get to (and typically quite crowded) so I decided to take matters into my own hands.  Upon moving to Taiwan two years ago and picking up an Asian Cuisine Feature Writer position shortly thereafter, I decided I needed to learn more about cooking Asian specialties at home rather than just eating them out all the time.

One of the cookbook authors I’ve reviewed several times is Nancie McDermott, who has several books on “quick and easy” Asian cuisine types.  I started off making her Hanoi Beef Pho recipe and have since changed things up a bit and started making my own, a similar version to hers.  Quick and easy Pho is still a bit misleading as it does take 1 1/2 hours to prepare, but most of that is just the broth cooking time.

I’ve had a number of people ask me over the last few months for the recipe I am using to make Pho at home, so here it is.  While it may not be completely traditional in the Hanoi Pho sense, the broth is delicious and I alter some steps in an attempt to make it a bit more healthy than what we normally order out.

Ingredients

For Broth:

  • 8 cups broth — I use a combination of beef, pork, and chicken bouillon cubes (If you use canned broth, get low sodium)
  • 3 cinnamon sticks
  • 3 star anise
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 5 or 6 whole pepper corns
  • 2 teaspoons cumin seeds, toasted
  • 1 large white onion, quartered lengthwise
  • 1/2 cup peeled, coarsely chopped ginger
  • 1 stalk lemongrass — separated and slightly bruised
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped coarsely
  • 2 shallots, peeled and chopped coarsely

Other Ingredients:

  • 1/2 pound rice noodles (or any type of noodles you prefer)
  • 2 tablespoons Thai fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 – 1 1/2 pounds thinly sliced flank, rib-eye, or other lean cut of beef (or lean pork)  We get pre-sliced meat here in Taiwan that is good for soups, hot pots, etc.

Garnishes:

  • Bean sprouts
  • Thinly sliced white onion
  • Chopped green onion
  • Basil leaves (Asian basil is preferred)
  • Cilantro
  • Lime wedges
  • Red chilies or jalapenos sliced thinly
  • Hoisin Sauce
  • Sriracha “Rooster” sauce

Directions:

For Broth:

Bring stock, cinnamon sticks, star anise, pepper corns, toasted cumin seeds, and cloves to a gentle boil in a large stockpot.  (Note: You can make your own stock from scratch using meat, but I have found this to be a less fatty option that doesn’t require skimming the broth).

Recipe for Vietnamese Pho : Preparing the broth http://ourtastytravels.com/blog/asian-cooking-at-home-vietnamese-pho-recipe/ #recipe #ourtastytravels

Recipe for Vietnamese Pho : Browning the Onions http://ourtastytravels.com/blog/asian-cooking-at-home-vietnamese-pho-recipe/ #recipe #ourtastytravels

Clean the lemongrass and hit the stalk with the flat handle side of a knife.  Cut off the top part and discard.  Separate the root pieces and add to the pot.  Cover and let simmer for one hour.

Once the broth has cooked an hour, remove from heat and strain into a large saucepan, while throwing everything else away.

Add sugar and fish sauce to the soup broth. Note: I do not add any salt to the broth because I use bouillon cubes and the fish sauce has enough of a salty taste.  We are trying to cut down on sodium, however, if you prefer, you can add salt to taste.

Noodles:

If you are using rice noodles, they need to be softened beforehand. Place them in warm water until they are soft and white.  If you are using other noodle types, prepare according to package directions and time so they are done before broth is finished cooking.

Meat:

Cooking your meat apart from the soup helps keep the broth more lean and healthy.  You can cook the meat any way you like, but I typically just place the strips in a frying pan and sear on each side.  When using pork, I cook thoroughly to avoid any potential food poisoning issues.

Recipe for Vietnamese Pho - Cooking the pork in a skillet http://ourtastytravels.com/blog/asian-cooking-at-home-vietnamese-pho-recipe/ #recipe #ourtastytravels

Cooking the pork in a skillet

Serve:

Divide noodles between two large bowls or four small ones.  Add pork or meat slices on top.  Add broth to each bowl and serve.  I always add garnishments after as Brett and I have different tastes in regards to what garnishments we like.  He likes a five-alarm fire while I am like the Boy Scout rubbing two sticks together for the first time in hopes for a tiny puff of smoke.

Pho with noodles and pork on top http://ourtastytravels.com/blog/asian-cooking-at-home-vietnamese-pho-recipe/ #recipe #ourtastytravels

Pho with noodles and pork on top

Garnishes for the homemade Pho http://ourtastytravels.com/blog/asian-cooking-at-home-vietnamese-pho-recipe/ #recipe #ourtastytravels

Garnishes for the Pho

Tips:  I usually double the recipe and get two full meals out of the broth.  Also, the bowls we use when serving two are huge — more like western size serving bowls.  We usually only finish half and let the rest sit overnight for breakfast.  It’s quite tasty in the morning as the flavor of the basil and other garnishes have a chance to really blend together.  Since we found it was common to eat Pho for breakfast in Saigon, why not keep that tradition going back here in Taiwan? :-)

Pavlova Dessert: An Iconic New Zealand Food

For those who’ve yet to experience its sugary bliss, Pavlova, or “pav” as some call it, it is a meringue-based dessert that is quite similar to a cake, but with a crispy crust and soft inside.  Pronounced slightly different from the Russian ballet dancer Anna Pavlova, the dessert is believed to have been named in her honor after she visited Australia and New Zealand on a tour in the 1920′s.

Although its origin is somewhat disputed (ok, passionately disputed) between Australia and New Zealand, most people credit New Zealand with the creation of this tasty treat.

Pavlova is an iconic New Zealand dessert http://ourtastytravels.com/recipes/pavlova-dessert-an-iconic-new-zealand-food/ #dessert #ourtastytravels

Pavlova is an iconic New Zealand dessert

Much like frosting on a cake, most Pavlovas are covered and decorated with whipped cream.  A signature element is the fresh tropical and vibrant colored fruits that adorn the sides and top of the Pavlova — strawberries, passionfruit, and kiwi being some of the most commonly used fruits.

Whether you give New Zealand the win on its origin or not, Pavlova is still an important part of the country’s cuisine.  When visiting New Zealand, this should be on your short list of foods to try — especially if you have a sweet tooth.  Pavlova reminds me of a mixture of a meringue drop cookie and a roasted marshmallow.  The crust has the hard exterior like the meringue drop, but the inside is soft and sticky, like the marshmallow topping on Thanksgiving Day yams or sweet potatoes.

Pavlova decorated with whipped cream, strawberries, and drizzled passionfruit syrup http://ourtastytravels.com/recipes/pavlova-dessert-an-iconic-new-zealand-food/ #dessert #ourtastytravels

Another view of the Pavlova decorated with whipped cream, strawberries, and drizzled passionfruit syrup

New Zealand is passionate about the Pavlova and it usually makes an appearance during celebrations and special events — often in grand scale.  Since 1999, New Zealand has broken its own world record in crafting the “world’s biggest Pavlova.”    The most recent one was presented in Christchurch back in August, 2010.  Capable of feeding 10,000 people, the 50 square meter Pavlova was made with 10,000 egg whites and more than 600 kg of sugar!  The Pavlova was shaped like a rugby field to coincide with the Bledisloe Cup rugby match in Christchurch being held during the same weekend.

If you want to try your hand at making a Pavlova before visiting New Zealand, here are a couple recipes you can try at home.

Have you tried a Pavlova in New Zealand?  Please share if you have any recommendations on who makes the best Pavlova in New Zealand!

This post is part of the #Blog4NZ event taking place March 21-23. Please help this worthy cause and support tourism to New Zealand by sharing this article across your social networks.

Tapas Recipe: Blue Cheese Stuffed Bacon-Wrapped Dates

The first time I ate at the popular Tapas restaurant, Firefly on Paradise, in Las Vegas years ago, one of the menu items instantly caught my attention — bacon-wrapped dates.  Once I tried them, I instantly fell in love!  You can find numerous variations of these in Spanish Tapas restaurants, some involving more preparation than others.  I make a simple version that are great for dinner parties and always a hit with the guests!

Blue cheese stuffed dates wrapped with bacon http://ourtastytravels.com/blog/easy-tapas-recipe-blue-cheese-stuffed-bacon-wrapped-dates/ #bacon #food #ourtastytravels

Blue cheese stuffed dates wrapped with bacon

Ingredients

  • Pitted Dates
  • Bacon
  • Brown Sugar
  • Blue Cheese
  • Toothpicks

Directions:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 375 F
  2. Slice into the dates to basically make a pocket to stuff (you don’t want to slice through the entire date)
  3. Fill the hollowed date with blue cheese and close sides
  4. Cut your bacon into pieces (I usually cut the bacon into thirds)
  5. Wrap the cut pieces of the bacon around the dates and secure with toothpicks
  6. Place on baking sheet
  7. I like to sometimes sprinkle tops with a generous amount of brown sugar
  8. After about 20 minutes take out and turn the dates over.  I usually sprinkle more brown sugar on the dates again.
Blue cheese stuffed dates wrapped with bacon and topped with brown sugar. Other dates in center of plate are stuffed with walnuts and rolled in white sugar. http://ourtastytravels.com/blog/easy-tapas-recipe-blue-cheese-stuffed-bacon-wrapped-dates/ #bacon #food #ourtastytravels

Blue cheese stuffed dates wrapped with bacon and topped with brown sugar. Other dates in center of plate are stuffed with walnuts and rolled in white sugar.

You can change these up by using different cheese — I have used Brie, Camembert, and even goat cheese.  I have to admit that I am not a blue cheese fan at all, but when served inside the dates, I absolutely love it!  So, even if you are not a blue cheese fan, give them a try as you might be surprised as well!  If you have guests that may not eat bacon or have dairy issues, consider serving some “regular” dates alongside.  Brett’s family always served dates stuffed with walnuts that are rolled in regular sugar.  These are also pretty tasty and super easy to serve with the bacon-wrapped ones!

Cooking in Taipei: Ten-Course Tasting Menu for Brett’s Birthday

Not sure how Brett lucked out for me to plan an entire foodie weekend for his birthday this year, but we made reservations for a couple nice restaurants over the weekend and I agreed to cook dinner for him on Friday night.  Being the overachiever that I am, I somehow deluded myself into thinking I could pull off a ten course dinner by myself!  We tried to go to bed early Thursday night so I could get up for my favorite Twitter travel “Tweetup” at 4am — #TNI!  Unfortunately, when it was over around 6 am, all I wanted to do was nap — not get up and start cooking.  Fast forward to 9am when I bolted back up and realized I needed to get started otherwise we’d still be eating this dinner come Saturday morning breakfast.

I did as much prep work as I could early in the day (sauces, chopping, etc.), but somehow the day just flew and guess what?  We were still eating well after 1am.  As usual, the best laid plans gone awry! Overall, it was a success – apart from a few cooking snafus and wrangling with the world’s most difficult dessert in my opinion.  I must point out how well-adjusted I have become to our small kitchen here in Taipei after coming from a huge Western style kitchen with easily sourced ingredients.  It has taken time to get used to cooking with only two burners, a small and quite temperamental oven, and having to run to five different types of grocery stores to get supplies, so I am rather impressed I managed to pull off a dinner this grand.

Here is a look at the courses and links to recipes where applicable.  I planned the entire meal around two special bottles of wine for the evening — 07 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay and our rather expensive 02 Heitz Cellars‘ Martha’s Vineyard legendary Cabernet Sauvignon.

Chateau Montelena Chardonnay and Heitz Cellars' Martha's Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon

First Course: Bagna Calda

Bagna Calda is one of my all-time favorite dishes from The Stinking Rose Restaurant in California.  Both Brett and I love garlic so I was thrilled to introduce him to a garlic themed restaurant when we first started dating.  Bagna Calda is one of their signature dishes, which is basically a garlic bath.  Cloves of garlic are baked in olive oil, butter, and anchovies.  Once the cloves are soft, you can spread these garlicky delights on bread, crackers, etc.  Since we were doing a big multi-course dinner, I opted to cook just a few cloves for each of us, otherwise I am sure we would’ve filled up on these right away.

Bagna Calda

I used some of my favorite Northern California Lucero Olive Oils (Basil and also a bit of the Lemon), some anchovy paste, high-end French butter, and baked everything in a small dish for about 35 minutes on 325 degrees F.  They key is to coat the cloves in oil so they stay moist in the oven.

Second Course:  Scallops on Potato Pancakes

This course was inspired by a Food & Wine recipe for Scallops with Potato Pancakes and Caviar Sauce.  Since Brett is Jewish and loves his Hanukkah latkes, this was a perfect opportunity to combine them into his fancy birthday dinner too!

Caviar is not that easy to track down here and for the price of $100 US, I didn’t think it was really worth spending that much for sauce.  I opted to make a vanilla butter sauce instead.  Since I was making only four scallops I just used a portion of a Tahitian vanilla bean we got in French Polynesia.  I made a simple sauce of chopped shallots, white wine, butter, and the vanilla pod scrapings.  The Food & Wine recipe says you can make the latkes ahead of time and keep them at room temperature for two hours, but I recommend making them fresh so they stay extra crisp.

Scallops with Potato Pancakes and Vanilla Butter Sauce

Can see the bits of the Tahitian vanilla bean!

Third Course: Ravioli Filled with Brie, Pumpkin, and Leeks Tossed in a Browned Butter Sauce

This is definitely the course where disaster began to strike.  The pasta dough I intended to use had an awful consistency, so I ended up making dough from scratch!   Unfortunately, our apartment is either overly humid or skin-cracking dry.  Brett had turned on the dehumidifier because of all the cooking I had been doing so the dough ended up cracking and drying out too soon.  I couldn’t get it rolled as thin as I needed so I knew my ravioli skins were going to be more dense than normal ones.

Although the ravioli were quite thick, at least the filling came out great.  I heated fresh pumpkin puree I had already made with some Brie and a small handful of finely chopped leeks.  I made a simple browned butter sauce and topped with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

Ravioli stuffed with Brie, Pumpkin, and Leeks Tossed in a Browned Butter Sauce

Close Up of the Dense Ravioli Skin

Fourth Course:  Leek and Red Wine Soup

This course was inspired by Food & Wine’s recipe for Silky Leek and Red Wine Soup.  The soup has a nice blend of leeks, a pinch of saffron, red wine, and of course heavy cream.  This is a great recipe, but for the dinner I varied it slightly to be less creamy and more of a true red wine soup.  When I was working on this dish, Brett’s face was priceless…I opened the saffron and I think he saw dollar signs floating above.  We can only get one kind of saffron here and it’s over $30 US for 1 gram or 0.03 ounces.  I only used a pinch I swear!

Leek and Red Wine Soup

Fifth Course:  Mini Baked Mac and Cheese

These are fun and really simple to make.  Take cooked elbow macaroni and mix with your favorite blend of cheeses and drop into buttered muffin cups.  You can make them ahead of time and keep in the fridge until you are ready to bake.  I used a blend of Padano, Parmesan, Mozzarella, and Cheddar.  Top them with additional grated Parmesan and bake until they are golden brown on the top.

Mini Mac and Cheese Muffins

Sixth Course: Caesar Salad

To counter the two heavy pasta courses, I did a light salad with a traditional Caesar dressing (just used very little egg yolk).  Instead of shaved or grated Parmesan cheese, I used Parmesan crisps I had baked earlier in the day.  These provide a nice crispy texture in a salad (especially if you do not use croutons).

Salad with Parmesan Crisps and Caesar Dressing

Seventh Course: Herb Crusted Lamb Chops with Caramelized Broccoli

Brett loves his lamb chops so I couldn’t imagine a big dinner without them, not to mention they pair perfectly with our beloved Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.  I marinated the lamb in red wine and herbs for most of the day and then crusted them with a mix of additional herbs.  About five minutes on the grill and they were perfect.  For a side dish, I prepared a little caramelized broccoli with sliced garlic.

Lamb Chops with Caramelized Broccoli

Caramelized Broccoli is Easy to Make and a Nice Match with Cabernet Sauvignon

Eighth Course: Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Soufflé with Vanilla Rum Caramel Sauce

This was a course of concern for me.  I had not made a true chocolate soufflé before, so probably not the best time to try one now!  I had really wanted to use Valrhona chocolate, but we could not find it at the store this time, so I opted to use an interesting Lindt Dark Chocolate with Sea Salt.  I also added 1/4 of the Tahitian vanilla pod to the chocolate mixture.  I used a recipe from Food Network for the soufflé itself.  I had a rough time getting my egg whites to stiffen and I think I must have had a tiny bit of egg yolk on the beaters.  As I continued to mix for what seemed like 30 minutes, Brett found a tip online that said to use cream of tartar.  It did work — the egg whites began to form peaks shortly thereafter!

Earlier in the day, I made a Tahitian vanilla bean and Cuban rum caramel sauce.  It was quite thick, super sweet, but oh so delicious!  Looking forward to finishing the leftover sauce with some vanilla bean ice cream!

Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Soufflé with Vanilla Caramel Sauce

Ninth Course: Passion Fruit Macarons with Dark Chocolate Passion Fruit Ganache

I’ve read numerous recipes and blogs about how difficult these are to make, but I wasn’t dissuaded.  I can see why you need to make them over and over again to get them right.  I could not find food coloring anywhere here in Taipei (go figure), but we did find food flavoring drops that had some color.  I bought the passion fruit and coffee flavors in hopes I could use one of these two.  Combing the fruit stand, I found fresh passion fruit and decided to try a passion fruit macaron with a passion fruit chocolate ganache.

While I aspire to make macarons as good as Pierre Herme, I figured it was a bit ambitious to start off trying that complex of a recipe.  Instead, I went with the queen of simple and straight forward – Martha Stewart! It appears she can really do anything.  Her basic macaron recipe was quite simple and easy to follow.

I started the macarons in the morning and the first few ended up sticking together (when they say leave at least 2 inches in between…they really mean it!)  Trying to get the almond mixture in the pastry bag was a challenge in itself.  If you have wedding rings on and happen to be a lefty like me, take them off!  That almond mixture is a $&@*@( to clean off rings, especially if you have any pave set diamonds!

Out of 20 something macaron halves, I did manage to get at least 6 sets that were reasonably the same size and shape.  A tip: let them cool completely otherwise they are very easy to break.  Set them aside and do something else for an hour or so — if you live in a humid climate like we do, it may take even longer for them to completely set.

Passion Fruit Macarons with Passion Fruit Ganache

For the ganache, I actually used a Pierre Herme recipe with fresh passion fruit puree.  Making your own passion fruit puree is not hard if you basically put the “guts” in a food processor and then strain.  Some people use sugar as well but since it was going into a ganache, I did not add any extra sugar.  And now we have extra puree for passion fruit margaritas!

One recommendation on piping the ganache — let it harden completely.  I put it in the fridge for nearly an hour; however, it started softening quickly due to the humidity and the heat of my hands on the pastry bag and began to spit.  It probably would’ve been easier had I let it set up longer.

Overall, the macarons came out better than I expected for my first time and they were delicious, so that is what’s important!  Next time I can work on the aesthetics.

Close up of the Dark Chocolate Passion Fruit Ganache

Tenth Course: Aged Cheeses and Gourmet Honey

We love pairing gourmet cheeses with wine and have been known to make a meal out of meats and cheeses before.  Our favorite chef here in town often treats us to special aged cheeses, gourmet honey, and homemade raisins after one of his big degustation menus.  Finding certain gourmet cheeses here can be hit or miss sometimes — one thing I definitely miss from the States!  In the end, I served the aged Parmesan and Padano since we still had a little Cabernet Sauvignon left.  Not terribly exciting, but a clean way to finish off after those two rich desserts.

Aged Cheese and Gourmet Honey

By the time we finished this course, I was exhausted.  When I woke up Saturday morning, I was actually sore!  Standing hunched over a counter on hard tile floors for 12+ hours made for a long day, but Brett was worth it…sore muscles and all!

Hanukkah Recipes: Potato Latkes

Potato Latkes are Traditional Jewish Cuisine Served During Hanukkah

As we were on the road almost the entire month of December last year, Brett did not really have the opportunity to celebrate Hanukkah so I decided to try and make it up to him this year.  Since I am not Jewish, my familiarity with traditional Jewish foods (and how to cook them) is pretty much nil.  When we were doing our Thanksgiving shopping, I made a list of a few recipes I wanted to try and make him for Hanukkah and latkes were at the top of the list.  These are basically potato pancakes that sound more like hash browns to me.  Turns out, latkes are one of his favorite childhood memories of Hanukkah so I was quite excited to surprise him with this.

I researched a lot of different latke recipes and personally, the traditional ones all seemed rather bland — shredded potatoes, onions, eggs, and flour.  I reached out to my favorite foodie sources like Food & Wine Magazine and Food Network for a little inspiration.  Wolfgang Puck had an interesting recipe on Food Network and I looked at Renée’s Latkes from Gail and Renée Simmons on Food & Wine Magazine.

In the spirit of being adventurous, I decided to take elements from each of the various recipes.  In the end, I used the following ingredients in my latkes:

  • 2 potatoes (shredded)
  • 1 medium sized yellow onion (grated)
  • 1 egg (beaten)
  • Flour
  • Garlic powder
  • Nutmeg
  • Lemon juice
  • Butter
  • Kosher Salt

I shredded the potatoes with a large grater and then minced the onion with a smaller size grater.  I mixed about 3/4 of the onion in with the potatoes.  I added one beaten egg, a little flour, nutmeg, garlic, salt, and juice from 1/2 of a lemon.  I probably added 1 tablespoon of melted butter to the mix as well.  I used sunflower oil instead of peanut oil and they seemed to fry fine — of course that was after my test one that was horribly undercooked!  Once I made them a little smaller and flatter, they cooked up fine with a nice brown crisp.

Sadly, Brett kept getting delayed at work and had no idea I was surprising him with dinner so I kept trying to delay and lower the temperatures so it would not get cold before he arrived home.  Once in the door, Brett recognized the smell of latkes immediately.  You’re kidding, right?  How does he immediately know the smell of potatoes and onions means latkes?!?  Well, so much for that surprise!

I served them as a side dish in our dinner and used sour cream to top.  Since Brett doesn’t like sour cream, he used the caramelized onions (cooked in red wine and blackberry jam) I made for the main dish.   Sour cream or not, they still tasted delicious and I’m rather proud of my first attempt at traditional Jewish cuisine!

Recipe: Simple Italian Pasta with Olive Oil, Tomato, Garlic, and Feta Cheese

We were looking for something simple to make and pulled together a simple pasta recipe that is easy to make any night of the week.  Here is an easy recipe that only takes about 20 minutes to make and is good for those weeknights when you do not feel like spending hours in the kitchen.

garlic olive oil tomato basil pasta

Easy pasta with garlic, olive oil, tomato, basil, and feta cheese

Ingredients:

  • Pasta
  • Fresh garlic (minced)
  • Tomato(es) chopped finely
  • Basil
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt & Pepper

Directions:

  1. Cook pasta in boiling salted water until done to preference (we like al dente)
  2. Dump water and set pasta aside
  3. Pour 1 tbsp oil in a skillet and heat
  4. Cook garlic and tomatoes over medium heat until garlic is lightly browned
  5. Pour pasta in skillet and pour in additional olive oil to lightly coat pasta
  6. Season with additional salt (if needed) and fresh cracked pepper
  7. Add fresh basil and stir until pasta is evenly coated in oil and tomato, garlic, and basil mixture
  8. Spoon into plates and top with fresh feta cheese chunks

We paired with a California Petite Syrah from Heringer Estates in Clarksburg, California.

Petite Syrah Heringer Estates

2004 Petite Syrah from Heringer Estates in Clarksburg, California

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