Don’t sweat it, it’s cucumber soup!

After that long, brutal winter here on the East coast, summer is almost, almost, upon us, friends. As much as I hate the cold, I love winter foods. There’s simply nothing as soothing as stewed meats, and soups. Heck, I’d have a big bowl of beef noodle soup in the middle of August in DC, with or without air conditioning. But. There’s really no need to sweat it. (Sorry,)

Several years ago I discovered cold cucumber soups. There’s several varieties with more or less the same ingredients of cucumber, herbs and plain Greek yogurt. It’s one of the few things I make that takes almost no time at all, and tastes like I’ve spent hours preparing. The flavors are refreshing yet complex, especially if you add a few pepper flakes.

I’ve served it at dinner parties. Eaten it as a stand-alone meal. Recently, I even brought it out during a baby shower, and a barbeque. Yes! Cold soup can be served even at a larger gathering.

I’ve served it at dinner parties. Eaten it as a stand-alone meal. Recently, I even brought it out during a baby shower, and a barbeque. Yes! Cold soup can be served even at a larger gathering.

Ingredients:

4 cups of diced cucumbers, seed removed

1.5 cups plain Greek yogurt. (For the keto-conscious I recommend Fage’s 5%)

⅓ cup fresh dill

⅓ cup parsley or cilantro

A pinch of thyme

3-4 cloves of garlic

A few red pepper flakes (optional)

⅓ cup olive oil

Enough truffle oil to drizzle on later

Salt and pepper

Equipment:

1 large mixing bowl

1 immersion blender

Instructions:

Take all your ingredients, except truffle oil, salt and pepper. Blend in large mixing bowl until smooth. Then add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with a tiny drizzle of truffle oil on top. Use whatever leftover herbs as a garnish.

That’s it. Promise.

Enjoy!

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New kitchen toy!

Hi friends! 

What a better way to get back into food blogging than with an entry on my new kitchen gadget.  

Now many of you have had a stand mixer for decades.  So it would seem after talking to all my fellow home chef friends. I’m simply someone who got use to cooking a certain way, without gadgets and gizmos. But we must all embrace the future.

Two year ago I got a food processor.  As of yesterday I’m the proud owner of this 30 ton beauty:

So shiny!

I’ve read somewhere that the bowl and attachment must first be cleaned with a baking soda paste that simple dish soap will not remove.  That was the first thing I did.  Luckily.

Notice how the baking soda turned grey.

Then, I strapped on a weight belt and some lifting gloves to move the thing into place.  Yes, it’s heavy!  With a 575 watt motor, I pray it will withstand the torture I’m about to put it through.  Should I give it a name?

I decided to ease into it with a simple bread roll recipe.

I’m loving the gentle purring of its motor as we went for our first spin.

Pretty effortless!


In conclusion: I should have gotten one sooner.  

A very easy lemon bar recipe

A fan favorite amongst my friends are lemon bars.  They’re ridiculously easy to make.

INGREDIENTS:

Crust:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup butter, softened but not melted
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar


Filling:
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons lemon juice (about 1.5 lemons)
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
Additional confectioners’ sugar


DIRECTION:

In a bowl, combine the flour, butter and confectioners’ sugar.  With your fingers, press into an even layer in an ungreased 8 x 8 in. square baking pan. Bake at 350° for 20 minutes.


While the crust is baking, beat eggs in a small bowl. Add the sugar, flour, baking powder, lemon juice and peel. Continue to beat until frothy.

Pour over the freshly baked crust and bake 25 minutes longer or until the top is a light golden brown. 

Let it cool for 2 hours on a wire rack. Dust with confectioners’ sugar before cutting.  

Now you may double the ingredients to bake into a 9 x 12 sheet, but I’m personally a fan of the crispy and crusty edges.  So I’d bake in two separate 8 x 8 pans.  Baker’s choice!  Enjoy!

Renee and Todd’s ketogenic adventure

Meet my good friends Renee and Todd:

How cute are they?

Like most couples who work (Todd’s an engineer. Renee works evenings as a pediatric nurse) and being parents to a toddler, they must strike a balance between work and family life without neglecting their health.  That takes a lot of hard work and dedication.

Renee’s tried other diets with a degree of success.  However keeping the weight off proved more challenging since she had her child.  So Todd and Renee did their own research and decided to give ketogenic eating a try.

For Renee, just trying ketogenic eating has proven difficult.  She, like millions of us, grew up being told eating fatty food will lead to heart disease and other health problems.  It seems to make sense that cutting out fat would help shed the fat from our bodies.  Only it’s been several decades of fat-free diets… well if you’ve tried them and you’re reading this now, you know effective those diets have been.

Now the medical community is starting to change its tune.  They’ve used ketogenic to treat epilepsy.  Now, just think of this: when you eat fatty, satiating foods, how quickly do you become hungry again?  When you eat less overall, wouldn’t you lose weight?

So here’s a simple meal suggestion I came up for Renee and Todd.  It’s not very stringent and asks them both to be a bit creative.

MORNING

My friend Renee’s a coffee drinker who prefers to mask the bitter notes in coffee with cream and sugar.  Instead of sugar, she will try honey, 1/4 teaspoon at a time.  She will also add heavy cream to her coffee to help her feel fuller, faster.  She  will also try bulletproof coffee.

For Todd’s morning, if he has time, here are two shakes he can try as a healthy and delicious breakfast:

1.) Recipe for Coffee/Chocolate shake: 

20 oz cold coffee
1 cup walnuts (lots of good fats & vitamins in this)
Unsweetened cocoa, as much as you’d prefer
1 scoop chocolate protein powder (keep this less than 25g.)
1-3 Tbsp MCT Oil (start @ 1, work your way up)
2 oz Cacao Nibs(lots of good fats & vitamins in this)
2 large coffee ice cubes (I tend to freeze home brewed coffee in ice trays so as not to dilute cold coffee drinks)

Blend well in a regular blender.  If the shake is too thin, add 1/4 of a frozen banana but there’s sugar in bananas so take care not to use too much.

2.) Recipe for Berry/Vanilla shake: 

8oz (1 cup) Heavy Whipping Cream (replace some or all with milk if you prefer)
1 cup walnuts (lots of good fats & vitamins in this)
1 Big Scoop Vanilla Protein (keep this less than 25g)
1 cup frozen berries (try mixed blueberries, or even peaches, but be mindful of their sugar content)
1-3 Tbsp MCT Oil (start @ 1, work your way up)

Blend well. Again, add 1/4 of a frozen banana to thicken the shake.

Mid-day

What happens when Renee craves something between meals?  Her work as a nurse means her schedule is hectic, and she’ll eat when she can.  One solution I recommend for her is the phat fudge.  I showed her the whole process from making the almond butter to pouring the finished concoction into ice trays.  It took 30 minutes.

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Ingredients for phat fudge!

Lunch and Dinner

Since Renee and Todd are so busy, they’re looking for meals that may be a bit easier.  Most people don’t have the time nor the energy to craft a different gourmet meal each night.  A crockpot is a wonderful tool for making multiple, realistic meals:

Suggestion 1:  Aside from duck, lamb, rib-eye steaks and pork belly, there are other cuts of meat that are fatty and work very well in a slow cooker.  Get a cut of beef or pork that has nice veins of white, and plenty of gristle, like pork shoulders or beef chuck.  These “cheaper” cuts tend to cook better in the slow cooker.  Ketogenic eating, this is an easy is all about consuming more fat.

Marinate the meat in salt, pepper, and 1/4 cup red wine or balsamic vinegar.  Keep the marinated meat in the fridge for up to 8 hours.  Then heat a frying pan with a little bit of oil.  Sear the meat on the stove top on all sides will the outside is golden brown.  Transfer the meat to the slow cooker.  Without washing out the pan, toss in diced carrots, celery and onions and saute that in the same pan until the onions start to grow soft.  Then transfer the vegetables into the slow cooker.  If there’s a bit of marinade juice leftover, pour that over the meat.  Let the meat cook for 24- 48 hours.


Remove the meat and separate that into as many meals as you like.  Freeze some if not using all within that week.  Add a salad to the meal with a simple oil and vinegar dressing, or lightly sauteed vegetables.

Suggestion 2: When there’s a lot of leftover meats in the fridge, the easiest way to create a fresh dish without growing tired of the same old thing is to make a stir fry.  The Chinese stir-fry method is very misunderstood.  It can be made with any combination of meats and veggies and it doesn’t require soy sauce.  I almost never use soy sauce when I stir-fry.

Start off by adding 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil (I use olive oil) in a frying pan and let it heat up.  Dice up up some onions and garlic and toss into the pan.  For added flavor add a few slivers of ginger.  (There’s no need to peel ginger.  I only recently read on a cooking site that people peel ginger.  Why?)  Anyway, add these simple ingredients to the heated oil and saute.  After this step, toss in any vegetables you have on hand with a sprinkling of salt and pepper.  Then add your leftover meat dish.  Wait till the vegetables are cooked to your seared doneness.  Voila!  Stir fry!

Suggestion 3:   A very simple salad of just leafy greens and avocados is a nice side to a fatty main dish.  There’s no need for store bought dressing, with all the preservative they contain.  Just a sprinkling of salt, pepper, a splash of MCT oil and balsamic vinegar.

As I mentioned in a previous post, you can also use any leftover crockpot roast meat to make a heartier salad for lunch or dinner.

With these simple methods, you can create an infinite number of keto-friendly meals.  I recommend starting out gradually.  Do cut out refined sugars, and processed sugar products like ice-cream and cakes.  However, try a less sugary fruit like berries to satisfy those sugar cravings. (1 cup of strawberries contains about 7 grams of sugar.)  Have a glass or two of red wine with dinner.  Just be conscious of what you eat and wean yourself off from sugar and carbohydrates dependency.

I’ll document Todd and Renee’s progress in the coming months.  So check back often to see how the ketogenic eating has been for them.

Good luck guys!

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For a few more keto-friendly dinner ideas, click on the following link:

Fresh from the sea

Eat more oxtail

Grandma’s Kou Rou

What to do with pesky leftovers?

I know plenty of people who avoid cooking at home because they hate being stuck with all sort of leftover ingredients they won’t use again, or leftover from that carefully crafted meal they won’t eat. What a waste of money!

Now you probably guessed I’m here to tell you none of those fears need to be true.  There are plenty of ways to repurpose a leftover meal into a brand new dish, besides casserole.  That leftover meat and vegetable dish can be turned into a keto-friendly stir-fry, or salad.

I happened to have some leftover cooked chicken breasts, a few avocados and some cilantro, half a lemon, salt pepper and oil. The result was this salad for lunch:

3 avocados
1 bunch cilantro
1 tsp olive oil
1 pinch salt and pepper
1 tsp lemon juice

Add any type of leftover protein you have on hand. Slice into bite -size portions.

Mix together and enjoy!
Don’t worry if cilantro isn’t your thing.  You can substitute your version of this salad with plain salad greens or slices of cucumber.  The possibilities are endless and it’ll still be in keeping with your high fat (avocados) low-carb, ketogenic diet. 

Hurray!

Grandma’s Kou Rou

My late grandmother often made this recipe whenever people gathered in her home.  I regret there are no pictures of those dinner parties, with a table covered with dishes full of differently prepared food and people squeezed in shoulder to shoulder.  What strikes me as an adult, is that she made all her feasts on a little coal burning cast iron stove, similar to this one:

Just like grandma's stove

Primitive, yes, but this was 1980s China.  My grandmother thought her two-burner propane stove was much too technologically advanced.

I remember, out of every dish she made, everyone always raved about my grandmother’s version of the triple cooked pork belly.  (It’s actually called Kou Rou, or upside down meat in Chinese, but I think triple cooked pork belly is more descriptive.)  There’re several versions of this dish out there, but nothing beats Grandma’s, amiright?

Later, my aunt made this dish for my husband Dave.  The juicy chunks or pork and distinct flavors left a lasting impression on him.  When he started the ketogenic diet, Dave requested that I recreate the triple cooked pork belly, back here in America.   Sadly, there are no written copies of any of my grandmother’s recipes.   My grandmother was illiterate and the custom was to pass down family recipes via kitchen-apprenticeships which, until recently, preserved them for generations.  So I crowd-sourced various family members for their memories of the ingredients and preparation.  What I got from various relatives was a pinch of this and a dash of that.  I did my best to approximate how much a unit of “dash” or “pinch” and convert it into a more coherent recipe.

Keep in mind, this is a labor intensive recipe that takes some planning.  Give yourself one day at least to soak the mustard greens.  Follow the first two steps.  The last step can be done an 1 hour and 15 minutes before serving.

Tools:

soup pan
frying pan
Stainless Steel Steamer

large microwave safe bowl

Ingredients

2 lbs pork belly
2 green onions
2 slices ginger
3-4 garlic cloves
2 Star Anise

2 tablespoons oil (I use olive believe it or not)
1 tablespoon soy sauce (doesn’t really matter if it’s light or dark)
1 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar (or rock candy)
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
1/4 cup red wine
salt and pepper to taste

5-6 oz. dried preserved mustard greens from any Asian grocery store.(About 3 cups after soaked overnight and thoroughly washed)

Now I call this dish triple-cooked pork belly for a very good reason.  Here we go:

Step #1:

Flavor a pot of cold water with 1 star anise, 1 green onion and a few slices of ginger root. Put the pork belly into the cold water mixture.  Bring to a boil on medium high heat, then immediately reduce heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes.

Fish out the pork chunks and set aside to let it cool off a bit.

Step #2

Heat a pan (or wok, if you have one) with some cooking oil over low heat.  To make sure the oil is hot, throw in some more of the sliced ginger and wait for it to start sizzling.  Then pour in red wine, soy sauce and let it simmer for about 5 minutes.  Add sugar to thicken the sauce.  You want it to turn into a thick caramel texture.  If it gets too dry, add a bit more wine.  If its not thick enough, turn up the heat a notch and keep a close eye on it till it thickens.  Then place the pieces of pork into the pan and let it fry in the sauce.  Turn over a few times to glaze the pork belly.  Once there’s a nice golden brown coat on every side of the pork, wrap it in a container or plate and refrigerate for 2 or more hours.  DO NOT WASH OUT YOUR  PAN!

Step #3

Prepare a large steamer 3/4 of the way with water.  Heat the unwashed pan you used to glaze the pork and add the last bit of oil.  Heat for a minute or two then toss in the last green onion, the last bits of ginger slices, along with the drained mustard greens.  Fry it up until it’s fragrant and turn off the heat.

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Preserved mustard greens

Now take the cold pork belly out of the fridge and slice it nice and thin with a sharp knife.  Line the slices of pork along your large round bowl.  Fill the bowl, leaving a half inch at the top and pour in the mustard greens.

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Kou Rou

Set the bowl in your steamer and steam on high heat for 75 minutes.  Once it’s steamed, let it rest for 5 minutes then pour off some of the liquid in the bowl into your pan again and let it simmer and reduce to a nice slightly thick sauce.  I refuse to use cornstarch in my sauce, so a little bit of patience is key.  Your liquid WILL reduce.

Now, your pork has cooled slightly. Place a large serving plate over the top of the bowl.  The plate should overlap the bowl rim.  It’s very important that it does as you will hold the plate firmly over the bowl and flip the bowl over.  You’ll have a nice mound of pork belly on your plate.   Pour the sauce over it and serve to your guests.

Enjoy!

Marshmallows… not just for Smores!

Why make your own marshmallows? First of all, it tastes so much better as this recipe does not use corn syrup. Aside from health implications, corn syrup can be overwhelmingly sweet. And most importantly, just look at them!

Equipment:

Stand mixer

or hand mixer

8×8 for thicker, for 9×13 pan for thinner, marshmallows, well-greased
parchment paper
rubber spatula
sifter
ruler
knife

Ingredients:
cooking spray
3 tablespoons (3 packets) unflavored powdered gelatin
2 cups sugar
½ cup evaporated milk
1 vanilla bean or 1 tbsp. vanilla extract
1½ cups powdered sugar
½ cup cornstarch
½ cup cold water + ¼ cup cold water

(Flavorings and syrups of your choice)

Before you begin, prepare the bottom and sides of your pan with cooking spray.
Cut the parchment paper to fit the inside of your pan. Lightly coat your spatula with cooking spray and carefully set aside.

(*I’ve made mint flavored, cocoa flavored, pumpkin flavored marshmallows, marshmallows topped with blueberry syrup, candied pecans. The possibilities are endless!)

INSTRUCTIONS:
Pour ½ cup water over the gelatin into a large bowl. If you’re using a stand mixer, it can go direcrly into the attached bowl. Let it rest for about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, evaporated milk, and ¼ cup water. Whisk over low heat until the sugar has dissolved.

Bring the mixture to a gentle boil. Immediately reduce to a simmer and let it simmer, without stirring, for about 10-15 minutes. If you have a candy thermometer, the temperature should reach 247-250 F. If not, let it simmer for the full 15 minutes.

Then, add the hot syrup to the gelatin mixture and beat on low speed until just incorporated. At this time add vanilla.

Increase the speed to high and beat until thick, fluffy, and tripled in volume, about 10-15 minutes.

During the last 5 minutes, if you’d like, add in food color and/ or flavor of your choice.*

Using a rubber spatula, quickly scrape out the mixture into the prepared pan. Marshmallows set very quickly, so you will need to work fast! Do not worry about getting every last bit of marshmallow out of the bowl or making the top perfectly smooth.

Once the marshmallow is in the tray, allow the mixture to set, uncovered (not refrigerated) for at least 8 hours or overnight.

Is it modern art, or a tray of marshmallows?

As the marshmallows is resting, combine powdered sugar and cornstarch in a large bowl. Mix thoroughly. Once the marshmallow set properly, spoon some of the dry mixture into a sifter, and sift over the top of the marshmallows.

When your ready to cut the marshmallows, cover a cutting board with the powered sugar mixture. Trust me, don’t skip this step. Now grab the parchment paper and lift the marshmallows from the pan and place onto your board.

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Use a kitchen safe ruler and cut the marshmallows into 1-inch squares. Toss the marshmallows into the powdered sugar mixture to prevent sticking.

Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks… if they last that long.

Try it in your cocoa, on smores, or just by itself. If you do make these marshmallows, please share a photo here!

Enjoy!