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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A simple, little bone broth

I started life in mainland China back in the late 70s.  Luckily, I was born after the major hard times of famine and strife.  Food was still rationed, though.  Meat was especially scarce.  Therefore, every bit of meat was precious, down to the bones.  So my family, and everyone else like us, learned to cook to ensure nothing was wasted, and every thing tasted good. 

Bone broth was a staple in our diet.  Who knew we were ahead of the food trend by, like, decades.  

I still cook using a lot of those old customs. For example, I prefer meats with bones.  It doesn’t matter if I’m preparing chicken, beef, pork or venison.  Bones impart natural flavor to any roast or stew.  After hours of slow roasting, those bones slides right off the meat to be tossed into a pot of cold water for a nice broth.  

Add anise, garlic, slices of onion (green and/or white), and a few slices of ginger to the pot of water and bring the whole thing to a boil.  Then immediately lower the heat and let it simmer for a few hours until it turns a golden brown.  The longer it cooks, the richer the broth.  I’ve cooked broth for a whole day using this method, so the time really depends on how intense you like your broth.  But the stovetop method should yield broth after 2-3 hours.

Once that golden color is achieved, pour the finished product through a strainer into a clean bowl before serving.  

I don’t mind the oil at the top of the broth, but it can be easily skimmed off the top once the broth boils.  Or you can wait till the broth is done, strain it into a container, and let the whole thing chill in the fridge. Remove the layer of white solids from on the top before using the broth however you’d like.

Yes, you can use a slow cooker to make broth.  It may take a day or two, but should yield similar results.  

What happened if you just have a piece of raw bone with very little meat?  First of all, don’t worry about any bits of meat and gristle.  I bake the entire bone on a foiled cookie sheet, with a light drizzle of oil, at 350 F for about 30 minutes.  Then, toss it into the pot of cold water with seasoning as recommended above.  

I just think the flavor is deeper and more robust when the bone is roasted a bit first. 

Bone broth can be enjoyed as is. Or it can be stored, frozen, to be used in soups.

This is how I store frozen soups and broths, to be used later. I’m obviously not the most organized.

It happens to be my favorite braising liquid. 

It takes a few steps to get a great broth, but I love the flavor more than store bought.  I think you will too.

Enjoy!

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!

Love the dinner party

I had quite a weekend, in terms of cooking, last weekend.  I made a few treats for a dear friend’s bridal shower, and then hosted a dinner party for some old friends.

Let’s tackle the dinner party first.  You have to love dinner parties.  Either throwing one or attending one.  What’s more ubiquitous across cultures than sharing a meal in the home?

My typical dinner party starts with an appetizer, main entree of some sort of meaty dish, with a few sides and then dessert.  This time around, I broke my own rule.  One friend happened to love my stewed oxtail, another friend loves duck.  Also, I still had some of the lovely tuna Dave caught vacuum sealed and frozen, I decided to do an air, land and sea themed dinner.

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Air, land and sea.

Both the tuna poke and oxtail are keto friendly.  The duck, eaten without the pancake as Dave did, can also be part of your diet.

 

 

 

Eat more oxtail

I’m truly delighted that nowadays when you mention oxtail, not everyone will cringe or shrink back in revulsion.  How about you?   What do you picture when you hear oxtail?  Does it look like this:

I happen to love the oxtail as a stewed meat.  It’s bone, cartilage, and bits of fat releases an amazing flavor slow cooked.

Recently I decided to steal a page from the classic French boeuf bourguignon and use oxtail instead of lean beef.  Instead of using flour to thicken the sauce, I let the lid of my dutch oven open slightly, lowered the heat and increased the cooking time.  Thus, it too can be part of the keto diet.  No flour.  No sugar.  Still pretty delicious.

Ingredients

One 6-ounce slices of bacon (apple prefer apple wood smoked)
3 pounds oxtail
1 carrot, sliced
1 onion, diced
Salt and pepper
3 cups red wine. I use whatever I have on hand
1/4 cup cognac
2 1/2 to 3 1/2 cups brown beef stock (Can be made yourself ahead of time)
4 cloves mashed garlic
2-3 sprigs of thyme
2-3 sprigs of rosemary
2-3 sprigs of flat parsley
1 bay leaf
half a stalk of celery
18 to 24 pearl onions
3 1/2 tablespoons butter

I highly recommend dicing all the veggies before hand. Tie the thyme, rosemary, bay leaf, parsley and celery with kitchen twine in a bouquet garni.  Set aside.

Sizzle and brown bacon in a dutch oven. Let the fat render out. Take the bacon out and set aside. Brown each piece of oxtail, sprinkled with salt and pepper
until all the pieces of oxtail are brown. Put it aside with the bacon.

Toss in diced onions and garlic and sprinkle lightly with salt. Fry until soft and aromatic. 

Add cognac. Let it boil off, scraping the side and bottom of the pot.
Slowly add in wine and beef stock. Toss in bouquet garni. I left a bit of string on one end to tie around the handle. It makes for easier removal later.

Now add in oxtail and bacon and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and let cook, covered for 2 + hours. I leave a bit of the lid ajar to let out steam and ensure
the sauce thickens. When the beef is tender and falling off the bone it’s ready.

30-45 minutes before serving, heat butter in a large skillet, then toss in the mushrooms, onions, and carrots. Cook until there’s a bit of brown to the carrots.  Pour everything into the dutch oven and cook till ready to serve.

Enjoy!

Almond Butter

Yesterday I posted about Phat Fudge!  One of the key ingredients in my version is almond butter.  The fat nuts contain is an essential part of the ketogenic diet, but I don’t think I need to explain the health benefits of nuts.

Now buying almond butter is quick and easy, and no doubt having a jar of almond butter that lasts a while feels less wasteful.  Still, what sort of additives do those jars contain to increase shelf life?  And will those additives countermand all the goodness of just almonds?  Just how much harder would it be to make your own?

Almond butter is surprisingly easy to make.  Buy a bag of raw almonds, toast it in the oven and blend it in a food processor until creamy.  Add a tiny bit of oil, if you must, to make the almond butter smoother quicker.

Ingredients:

2 cups of whole raw almonds

1 clean jar for storage

(Optional:  1/2 teaspoon sea salt. 1 tablespoon MCT Oil)

Spread the almonds on a baking sheet and bake at 275 degrees F for about 15 minutes. Pour the toasted almonds into your food processor and let it blend.  Occasionally stop the machine and scrape down the sides.

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Eventually, the almonds will release its own oil turning the crumbles into dough, then into a paste, and finally to butter.  It’ll take somewhere between 10 and 15 minutes.

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If you lack patience and want to cut the process time, when the almonds start to clump together pour in a tablespoon of MCT oil or something equally flavorless and healthy.

That’s it!  Enjoy!

For further reading on the benefits of almond butter, I’ve included the links below:

Almond Butter versus Peanut Butter

Should YOU Eat It