Soup

Tomato Recipes

One of my favorite things to do for friends is pampering them with food. It's always been my way of saying "Hey dude, I really love you, thanks for always being so great." Plus it's a great opportunity for me to play around with new recipes and challenge myself to create something memorable. I cooked this particular (tomato themed) dinner for my dear friend Eric, who travels a lot and what does a traveler want the most upon returning home? A home-cooked meal.

No problemo homie.

We started off with a nice Summery (virgin) cocktail but please feel free to add a splash of Hendrick's Gin as my husband chose to do so -- it tastes reminiscent to a dreamsicle except without the creaminess and ends with a nice hint of fennel.

 Yellow Tomato Gazpacho was next on the list -- it took me awhile to get use to the concept of "cold soups" but this one is fabulous. I used mostly yellow teardrops for my soup and the sweetness was phenomenal! It's a great recipe to make ahead and it can also be served as an amuse bouche at parties.

Next came a simple salad topped with toasted pecans, goat cheese, and heirloom tomatoes drizzled with some Italian olive oil a dear friend brought back for me and a sprinkle of kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Feel free to squeeze a little lemon for an extra acid kick. Simple, healthy, delicious -- I know, I'm a baus.

You can also serve the salad in a bowl if plates aren't your thing. Or maybe because you ran out of plates. You get the idea.

This was probably my favorite, well after the main course that is. I took some sourdough, toasted it and melted it with some smoked gruyere and topped it with spicy tomato jam (I added a habanero in mine to give it a super kick), avocado slices and arugula.

 

The smokiness of the gruyere really paired nicely with the sweet and spicy jam -- the jam is also a great dipping sauce for meatballs or even better on top of some cheese and crackers.

Aaaah main course: Maryland Crabcake with Israeli Couscous in a Spicy Tomato Broth. It's amazing how generous you can be with the size of your crabcakes when you make them at home, I even had an extra dish of crab meat left over which I used for an omelet the next morning.

I made the broth from tomato juice, dashi and some thai chiles, which is the same liquid I cooked my couscous in. The Maryland crab cake recipe I used can be found here. As a Chef once told me "It's all about that Old Bay Seasoning." Amen to that Chef! I loved the light breading for this style of crab cake, it really gave the perfect texture I was looking for.

 

Unfortunately, there was no tomato themed dessert. Instead I just made some chocolate chip cookies and scooped some vanilla bean ice cream on top. All tummies were satisfied :).

As you can see, I kept all these recipes pretty simple. It's nice to not be stuck in the kitchen the whole time and be able to sit down and enjoy the meal with friends so make things easy on yourself: prep ahead of time, pick recipes with simple execution and have fun with it!

 

Share the love today and make your loved ones something home cooked -- not only does it replenish the belly but it renews the soul. Now get off that katoosh and get in that kitchen!

 

Curried Butternut Squash Soup

“ The nuns taught us there were two ways through life – the way of nature and the way of grace. You have to choose which one you’ll follow. Grace doesn’t try to please itself. Accepts being slighted, forgotten, disliked. Accepts insults and injuries. Nature only wants to please itself. Get others to please it too. Like to lord it over them. To have its own way. It finds reasons to be unhappy when all the world is shining around it. And love is smiling through all things. The nuns taught us that no one who loves the way of grace ever comes to a bad end. I will be true to you. Whatever comes.”

Mrs. O’Brien from The Tree of Life

 

Too often I find myself struggling to control things that are not meant to be contained – these millions of images that race through my mind, flashing back to moments of time that somehow define the person I am today.

How much easier Life would be if only things happened with a simple command.

 

Winter came late this year. The Northerly winds howled their eerie song last night, ripping off the leaves that remained on the branches. I pray that it doesn’t stay long.

There’s something about the cold that changes me-- the way it can slowly seep into your bones – a pain that resonates in every hollow crevice in your body. Constant comfort found in deep mugs of piping hot tea, oversized blankets pulled up to your nose, and the perfect bowl of a soul-warming soup that helps you feel alive again.

 

Few things grow during the Winter, it’s nap time for Nature. But for the few things that are available, they grow strong and plentiful like Butternut Squash and Sweet Potatoes. Cook with the seasons, accept what they offer you and embrace the connection of food to soul.

Curried Butternut Squash Soup
Recipe Type: Entree
Author: Joy Zhang
Prep time: 1 hour
Cook time: 1 hour
Total time: 2 hours
Serves: 4-6
Curried Butternut Squash Soup
Ingredients
  • 1 medium Butternut Squash, seeded, peeled and cut into big chunks
  • 1 Sweet Potato, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 4 cloves garlic, smashed
  • Kosher salt
  • Black Pepper
  • Olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons curry powder
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 3 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • Salt pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 400F. Line large baking sheet with foil or parchment paper. In a large bowl mix butternut squash, sweet potatoes and garlic together. Evenly coat with olive oil and place on large baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until squash and potatoes are very soft. Take out and set aside.
  2. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in large pot over medium heat. Place chopped onion and curry powder and sauté until fragrant and onion is caramelized, about 5 minutes. Add coconut milk along with 3 cups of water, mix well. Add roasted butternut and garlic. Remove from heat. Take hand-held blender and carefully mix all ingredients in pot until smooth (you may also use a normal blender to do this).
  3. Return to heat and add fish sauce and taste with salt and pepper. If the soup is still too thick for your liking, you can thin it out with vegetable stock or water. Add ¼ cup amounts at a time until you reach desired consistency. Serve hot and garnish with croutons and drizzle with high-quality extra virgin olive oil if desired.
Notes

**** If the squash is too hard to cut, place into oven for 10 minutes to soften. This will facilitate the cutting process. **** When caramelizing onions do not move the onions around too much, stir the pan every minute or so. If the onions are burning too fast, simply lower the heat. **** To avoid kitchen injuries, never try blending soups when they are piping hot. Allow soup to cool a little before blending. **** Leftover soup can be frozen and store for up to a month.

POM Wonderful 5-Course Dinner

The almighty pomegranate is native from Iran to the Himalayas and  has been cultivated throughout the Mediterranean region of Asia, Africa and Europe.  This mystical fruit with its healing properties and majestic apperance has been featured in Egyptian mythology and art, praised in the Old Testament of the Bible and referenced in the Babylonian Talmud*.   It has even gained distinction as a royal fruit in the literatures of Chaucer, Shakespeare and Homer*.   Pomegranate fruits contain maximum health benefits best known for its concentrated levels of antioxidants and its ability to combat LDL cholesterol and lowering blood pressure. 

This month, the lovely folks at POM Wonderful selected a group of 100 bloggers from across the US to host a POM party and I was fortunately one of them!  I especially wanted to participate in this challenge because before this event I have never cooked with pomegranate before.  It was fun planning the menu and discovering all the versatile uses for this delightful fruit.
First thing's first.  I'll start with how to open a pomegranate -- easy schmeezy, nothing too tricky.
1.  Cut. With a sharp paring knife cut off the top about a 1/2 inch below the crown.
2. Score. Once the top is off, you'll see four to six sections.  With your knife point, score the skin at each section.
3. Open. Separate the pomegranate at each score, so that you have individual sections.
4. Loosen. Over a bowl of water, use your fingers to loosen the "arils" (the flesh-covered seeds) and drop them into the bowl.  The arils will sink to the bottom.
5.  Scoop.  Use a spoon to scoop out the pieces of white membrane that have floated to the top.
6. Strain. Pour the reamining liquid through a strainer.  Place the arils in your favorite dish and enjoy!
 
Since we're nearing the holidays, I wanted to throw a 5-course dinner for my lovely friends -- it's my way of saying 'Hey, I love you guys!".   Now when planning a 5-course menu for a dinner party, there are several things you should keep in mind:
  • Budget: How much are you planning to spend?  Usually when I throw a party I like to keep it at 8-10 people and keep my budget around $100.  Keep everything simple and ask your guests to bring the drinks!
  • Balance: Think about the different flavors, colors and textures that will go into your menu.  For a five course menu, there's a gradual progression of flavors -- start off light and build your way up to the main course and always end with something sweet :)
  • Be Organized: This is probably one of the most important things.  The more organized you are the better things will flow the day of your party.  Make shopping lists, make a prep list for your dishes, set your table settings the night before, write out what needs to be done, etc.
  • Timing and Execution: I always like to do a run through of how everything will be served the day of the party the night before.  Plan out your cooking times for your menu items so when it comes time to serve everything flows and you can still sit down and eat with your guests. 
  • Table Settings: I like to keep my settings simple, earthy and seasonal.  Plan out what kind of tone you'd like to set for your party and what color and contrast you'd like to use. 

 

For the first course I wanted something to get the party started, what better way then with a fancy jello-shot!  It's nice, light and playful -- not to mention it packs a surprising punch. 

Ingredients for Pomegranate Jello Shot: serves 8-10; prep time: 10 minutes total cooking time: 1 hour 20 minutes

  • 2 packets of gelatin (1 tablespoon)
  • 2 1/2 cups POM
  • 1/2 cup good-quality Vodka ( I used Luksusowa)
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • raw sugar for garnish
  • pomegranate seeds for garnish

In a large bowl mix 1 cup of POM with 1 packet of gelatin, allow to sit for at least 5 minutes or until gelatin is dissolved. Meanwhile in a small saucepan dissolve the sugar and remaining POM and bring to a boil. Once it is boiling turn off the heat and mix with the gelatin mixture. Once thoroughly mixed, add the vodka.

Distribute the mix in shot glasses and place in fridge and allow to set for at least an hour. When ready to serve, garnish the shot glasses with raw sugar and top with pomegranate seeds. Serve immediately and enjoy frequently ** it is easier to use a glass pan when making jello so that it pops out easier when it is done setting.

For the second course I wanted to do a salad.  Salads are easy to prepare and I love this recipe for the warm panko crusted goat cheese and the contrast with the pomegranate seeds and vinaigrette.  Also the spiced candied pecans add a nice twist! 

Ingredients for Panko Crusted Goat Cheese with Arils Salad: serves 8-10; prep time: 30 minutes total cooking time: 45 minutes

  • 16 ounces goat cheese
  • 1 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 4 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 lb organic field greens
  • 1 cup arils

Divide the goat cheese log into 16 - 1 ounce portions and roll into balls, if you're serving 10 divide it a little under -- plan for each salad will receive two goat cheese rounds. Place panko crumbs in a shallow dish.   Take each ball of goat cheese and flatten into a 1/4"-thick disk and roll in the bread crumbs, making sure all sides are evenly covered.  Heat oil in a large frying pan or skillet on medium high heat, when the oil is smoking add the goat cheese discs.  Fry each side until golden brown, about 1 minute and set aside on a plate lined with paper towels to soak any excess oil.  When ready to serve, simply reheat in the oven or toaster oven for 3-4 minutes at 350F. 

   

For the pecans:

  • 1 cup pecans
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 F.  Fill a medium pot with water and boil on high.  Once the water is boiling add the pecans and cook for an additional minute.  In a large bowl place the spices and powdered sugar, mix well.  Strain the pecans and mix in the sugar mixture, make sure nuts are coated evenly.  Spread on a baking sheet and bake for 10-15 minutes or until the outside becomes crunchy -- you can test this by taking a pecan out and letting it cool, if it's still soft give it an additional 5 minutes if it is crunchy take it out and set aside.  Once pecans are cool give them a rough chop and place in a container until ready to serve.

For the dressing:

  • 1/4 cup pomegranate reduction (see recipe below for tenderloin)
  • juice from 1 lemon, seeds removed
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon water

Place reduction on a small saucepan at medium low heat.  Whisk in lemon juice olive oil and water, if the mixture is still a little thick add a little water -- it should have a syrupy consistency.  Set aside until ready to serve.

 When serving:

Warm up your goat cheese discs in the oven or toaster oven.  Meanwhile,toss salad greens with pomegranate vinaigrette and plate.  Top with spiced pecans, arils and warm goat cheese.  Serve immediately. 

For the third course I went with a nice hearty soup -- this was actually a spin-off of the Chiles en Nogada recipe POM provided us with from Chef Cindy Pawlcyn.  I loved the textures of the crunchy pancetta and the smokiness of the poblano in this soup.  This was Collin's favorite dish.

Ingredients for Chiles Nogada Corn Chowder: (serves 8-10) prep time: 30 minutes total cooking time: 1 1/2 hours

  • 4 tablespoons canola oil or butter
  • 1 x 16 oz bag frozen organic corn kernels
  • 1 onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1 carrot, peeled and chopped
  • 2 celery stalk, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 2 poblano chiles, roasted and deseeded*
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 8 oz pancetta
  • 1 cup walnut, toasted
  • 1/2 cup micro arugula
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
  • 1/2 cup arils
  • 6 cups chicken stock
  • 2 cups water
  • salt pepper to taste

 

In a large pot add your butter or oil and melt on medium high heat.  Once butter is bubbling or oil is slight smoking, add the corn, spices,chopped vegetables and garlic and saute until softened, about 8-10 minutes.  Reduce heat to medium and add stock and water to mixture and cook for 30 minutes.  Using a hand blender, blend ingredients thoroughly -- if you do not have a hand blender a regular blender will do.  Strain soup through sieve if you prefer a very smooth texture or leave it like it is for a more rustic texture. Add in the chopped roasted poblanos and allow to simmer on medium low heat for an additional 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare the pancetta.  In a large pan heat 1 tablespoon oil on medium high heat.  Once oil is smoking add pancetta and fry until crispy, about 4-5 minutes.  Drain on paper towel and once cooled, chop into tiny pieces and set aside.  When ready to serve -- heat the soup on medium heat and ladel into soup bowls.  Top with micro arugula, cilantro, crispy pancetta and arils -- serve immediately.
 
For the fourth course I chose this robust 5 spice roasted pork tenderloin -- the spices paired perfectly with the tanginess of the pomegranate reduction.  The smooth creamy cauliflower puree gave a nice contrast in textures with the arils and pork.
Ingredients for 5 Spice Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Garlic Smashed Cauliflower: serves 8-10; prep time: 30 minutes cooking time: 1 hour 10 minutes
  • 1 pork tenderloin, about 3 1/2 pounds
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup salt
  • 1/4 cup freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon Chinese five spice powder
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon  

In a large bowl mix the spices salt pepper and sugar together.  Using a sharp knife, make shallow criss crossed incisions along the top of the tenderloin - this allows the dry rub to soak in better.  Take the spice mixture and generously rub all over the tenderloin, especially the top where the incisions were made.  Allow the pork to marinate for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a large pan or skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil on medium high heat.  Once oil is smoking sear each side of the tenderloin until a crisp golden brown, about 5 minutes on each side.  Remove from heat and cover with foil -- if the pan is not oven proof transfer the tenderloin to a baking sheet and cover with foil.  Allow tenderloin to roast for 45 minutes to an hour - use a meat thermometer to track the cooking time.  The internal temperatures should reach 145 degrees for the perfect medium tenderloin, 160 degrees for well done.  Also keep in mind, the meat will continue to cook once removed from the oven so gauge appropriately.  Once the meat reaches desired temperature set aside until ready to serve, make sure it's covered in foil to keep the meat warm.

For Cauliflower

  • 2 head cauliflower
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup cream
  • salt pepper to taste

Cut the bottoms off the cauliflowers, making sure to remove the tough stems and leaving mostly the florets.  In a large pot fill with water and immerse the entire head of cauliflower in there.  Cook each head for 15-20 minutes on medium high heat until cauliflower is completelysoftened.  Place the softened cauliflower in a large bowl and set aside.  In a medium saucepan saute the garlic with a little olive oil on medium high heat until browned add the cream and nutmeg and cook for an additional minute.  Remove from heat and pour into large bowl containing cauliflower.  Using a masher or a pestle, smash the garlic and cauliflower until it reaches a paste like consistency -- similar to that of mashed potatoes but grainier.  Taste with salt and pepper.  You can also use a blender if you do not own a masher or a pestle. 

For Pomegranate Reduction:

  • 16 oz POM pomegranate juice
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 lemon, juice only
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • In a medium sauce on medium high heat, heat the pom juice and sugar until reduced to a syrupy consistency,  about 15-20 minutes add lemon juice.  If it becomes to thick simply add the 2 tablespoons of water to thin it down. 

    When ready to serve, place a generous spoonful of cauliflower and thinly slice the pork tenderloin.  Arrange the tenderloin around the cauliflower puree and drizzle with pomegranate reduction.  Top with arils and micro arugula.  Serve immediately. 

    What better way to end a 5-course than with something light and sweet?  I made a silky pomegranate sorbet and folded boozy grand marnier sour cherries to give it a little pizazz. 

    Ingredients for Pomegranate Sorbet with Grand Marnier Sour Cherries: serves 8-10 makes 1 quart; prep time: 10 minutes cooking time: 1 1/2  hours

    • 3 cups of POM pomegranate juice
    • 1/2 cup sugar
    • 1 cup water
    • 1 cup Grand Marnier
    • 1 cup Sour Cherries, frozen 
    • 1 cup arils

    Place sugar water and pomegranate juice in a large saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature. Refrigerate until well chilled, about an hour. Meanwhile, place sour cherries in Grand Marnier and allow to soak for an hour.  When sorbet mixture is ready, process in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions and add cherries in once mixture is almost frozen. Serve garnished with arils and mint leaf.

     

       

     

    I'd like to share my prep list just to give you guys an idea as to how to plan a stress-free holiday meal for friends.  As long as you stay organized and think ahead, everything will go smoothly :).  If you notice, I kept my menu simple and incorporated colorful textures and colors to keep my guests intrigued and entertained throughout dinner.
    Two Days Before:
    • Make candied spiced pecans for salad
    • Toast walnuts for soup
    • Prepare reduction for the pork
    • Prepare dressing for the salad
    • Fry the pancetta
    • Make the sorbet

    The Day Before:

    • Make the jello shots
    • Make the soup
    • Roll the goat cheese balls for the salad
    • Marinate the pork
    • Make the cauliflower puree

    Day Of:

    • Garnish jello shots with arils and sugar
    • Bread the goat cheese and fry, reheat in toaster oven when ready to serve
    • Reheat soup on medium heat, keep at a simmer on back burner til ready to serve.
    • Reheat cauliflower puree in a waterbath, keep warm on back burner til ready to serve.
    • Begin roasting the pork loin right before serving the jello shot, this allows you time to sit and enjoy the courses and converse with guests.

    As you see, I've planned the menu items to where the day of I am just throwing on the last minute garnishes and toppings to the dish.  Most of the items just need to be reheated and kept warm until ready to serve. 

    Always remember to keep it simple.  Don't stress out if things don't work out the way they're suppose to, simply move on.  The most important thing is to have fun -- your friends and family are already thankful that you are cooking for them!  If you need help clearing the table and loading the dishwasher, see if one of your friends will lend a helping hand. 

    I hope these tips will help you plan your next dinner this would be the perfect guide for the holidays.  Bon Appetit and thanks again to the folks of POM Wonderful for the wonderful pomegranates and goody bags for my guests!

    My Mother's Wonton Soup

    Since my mother moved back to Shanghai a couple months back, I've found myself not only missing her (terribly) but reminiscing back to all the Chinese traditions that she's instilled in me over all these years.  I almost feel less Chinese without her -- no more ancient Chinese medicines, no more meditation practices, no one to speak Chinese to, no one yelling over my shoulder "AIYA JOY put that back, why you always buy buy buy??  SAVE MONEY!"   It feels weird to not have my mother completely accesible -- I'll pick up the phone to call her with a question only to realize she's 13 hours ahead of me.

    I miss her.  I miss laughing loudly with her, Collin would constantly complain about us making his ears ring but we couldn't help it -- we have way too much fun together.   I miss going to the asian markets with her, it's been a tradition since as young as I could remember.  My mother worked a lot and the little free time she did have she spent coooking for us. Every Sunday for 13 years I followed her to the market where we'd do our shopping for the week and she'd always let me get a little snack as a treat for tagging along :).  I miss eating her food, I realize maybe I don't make Chinese food as much as I should because it just doesn't taste quite like Mom's.  It's just not the same.

     

    My nostalgia left me feeling a little empty and found myself craving for some type of comfort.  I called my mom and told her --

    "Mom not having you here makes me sad, it also makes my tummy sad." 

    "I miss you Joy!  Why your tummy sad?  You get fat?" 

    "...NO (yes)! Mom that's not the point, I wish you were here to make me food."

    "OOOH fancy girl!  Become milloinaire and mommy move back to cook for you."

    "You better watch out mom, I'm already half way there..."

    " Why you no make wonton?  You make you freeze you eat whenever you want!"

    But of course, WONTONS what could be more soul comforting that that?  It's like getting a big warm hug without my mom even being here!  Best part is, everytime I make these they do taste just like mom's!  I'd remember during the holidays my mom, aunts and cousins and I would gather around the table making wontons.  We'd set up an assembly line almost, I'd be in charge of taking the wonton peels apart, my aunt would divide up the filling and my cousin would fold the wontons and my mom would cook them up.  Best part is, any wontons we didn't eat my mom would freeze and then portion out into individual bags for later use. 

     

    Ingredients for My Mother's Wonton Soup: (makes 48-54 wontons)

    • 7 oz shrimp, shelled
    • 14 oz ground pork
    • 1 package wonton wrappers
    • 1/2 egg white
    • 1 tablespoon corn strach
    • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
    • 1/4 t salt
    • 1 tablespoon rice wine
    • 1 teaspoon ginger, minced
    • 1 teaspoon sugar

    -------

    • 6 cups chicken stock 
    • 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
    • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
    • cilantro and green onion, chopped for garnish
    • 1 teaspoon salt
    •  

     

    Wash the shrimp, squeeze out the excess moisture and chop coarsely.  Mix together with the ground pork, egg white, cornstarch, sesame oil, salt, sugar, rice wine and ginger.  Take your wonton wrappers and wrap them in a moist towel, this keeps the wrappers from drying out.  Wrap one teaspoon filling in each wonton wrapper.  You can fold them as the way I've shown or just gather and twist the edges together to form a little purse. 

    Bring the chicken stock and salt and white pepper to a boil and pour into a soup bowl.  Bring 5 cups of water to a boil and drop in the wontons.  Cook until the wontons rise to the top, about 5 minutes.  Remove the wontons from the water and place in the prepared chicken broth.  Top with scallions, cilantro and drizzle with sesame oil.  Serve immediately. 

     

    ***** A trick my mom would always use to adjust the flavorings for the filling is she would make a wonton and cook and taste it first.  That way you're able to adjust the flavorings according to your taste (i.e. add more salt to the filling or more sugar or more wine). 

     ***** My mom use to steam the wontons and then place them in the broth.  This keeps the wontons from falling apart and becoming over cooked.  If you choose to steam the wontons you can use a bamboo steamer (as pictured) and steam for 10 minutes on high heat.  You can also eat the wontons plain without the broth and serve them alongside a dipping sauce. 

    ***** also note the orange slices serve no purpose in the broth except for a nice garnish and color contrast, do feel free to leave that out. 

     -------------------------------------------

     

    So as I promised awhile ago I'd share some pictures of my mom that I took before she left.  Thankfully she's not able to see my blog in China because she specifically told me "Do not put my old face on your website, who wants to see an old lady?"  That's where I think she's wrong.  My mom is in her mid 50s and she looks anything BUT old -- I can only HOPE that by the time I reach her age I look as good as she does. 

    Please note that I did not use any blurring or retouching of her face because I wanted everyone to observe the quality of her complexion.  Her secret?  Well where do I start....she has never tanned once in her life, she's never eaten fast food for the 25 years shes lived here (aside from the occasional ice cream cone from McDonald's), her daily diet usually consists of boiled vegetables, very little meat and virtually no salt.  She never wore makeup, only lipstick and a little brow pencil, never a smoker or a drinker, and she always has a glass of warm lemon water first thing in the morning.   

    When we go out, people always ask "Are you guys sisters?"  Now while my mom is soaking it up and giggling like a little school girl, I'm standing in the back looking extremely unamused.  "NO WE'RE NOT SISTERS." I'd reply with a scowl.  But with all jokes aside, I worry sometimes.  I worry that despite having her genes once you factor in all the environmental effects I've done on my skin, maybe I won't look as radiant and beautiful as mother when I'm in my 50s.  She always tells me though "The secret is prevention.  Always protect yourself when you're still young."  Good advice from a wise wise woman. 

    I love you mom and miss you everyday, and though this wonton soup doesn't completely make up your absence it does help bring comfort to my belly and soul.  I can't wait to see you next year and no matter how old you become you will always be the most beautiful woman in my eyes.  I hope you guys enjoy this recipe as it holds a very special place in my heart and plus its a Shanghainese recipe so therefore you know it's freakin bad ass.  ^_^ ENJOY!

    Moroccan Carrot Soup

    Back in March, Collin and I purchased our very first home together.  It was ragged, beaten down and was practically obliterated by termites.  The woman who owned the house before us lived here for over 40 years and never did a single update.  I want you to imagine that -- original wall paper and carpet, stove tops and ovens from back in the 70s, we even found a hoover vacuum cleaner back from the the 60s, and not to mention that the doors and walls had deeply yellowed with age.  It was just plain awful.

    But together we saw something in this house: potential.  We knew with a little lot of hard work, we could make this into something liveable, something beautiful, something we'd be proud to call our very first home.  Finally now after 6 months, we've finished: new walls, new kitchen, new paint, new floors...the list goes on forever.  And let me tell you, it's freaking fantastic.  As a way to celebrate our achievements, I've decided to throw a housewarming party this Saturday -- complete with a roast pig, a keg, and plenty of food but most importantly sharing our new home with our family and friends.

    In many ways this house has become representative of my personal struggles these past couple of years.  Since graduating college two years ago it has been a challenge to figure out what direction I wanted to take in my life, especially career wise.  At my lowest point, I felt like this house the way we first found it: dark, in shambles, and completely unorganized.  However, with time, ample searching, commitment and hard work I've found my niche in cooking, photography and piano and slowly but surely I'm begining to feel myself flourish.  I wouldn't be here if Collin didn't notice my potential and continued to push me to strive for my dreams, what once seemed like an impossible feat has now become my gorgeous reality.

    We completed the very last project, the deck earlier this week and we couldn't contain our excitement and wanted to put it to use right away. I made this hearty, comforting to the soul bowl of Moroccan Carrot Soup to perfectly compliment our cool Fall nights we've recently been having (finally Texas!!!!).  We spread out a blanket, lit a few candles and basked in the aromas of cumin and fresh wood as we had our soup in silence.  Collin laid back on the blanket, closed his eyes and let out a huge long sigh -- "I can't believe we live here, we have the best house in the world."

    Indeed we do my love, indeed we do.

    From Epicurious

    Ingredients for Moroccan Carrot Soup:(serves 4)

  • 2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter
  • 1 cup chopped white onion
  • 1 pound large carrots, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch dice (about 2 2/3 cups)
  • 2 1/2 cups low-salt chicken broth
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cumin seeds
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt, stirred to loosen
  • Melt butter in large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion; sauté 2 minutes. Mix in carrots. Add broth; bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until carrots are very tender, about 20 minutes.  Stir cumin seeds in small skillet over medium-high heat until fragrant, 4 to 5 minutes; cool. Finely grind in spice mill.

    Remove soup from heat. Puree in batches in blender until smooth. Return to same pan. Whisk in honey, lemon juice, and allspice. Season with salt and pepper. Ladle soup into bowls. Drizzle yogurt over; sprinkle generously with cumin.