Healthy

Yellow Tomato Gazpacho

With another year under the belt, life continues to serve unexpected surprises. The Age of Question seems to only deepen with time as I find myself slowly inching towards 30. Does anyone know when it becomes the Age of Answers? Summer has been kind to us here in Texas. With mild temperatures and ample rain, we've had an abundant harvest this year. Especially our tomatoes: Teardrops, Green Zebras, Brandywine and assorted Heirlooms -- Nature has been very kind and giving this season.

There's something intrinsically magical and pure about growing your own food -- though it takes countless hours of work, sweat and patience -- the pay off seems to nourish in more ways than one. You can literally find the beauty of life in a tomato.

To think what once laid as a dormant seed, given water, soil and light, it awakens and sprouts. And with time, care and a little homemade compost -- it grows into a healthy plant that flowers and ultimately produces the lusciously juicy fruit.

We often forget to appreciate these tiny miracles but they are constantly around us: growing, thriving, living as the World intended.

As with all great ingredients, I allow them the spotlight -- to showcase their wonder without all the flare and masking.

 

We'll start with a yellow tomato gazpacho which I adapted from Bon Appetit. Topped with creamy avocado chunks, thinly sliced purple onions, dotted with meaty cubes of heirloom and drizzled with a bright and bold cilantro oil -- this Summer soup celebrates the beauty of the season.

The best part is, this soup can be made ahead and would serve as the perfect starter for any Summer party. Feel free to serve in shot glasses or tiny bowls and always make sure you serve this soup ICE COLD. Your guests will thank you :)

If yellow tomatoes are not available to you, feel free to use red tear drops -- though the color will be different the flavors will still be wonderful. For those who aren't a fan of heat, leave out the chile but being the thrill-seeker that I am, I put a yellow thai chili from our garden and rest assured, it did the job.

As chiles vary in heat, always be sure to taste the spiciness level and adjust accordingly.

Yellow Tomato Gazpacho
Recipe Type: Appetizer
Prep time: 15 mins
Cook time: 5 mins
Total time: 20 mins
Serves: 6
A chilled Summer soup that will leave you wanting more...
Ingredients
  • 1 3/4 pounds yellow tomatoes, halved
  • 1 cup chopped seeded peeled cucumber
  • 1 cup chopped yellow bell pepper
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons Champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 medium jalapeño chili with seeds, chopped (about 1 tablespoon)
  • Garnish with cubes of avocado, thinly shaved onion and meaty cubes of heirloom tomato.
  • Cilantro Oil
  • 2 cups coarsely chopped fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems
  • 3/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 green onions, chopped
  • 1 medium jalapeño chili with seeds, chopped (about 1 tablespoon)
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1/4 cup water
Instructions
  1. Squeeze tomato juices and seeds into strainer set over bowl. Press on seeds to extract all juice. Chop tomatoes. Set aside 1/2 cup chopped tomatoes, 1/4 cup cucumber, and 1/4 cup bell pepper.
  2. Combine remaining tomatoes, cucumber, and bell pepper in processor. Add tomato juices, onion, orange juice, oil, vinegar, garlic, and jalapeño; process until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer soup to bowl; add reserved vegetables. Cover and chill overnight.
  3. Divide soup among 6 bowls. Garnish and drizzle with cilantro oil.
  4. Cilantro Oil
  5. Combine all ingredients except water in processor. Puree until almost smooth. Transfer puree to fine strainer set over bowl. Using rubber spatula, press on solids to extract as much liquid as possible; discard solids in strainer. Whisk 1/4 cup water into mixture in bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper. DO AHEAD Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Rewhisk before using.

 

 

 

Honey Lavender Popsicles

My mother has been reiterating a message recently over our phone calls -- "Always take care of yourself. Your health is most important." I'm convinced my mother is Confucius in a disguise you see, she'll often repeat these deep life lessons in simple 1-2 sentence structure that are seemingly so simple yet deafeningly profound.

A few examples:

"Take care of your eyes. Sit too close to TV, read in dark, you go blind."

or

"Skin is most important on woman. You no take care of skin, you old very fast."

and certainly my favorite...

"You eat too much, you get fat."

 

It's easy to become caught up in the natural groove of things -- living in these modern busy lives of ours, we often set aside our health on the back burner. It takes a lot of time, discipline, and maintenance to eat healthy, exercise daily, and somewhere in between, to find free time for yourself.

But should it be that way?

The power of stress is often understated, yet it has become such a prominent part of our every day lives. We all owe ourselves the commitment to stay respectful towards our bodies -- be good to your body and it will be good to you. Sometimes things are just as simple as that.

The weather has been beautiful here in Texas. Our garden is in full bloom, including our lavender that served as inspiration for this recipe. Originally this was made as an ice cream but I decided to go with a lighter version in popsicle form and replaced the sugar and cream with honey and a bit of condensed milk. It's soothing and dreamy in every regard. Enjoy!

 

Honey Lavender Popsicles
Recipe Type: Desserts
Author: Joy Zhang
Prep time: 5 mins
Cook time: 15 mins
Total time: 20 mins
Serves: 6
A delightful mixture of honey and lavender makes this popsicle soothing and dreamy. Perfect for Summer!
Ingredients
  • 2 cups purified water
  • 1/4 cup dried lavender
  • 3 T organic condensed milk
  • 2 oz fresh honeycomb or honey
Instructions
  1. Place water in small pot over medium high heat and bring to boil. Add remaining ingredients and stir until dissolved. Remove from heat and steep for 15 minutes. If you want a stronger lavender flavor, steep for 20-30 minutes.
  2. Strain in a container with a lip to make pouring easier. Taste and adjust accordingly. Pour into molds and freeze. Because the mix is very light, the sticks may float. Simply hold them in place using foil and a little creativity. You can also wait 30 minutes or until semi frozen to put the sticks in place.

 

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.

Easter Lamb Recipe with Couscous and Asparagus

In the spirit of Easter I'm featuring a great lamb recipe over at Artizone.  We used Martha Stewart's recipe for inspiration for both the lamb and the couscous.  I love the bright green color and flavors for this dish, it just screams "ALAS! Spring is here!!"

We only have about a week left before Wells and I embark on our Epic European Adventure 2011 and my excitement is in full force.  However, I somehow let Wells convince me that backpacking would be the way to go, that is until I saw the size of my bag -- " UHM...I can only fit like 2 pairs of shoes in there, like max." "Yes that's the point -- your tennis shoes, flip flops and one pair of heels, the end."  Obviously he's forgotten who he's about to marry because being the shoe addict that I am that was by far the silliest request I've ever heard.  A few pouts and whines later I convinced him to share half of his bag with me, bringing my total shoe count to now 5 pairs of shoes (He knows in the long run it'd be better for both of our sanities :)).

Time has been kicking my butt lately and I've barely been able to find time to cook, hence the recent shortage of recipes.  With Easter right around the corner I wanted to prep a dish that was simple, light but flavorful.  I love lamb because it's easy to make, satisfying to the soul and the bold flavors of the meat can leave you happily satisfied through just a couple chops.  I'm lucky to live in Dallas and be able to have services like Artizone available to me.  They are a newly launched grocery delivery service that offers products from the top culinary artisans in Dallas.  Head on over to the Artizone blog to find how to make the lamb recipe with complete pictures that show step-by-step instructions.  Don't forget to browse through all the other artisan goodies while you're there, I highly recommend the Triple Chocolate Truffle Cake from La Duni.

I am also digging this couscous recipe, originally the recipe called for quinoa but since I didn't have that readily available I simple found the next best substitute -- couscous!  I blanched some asparagus and together these sides paired perfectly with the hearty chops.  It's the perfect dish to serve to health-conscious guests or any guests with diabetic issues as it is rich in magnesium, selenium and fiber and low in fat and cholesterol.

Ingredients for Quinoa, Pea and Mint Salad (serves 4)

Prep Time: 10 minutes Total Cooking Time: 30 minutes

  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 cup couscous, rinsed
  • 1 cup shelled green peas or frozen peas
  • coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons fresh mint leaves, torn if large

Bring stock and quinoa to a boil in a 2-quart saucepan.  Reduce heat ot a simmer; cover and cook 10 minutes, then add peas.  Cook until quinoa is tender but still chewy and has absorbed the liquid, about 5 minutes more.  Remove from heat, and let stand, covered, 5 minutes.

Season with salt and pepper, then stir in the oil . Transfer to a serving bowl and let cool slightly (about 5 minutes) before gently stirring in the mint.  Serve salad warm or at room temperature.

 

Candied Ginger Cookies with Dark Chocolate Ganache

A few months an excerpt from the Wallstreet Journal caught my eye: “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior” which was written about Amy Chua, a Chinese-American mother/lawyer/author about her controversial parenting guide titled “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother”.

While the general population took great offense to what her book had to say, in many ways I completely related to her experiences and even further, the excerpts lead me to a moment of clarity about the constant conflicting relationship with my father.    I was that girl who practiced piano an hour a day, attended summer school every year since I was 4 and when homework was done, there was more assigned work -- ranging from advanced math problems to memorizing new vocabulary words.

While my mom was mostly in charge of teaching me manners, how to maintain a household and how to cook, my dad was in charge of school work, piano and art.  I’d remember he’d be so intense about grades – “Straight As or nothing!”  Any time I knew I had a possible B coming up on a report card I’d cry on the way home, my stomach would be wrangled with anxiety. I remember one time I even tried to smudge my B with an eraser – “Joy what does this say?  Why can’t I see this letter??” I never got away with anything.

And that’s what it’d always felt like -- I was a constant disappointment and everything I ever did always felt like it was never good enough.  It was always “You know, Nancy’s son Michael, he’s going to Duke and making $70,000 a year from stock, how come you don’t do this?” or “You hear about Jenny?  She won 4 piano contests.  FOUR how come you do not win?” For the longest time I held that grudge against my father, I couldn’t wrap my mind around why he couldn’t be a positive parent like all my non-Chinese friends’ parents were.  It seemed as if my friends could do no wrong, if they made a B they never got grounded or yelled at – some even got money for Bs.  At school recitals the parents would always congratulate them on what a good job they did while my dad would point out “I heard that mistake towards the middle.”  They even didn’t have to practice, like ever – while I had to be stuck at home on weekends playing endless hours of scales, chords, and Bach.

But then that moment of clarity hit me like a ton of bricks: it was never about him being disappointed in me, it was his hope that his daughter could exceed what he felt were her own limitations.  He pushed me because he wanted me to reach my personal best and I was just too afraid.  Afraid of failure, afraid of disappointment, whatever it was, I often regret for not trying harder.  My parents came to the states at the end of the Cultural Revolution with one goal in mind: to succeed in this new country and provide a promising future for their child.  There was no time for fancy family vacations, birthday parties at Chuck E Cheese, or new outfits every season; instead the money was saved for my piano lessons, summer school and all the books I could possibly want.

Sure there were problems with some of my parents’ parenting styles, but what parent is perfect? They try with their best intentions with all the hope that their children will have a good future.  When Collin and I settle down to have kids, I hope to combine the best of our two cultures, The Eastern and the Western, into something beautiful.

I wished for my parents to adopt Western parenting so much as a child and I realized it was mostly for the constant open affection: the I Love Yous, the hugs, the kisses.  Whereas Eastern parenting mostly lacks such affection – for my dad to utter I love you would be like pulling teeth.  I remembered my mom being almost embarrassed when I’d give her hugs and kisses but after years of my constant coaxing she now hugs me so hard sometimes it hurts (she has ungodly strong arms).

With Eastern parenting it’s the constant push and discipline with just the right amount of negativity, enough to drive the child’s need to be the best and dedicate themselves fully to any tasks they commit themselves to.  I wanted to quit piano so many times as a child but my parents never let me until I left the house, I didn’t understand why until now.  My god do I thank them for it.  Dad might’ve been tough on me but now I understand why he’d accept nothing less, because his daughter has half his brain and anything with half his genes has to be damn smart because he is by far the most intense and studious man EVER (he really is).  But what I learned from him is to never settle for mediocrity and to commit every ounce of yourself to a task you’ve committed your heart to and excel at it.

This cookie recipe made me think of dad: a soft, crumbly ginger spiced cookie with a bold dark chocolate ganache.   Though during my childhood (especially during adolescence) we often butted heads, what started off bitter ended up sweet.  The heart mends itself when you allow it to feel compassion towards others and being able to relate to other perspectives besides your own.

Ingredients for Ginger Shortbread Cookies with Dark Chocolate Ganache (about 18 sandwich cookies)

Prep time: 15 minutes; Total cooking time: 1 hour

  • 2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon cardamom
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons freshly grated orange zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup coarsely chopped crystallized ginger, plus ¼ cup for garnish
  • 1 tablespoon raw sugar

Combine flour, sugar, spices and salt in medium bowl. Combine crystallized ginger and 1 tablespoon sugar on work surface; chop finely.

Using electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until light. Add orange zest and vanilla. Beat in crystallized ginger mixture. Beat dry ingredients into butter mixture in 4 additions. Transfer dough to floured work surface and divide it in half into two 6-inch logs. Shape each log into 2x1x6-inch-long rectangular log. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for an hour.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly butter 2 large baking sheets and cut 1/3-inch-thick pieces from each dough log.  Transfer the cookies to prepared baking sheets, spacing 1 inch apart (cookies will spread slightly during baking). Mix raw sugar and reserved ¼ cup of chopped crystallized ginger in small bowl, set aside. Place cookies in oven and after 10 minutes sprinkle sugared ginger mixture on top of cookies and bake until golden brown on edges, about 8-10 minutes longer. Cool cookies on baking sheets, about 3 minutes. Using a spatula, transfer cookies to racks. Cool completely and sandwich with Dark Chocolate Ganache.

Chocolate Ganache

  • 8 ounces of high quality dark chocolate, cut into small pieces
  • ¾ cup heavy whipping cream
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Place the chopped chocolate in a medium sized bowl and set aside.  Heat the cream and butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat until almost boiling, about 3-4 minutes.  Immediately pour hot cream over the chocolate and allow to stand for 5 minutes.  Stir until smooth and allow to cool for 10 minutes before spreading.