Vegetarian

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.

 

 

 

Thanksgiving Leftovers

Did everyone have a wonderful and fulfilling Thanksgiving this year?  Full of turkey, corn bread, casseroles, pies, and stuffing galore? With our fridges packed with leftovers, there are endless possibilities to producing that perfect creation of Thanksgiving wonder. After gorging down two Thanksgiving feasts in the past couple of weeks, I figured it'd be a good idea to slow down a bit before the Christmas holidays really tackled my butt.  I cut some fresh lettuce greens from our garden -- a mixture of green leaf lettuce, red leaf spinach, mustard purple mizunas, and fresh herbs to serve as my salad base.

 

For my toppings I used some cornbread that was leftover from my stuffing and warmed up some creamed corn for the perfect amount of savoriness.  Feel free to throw some turkey or maybe even some cherry tomatoes and fresh avocado for a Southwestern twist.  What are some of your favorite leftover recipes from Thanksgiving?  

Here are some great ideas for ways to utilize your Thanksgiving leftovers:

 

 

Radish Arugula Goat Cheese Crostinis

I was daddy's little girl growing up.  I was his constant shadow -- anything he did, I'd do, anywhere he went I'd follow.  He'd tell me stories of his past, about that far away place I knew so little about.  "I was only 17 when I went away to work on the farms...we'd have little to eat...there'd be snakes in the bed..." I'd listen to his tales with fear imagining giant cobras lurking beneath his bed.  My eyes widened.

"You see here?" He'd point to a deeply embedded scar on his leg -- "I got these from leeches.  I'd work in the rice fields all day long and there'd be thousands of leeches everywhere." I touched the deep grooves around his shins.  "Do they still hurt?" "Sometimes." He'd say.

I could see the ghosts lingering within him, though however dark his past may have seemed he always kept his knack for gardening.  After 7 years of working on a farm, it becomes part of you; a part that you try so hard to forget yet at the same time you can't let it go.  After moving into our first home in America that was one of the first things he did: start a garden.  Together we'd clear the grass, break up the dirt, till the soil and plant the seeds.  I admit, I was mostly in charge of fetching glasses of water and picking out the grubs and squishing them with my shovel but it quickly became something I'd look forward to doing with dad every season.

He'd plant all sorts of things: squashes, wintermelon, cucumbers, peas, mustard greens -- he would take fish carcasses and let them ferment in the sun.  Once the mixture was putrid and broken down, he'd mix it in with the soil.  It horrified me, as I screamed and held my nose tightly every time he pulled the "magical" mixture out.  We harvested a 38 pound wintermelon that year.

My father had the ultimate green thumb, there was no doubt about it.  Each year our harvest would be so full and bountiful we'd often give most of it away because there was no way in hell we'd be able to eat it all.  So it was only natural for me to carry on my dad's green thumb by making helping Collin start a garden in our first home.  To be honest, my thumb is anything but green.  Collin actually calls it my black thumb since I tend to kill all plants I buy.  (It often makes me question my abilities of becoming a good mother but we'll save that for another day.)  The point is, I found two veggies that seem to be fool proof: Radishes and Salad Greens.  I literally threw seeds in the ground, kept them well watered and BAM!  Six weeks later, I have freshly grown vegetables: (Wells) Farm to table.

I paired the radish and arugula with some tangy and creamy herbed goat cheese, coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper on top of a crunchy wheat crostini - fresh simplicity at its finest.  What plants seem to grow well in your gardens?

Ingredients for Radish Arugula Goat Cheese Crostinis

(Serves 2-4; Total Prep Time: 10 minutes Total Cooking Time: 10 minutes)

  • 6 Cherry Bell or English Breakfast Radish, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup fresh Arugula
  • 4 oz herbed goat cheese
  • 4 slices wheat bread, toasted and cut into 2" circles (about 2 circles a slice for a total of 8)
  • coarse kosher salt and pepper

To assemble crostinis, spread about a nickle sized dollop on each crostini.  Top with a couple slices of radish, arugula and sprinkle with a pinch of kosher salt and pepper.  Serve immediately or refrigerate until ready to serve.

 

Strawberry Lassi

Growing up, my relationship with my mother was far from harmonious.  We seemed to clash about everything: anything from curfew, clothes to taking summer school, piano – and oh yes, food.  From a young age I’d remember my mother telling me “You cannot eat candy or potato chips, they are bad for you and make you fat.”  So what would I do?  That’s right.  Eat candy and potato chips behind her back.

She was always nervous about my weight – I am a rather big-boned girl for an Asian but while I learned to embrace it, it completely geeked my mom out.  “You must watch what you eat, you big bone you get fat.” As she would scoot the fried dish away from me and smoothly replaced it with something steamed or boiled – “See, you mostly eat this and not that.”

I’d hate her for it.  I wanted to eat what I wanted, when I wanted without the pestering voice over my shoulder asking “SHOULD YOU EAT THIS XIN-XIN?”  Damn it, yes I should!  So from as early as I can remember until I was 18, my mom controlled nearly every meal I ate except for the occasional outing with friends and family.  She made sure I ate mostly vegetables that were both low in oil and flavor, we never had juices or sodas, and pizza night?  Forget about it, I never even experienced “delivery food” until my first sleepover in 3rd grade.  It drove me crazy and as I reached adolescence I started to take her pestering personally and began the downhill cycle of an eating disorder.

A lot of things were going on back then; my parents were fighting, I was still trying to figure out where I fit in at school, oh and the whole awkward puberty thing didn’t make matters any better.  My mother’s pestering soon became hurtful and her once “suggestions” became “attacks” to me – the only words I heard were “You’re fat.”   Combine that with the influx of magazines I’d read with the gorgeous leggy models and soon enough it became true: I’m fat.

I obsessed over every little thing I ate, or lack thereof.  I desperately wanted to be a size where my mom wouldn’t give me suggestions anymore – week after week, pound after pound, and before I knew it I was struggling to keep a pair of size 0 jeans on.  It’s the lightest I’ve ever weighed: 103.5 pounds yet it had to be one of the lowest points in my life.  I didn’t feel good, look good and was constantly tired.

I couldn’t take it anymore.  I went into my mom’s room one night and screamed “I’ll never be good enough for you! No matter what I do it’s never good enough.  You think I’m stupid, you think I’m fat! WHAT DO YOU WANT ME TO DO?”  She looked so confused – “When I say you stupid?  When I say you fat?”  I didn’t realize it at the time but she really didn’t say those things, or mean them rather.  But her reaction made me angry; I couldn’t believe she didn’t know what I was talking about.  I left it at that.  I eventually got over trying to please her and with the help of friends I eventually maintained a weight of 130 pounds by the end of my senior year in high school.

Going to college away from home was a huge milestone for me.  It forced me to make my own decisions without the constant watchful eyes of my parents.  Most importantly I was free to eat what I wanted, when I wanted, wherever I wanted.  Think of it like a kid and his very first time at a candy store – I didn’t even know how to handle it.  Late night snacks at 2 am, breakfast and lunch buffets at the cafeteria, deliveries to your dorm room, my mother would’ve been appalled.

By sophomore year, I had gained a whopping 35 pounds -- my mother’s worst nightmare had come true.  I was officially fat.  What the hell?  How did it happen so fast?  Just yesterday I was fitting into my size 4 jeans and looking fabulous and suddenly I find myself trying to hide my muffin top as best as I could under the fold of my size 10 pants.  Freaking lame, all the pesky suggestions I use to hate hearing from my mother were suddenly ringing in my head again – “Do not eat those fried things!  Oh tsk tsk, fast food Sooooo bad for you.”  Okay mother, you win.

It wasn’t until I went back home to visit her a couple years ago when I finally understood why she always pestered me.  By then, I’ve reached a comfortable weight of 135, worked out 4-5 times a week and ate a healthy balanced diet with the occasional treat.  For the first time in my life she said “Xin-xin, you look good.  Mommy no worry about you anymore, you take care of yourself.”  I lifted my shirt to show her my abs – “What do you think of those apples ma?”  She shook her head and laughed.  She sat down next to a box of pictures she was organizing “Sit down, I show you something.”

She handed me a thin, worn down tiny album – I opened it and gasped: there I saw my mom, FAT.  Mind you, my mom has maintained her weight of 130-133 pounds from age 30 to 55.  She has never fluctuated outside of that range in 25 years.  THAT my friend is called magic.

“You see why mommy always worry about you now?”

I couldn’t help it, I had to laugh “Mom, you can’t even see your eyes.”

“I KNOW!  I so fat back then, I embarrassing. I don’t even like to show these pictures, soooo ugly.”

I smiled and kissed her – “You’re not ugly mom, you’re beautiful.”

“NOOOooo...” She giggled as she playfully pushed me away – “But seriously!  You see why I tell you you cannot get fat???”

It all made sense now.  She just didn’t want her daughter to be her old chubby shadow, why didn’t she just say so?  In every dark cloud there’s a silver lining, without this experience I would’ve never learned to be creative when it came to cooking healthy.  I would’ve never learned to allow myself to eat what I wanted in moderation.  I would’ve never learned the negative effects of being underweight and overweight.  Most importantly I would’ve never learned to just love my body for what it is: big boned, curvy, beautiful.  So what if I’m not “petite” like the other Asian girls?  So what if my arms are kinda big?  I can still strut my stuff like Beyonce in some 4-inch heels any night and feel just as sexy as Adriana Lima (of course with the help of my Victoria’s Secret Miracle Bra!).

Embrace your body for what it is, love yourself because you’re fabulous, and if you want a piece of chocolate cake at the end of a long hard work day, treat yourself -- but to a small piece instead of the whole dang cake.  I love this Strawberry Lassi because it’s not as decadent as a strawberry milkshake, but just as satisfying.  The tartness of the yogurt immersed with the floral cardamom notes and fresh strawberries, makes this the perfect, healthy drink to welcome the simply beautiful Spring weather we’ve been having here in Texas.  So enjoy this recipe, sit back and relax and think about the importance of living a healthy life through food, exercise and spirit.   You only have one life to live, let’s make it a good one.

Ingredients for Strawberry Lassi (serves 4-6):

Prep Time: 10 minutes; Total Cooking Time: 10 Minutes

  • 1 lb fresh strawberries, trimmed and halved (3 1/2 cups)
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 2 cups plain yogurt (whole-milk or low-fat)
  • 1 1/4 cup ice cubes
Purée strawberries with honey, cardamom, and a pinch of salt in a blender or hand held immersion blender until smooth. Add yogurt and ice, then purée until smooth again.  Serve immediately.  Feel free to garnish with honey, cardamom seeds or fresh strawberries. 

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.