Thai Chili Kabocha Squash Soup

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We were spoiled with a balmy, lengthy fall this year, but the frigid temperatures this week affirm that winter is upon us. It's time for poofy coats, wool socks and lots of soup. 

I'm entering my tenth winter as a mainlander and only in the past year or so has soup become a food to comfort and sooth me. You would think that the temperature alone would be something to covet on a cold winter day, but it has surprised me how long it has taken to honestly crave a bowl of soup. I guess comfort foods speak to a deeper level of habit and familial traditions. 

Thai food was always among my favorite cuisines growing up. Dining out was a rare occasion, but a little hole in the wall Thai restaurant in Hilo was among the five or so restaurants in my family's rotation. This soup blends a childhood comfort food with my new found adoration of soup, making it a foolproof combination for our first wintery week of the season. 

When blended in soups, kabocha squash lends an incredibly rich and velvety texture. It is sweeter than most pumpkins and squash, making it a great accompaniment to the hot chilis, garlic, ginger and shallots in the recipe. 


Thai Chili Kabocha Squash Soup 

Serves 4-6 

1 kabocha squash
2 -4 tablespoons chili paste (recipe below)
1 t coriander, ground
1 t cumin, ground
1 can coconut milk
3 cups water
1 T coconut oil 
1 t salt
cilantro and sesame oil to garnish 
 
To prepare your squash, cut into wedges, remove seeds and peel using a knife or vegetable peeler. Cut into 1 inch cubes. 
 
Heat a large pot on the stove over medium to high heat. Add 1 T of coconut oil and the chili paste (the spice level will vary depending on the freshness of the chilis, so add chili paste to your desired heat level). Cook for about one minute, allowing the flavors to bloom in the oil. Add in coriander and cumin, and cook for another minute. Add squash, coconut milk, water and salt. Simmer for bout 20 minutes, or until squash is soft and mashable. 
 
Remove from heat and blend in a blender until smooth. You will need to do this in several batches, do not overfill the blender. Once blended, pour into a clean pot, season with salt. To serve top with cilantro and a drizzle of sesame oil. 

 

Thai Chili Paste Recipe 

Yield: 1 cup 

3 shallots, peeled 
2 red chilis
2 thai chilis
4 inch piece of ginger, peeled
6 inch piece of lemon grass
6 cloves garlic
2 kaffir leaves
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons water
 
Roughly chop all ingredients and blend in a food processor or mortar and pestle until a paste-like consistency is reached. 
This recipes makes more than needed. Freeze the extra in ice cup trays, pop out one or two cubes  and use in soups and marinades. 
 
Note: Peppers vary greatly in heat levels, I choose to keep the seeds in my chilis, but if you are sensitive to spice remove and discard seeds. 

flatbread duo // mushroom blue cheese // ricotta zucchini

duo

New York had a very mild summer this year and the days are shortening and quickly becoming more brisk as fall rolls in. I wouldn't have complained about a few more scorching days, but I know most were very grateful for the mild heat that we had in the city. It went by too quickly, as it always does, there were not enough days to bask in the sun but on the plus side, we can finally turn off the ac and enjoy open windows and fresh air until winter rolls in. Let's hope the cold keeps it's distance and we have an extended mild and cozy fall.

I haven't been in my own kitchen as much as I would like lately, but when I have, the food has been bountiful and the company wonderful. A taco bar last weekend with all the fixings – carnitas, cilantro slaw, guacamole, cotija, limes, salsa – all the good stuff. Amok a few weeks earlier with the best sticky rice I've had from a few of our friends. And these flatbread pizzas – which are becoming a staple of sorts in our home.

This flat bread recipe was thrilling to discover. I don't know why flatbread seems so revolutionary – probably because I never thought to make my own bread because I considered it such lengthy process. I still, of course, would like to master my traditional bread making stills, but in the mean time I can make this in a pinch. It is unbelievably simple and the texture and flavor are not even comparable to any flatbread or pita you could find at the grocery store. The dough takes minutes to make, requires minimal resting time and can be fried, grilled or baked. It is the perfect vehicle for just about anything – dips and spreads, oil and sea salt, veggies or pizzas.

If you have a grill use it! If not, I'd suggest making these in the oven in a cast iron skillet. I made one in cast iron and another on a cookie sheet, and the crust from the skillet was definitely superior in texture to the one on the cookie sheet. A preheated cast iron is hard to beat and it's one of those kitchen staples that I suggest purchasing if you don't already own one. Growing up, it was never something that my family owned, but we were spoiled and my dad had the grill going nearly everyone night. Unfortunately grilling is a bit unattainable in my little nyc apartment, so my cast iron has become a go-to cooking vessel.

Like most of my recipes, this is open to interpretation and creativity and can be topped in any way you see fit. My only advise is to remember that less is more, pick a few topping to lightly dress your dough rather than piling them on.

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the dough

makes two 8 inch pies 

  • 2 cups flour
  • 3 t baking powder
  • 1 t salt
  • 1.5 cups plain greek yogurt

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and kneed with your hands until a smooth ball of dough forms, adding small amounts of flour or water as needed to get a smooth, slightly tacky dough. Cover with a damp towel and allow dough to rest for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, divide into 2 equal size portions and roll out on a floured surface to about 1/4 inch thickness. Bake according to directions below.

mushroom / blue cheese / pear

  • large handful of mushrooms, sautéed until tender
  • 2 T blue cheese
  • 1/2 pear, sliced

ricotta / zucchini / tomato

  • 1/4-1/2 cup fresh ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 zucchini, shaved thin
  • handful of cherry tomatoes
  • red pepper flakes and salt to taste

Preheat oven to 425 F. Place cast iron skillet in the oven to preheat. Add one 8" dough that you have rolled out and bake for approximately 6 mins or until it begins to puff up and the bottom is golden and crisp. Carefully remove from oven, add toppings, return to oven and broil for 5 mins.

If using a regular baking sheet, pre-heat oven to 425F. Place your rolled out dough onto the sheet and bake for about 8 minutes. Remove from oven and add toppings. Return to oven and broil for 5 minutes.

shaved summer salad

vegetable ribbons

A simple twist on preparation can make a striking difference in taste and sensory perception. This salad is a prime example. I've always favored raw vegetables over cooked, and shaving them is an elegant way to highlight their light, crisp and natural attributes.

A vegetable peeler will do the trick, creating long, thin ribbons of vegetables, but a mandoline will make the job a touch easier. This can be done with an assortment of vegetables. I suggest combining textures and adding firm root vegetables and more tender ones such as zucchini and cucumbers.

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The options are vast when it comes to dressing a salad such as this. I choose to add a bit of weight to the vegetables with a creamy yogurt and mint dressing, accentuating the bright flavors of summer. 

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Shaved Summer Salad
  • 2 cucumbers
  • 3 carrots
  • 2 small yellow beets
  • 1 zucchini
  • 1/4 cup mint leaves
  • 1/4 cup plain greek yogurt
  • juice of one lemon
  • salt and pepper to taste

Wash your vegetables and carefully shave them lengthwise using a vegetable peeler or mandoline. For the dressing, roughly chop the mint and fold it into the yogurt. Squeeze in lemon and add salt and pepper to taste. Stir together and massage into the vegetables with your hands.

The vegetables can be shaved up to one day in advance. Mix with dressing right before serving to maintain the crisp texture of the vegetables.

orange + coconut milk cream pops

vegan orange cream pops

One of the first things I remember doing each and every time I arrived at my grandma's house in Honolulu was run out to the large reach-in freezer in the shed outside and dig for boxes of orange creamsicles. Most of the time my hunt was successful, she was always prepared and knew our favorite treats. To this day the sweet, velvety combination of oranges and cream bring me back to hot days spent on her lanai making plumeria leis with my cousins and splashing in the neighbor's pool.

These cool treats are easy to make and are a refreshing way to cool down on these hot and humid summer days. If you don't have popsicle molds they can easily be made in little paper cups. They take minutes to mix up, and if you don't have the patience to create the layers as I did, the flavors will be just a divine if you choose to simply pour both mixtures in the molds and freeze it all at once.

Alcohol adds a little kick and softens the texture of pops. Alcohol doesn't freeze, so adding a small amount to ice pops and sorbets offers a softer texture. The addition of sugar will also reduce the ice shards in most pops - so if you end up experimenting with recipes this summer be sure to let me know how yours turn out with varying amounts of sugar and alcohol.

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orange + coconut milk cream pops

makes 10-12 pops

  • 2 cups fresh squeezed orange juice
  • 2 cups (1, 15oz can) whole fat coconut milk
  • 1/2 cup honey, divided
  • 1/4 cup Chambord, divided (or any sweet fruity liquor)

In a small bowl whisk together orange juice, 1/4 cup honey and 2 T liquor. In a separate bowl whisk together coconut milk, 1/4 cup honey and 2 T liquor.

Pour half of the orange mixture into your molds. Freeze for about one hour or until mostly firm, pour half of your coconut mixture over the frozen orange juice and freeze. Repeat with remaining orange and coconut mixtures until your molds are full. When you add the last layer, insert popsicle sticks. Freeze for an additional 6-8 hours before serving.

Popped Amaranth Breakfast Pudding

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un-poped

I’ve had a bag of amaranth in my pantry for some time now. I bought it to test how it pops in comparison to quinoa, and I’ve played with it from time to time in various recipes, both popped and un-popped. We use it at work in muffins and baked goods, soaking it for hours prior to use. Because it is such a hearty seed, there are textural and nutritional benefits of soaking, and if I don't pop it, I always soak it to soften and hydrate the seeds. Last week, I had an itch to make some breakfast cereal. I had thought about it the night before, but had fallen asleep without soaking my amaranth. I was initially disappointed that I had forgotten to soak it, but then I remembered why I had bought the seeds in the first place – to pop! I'd never actually cooked popped amaranth before, I'd just used it in recipes similar to my quinoa bon bons. I figured I'd give it a try, I toasted and popped the amaranth and simmered it in water and coconut milk. I was pleasantly surprised with the result — the cereal was light and creamy. Because amaranth is a hard seed it maintains a toothsome texture even after being cooked, but popping seemed to soften the seeds much more than soaking. Popping amaranth makes the seeds much lighter and softer and significantly decreases the cooking time. The process is similar to popping popcorn, just place it in a dry pan over medium heat and gently swirl the pan around as the little seeds pop away. The final consistency of the cereal was somewhere between chia pudding and oatmeal, with a bit more of a crunch. It's nearly impossible to pop every grain which results in a pleasant texture and bite.

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Many refer to amaranth as a grain, and although it does have grain like properties and nutritional value, it is actually the seed of a plant that was cultivated by the Aztecs.  As a seed, amaranth is naturally gluten free and nutritionally dense.

It is known for its high manganese content, a one cup serving boasts 105% of your recommended intake. Manganese is a trace mineral that plays important roles in bone and skin health, blood sugar regulation and protects against free radical damage. Amaranth also has higher amounts of minerals including calcium, iron, phosphorous, and carotenoids, than most vegetables. It is a complete protein, meaning it has all of the amino acids that body needs to function, with approximately 26 g of protein per cup. Amaranth is a great source of lysine, an important amino acid with protein content comparable to that of milk. Lysine plays a major role in the absorption of calcium and in muscle growth and recovery, and boosts the body's production of hormones, enzymes and antibodies. 

Amaranth Breakfast Pudding
Popped Amaranth Breakfast Pudding

Serves 2

  • ½ c amaranth
  • 2 cups water
  • ½ c coconut milk
  • 1 t honey
  • pinch of salt
  • berries/dried fruit

In a dry 6-8" skillet, without oil, toast amaranth until at least 50% of the seeds have popped. To do this, heat your pan on a medium-high flame, add amaranth, and gently swirl your pan to prevent burning. The cooking time will vary depending on how hot your pan is but it should happen within minutes. Be careful not to burn the seeds and quickly transfer them to a bowl to cool if they begin to burn. They should look similar to the photos above. If using a smaller pan, pop amaranth in batches for even popping.

Return all popped amaranth to your pot, and lower heat. Add 1.5 c water and simmer on low for about 10 minutes, or until soft, adding more water as needed. (Amaranth absorbs a lot of liquid so you will likely need all 2 cups). Stir in coconut milk, a small pinch of salt, and honey and top with berries or dried fruit.

Gluten Free Hazelnut Cake with Orange Syrup

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Although I personally fully enjoy foods containing gluten, I have clients and friends who have gluten sensitivities, and have trouble digesting the protein. When creating recipes for specific diets, I work towards cooking something that uses natural ingredients, not manufactured substitutes that trick the palate. I do my best to create dishes that are delicious as they are, rather than ones that try to emulate something they are not. This cake is not a recreation of a glutenous counterpart, it was created to showcase the rich nuttiness of hazelnuts. The cake itself has 3 ingredients, highlighting the clean, simple flavors of real food. 

Hazelnuts are a rich source of vitamins, minerals and protein. They contain magnesium, phosphorous, zinc, copper, iron, manganese, calcium, and selenium. Hazelnuts are also are rich in vitamins K and E, and heart healthy fats such as oleic acid that have been shown to reduce cholesterol.

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I choose to pair this cake with orange, but it's simplicity makes is incredibly versatile for all seasons and flavors. I have also served it with roasted rhubarb, rhubarb simple syrup and whipped ricotta. It is light and nutty on it's own, and pairs wonderfully with something creamy such as ricotta, yogurt, marscapone or whipped cream.

Gluten Free Hazelnut Cake with Orange GlazeFor the syrup
  • 1 cup cane sugar
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • zest of 1 orange

In a saucepan, combine sugar and orange juice and simmer for 10 to 12 minutes, until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is thick and syrupy. Remove from the heat and stir in the zest.

For the cake
  • 6 large eggs, separated
  • 1/2 cup cane sugar
  • 2 cups hazelnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 8” or 9” round baking pans and line with parchment paper.

In small batches, grind hazelnuts in a food processor until light and sand like—be careful not to over process or you will end up with hazelnut butter (see photo above). In a bowl, beat the egg yolks with the sugar until thick and pale, about 3 minutes. Fold the hazelnut flour into the yolk mixture. In a separate, clean bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff and glossy, then gently fold them into the hazelnut mixture. (You can also use a hand mixer or stand mixer to whip the egg whites.)

Pour the batter into the two prepared pans. Bake for about 20 minutes, until lightly golden. Remove the cake from the oven and evenly pour the cooled orange syrup over the top. Allow cakes to cool, and gently remove from pans, and stack cakes. Serve with sweetened greek yogurt or frozen yogurt. To sweeten yogurt, fold in some of the orange syrup or some honey.

Lentils, Shaved Carrots and Pesto

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It's rare that there isn't a pint of pesto in my fridge or freezer. It is my favorite condiment, hands down. It's versatile, fresh, tastes good on on just about everything, and you can make it with such a wide variety of ingredients. It's the perfect way to use up wilting greens and leftover herbs. Once you've made it a few times you realize it's the type of condiment that doesn't need a recipe. Most greens are great in pesto, I love adding basil, mint or chives, and most nuts and seeds compliment the rustic sauce. If you are new to making pesto and are still figuring out proportions and ingredients or if you are looking for fresh ideas, here are a few tasty recipes.  My kale pesto and spring pesto are vegan pestos. Love and Lemons is a great resource if you're looking for pesto inspiration — she has several takes on the traditional, and Happyolks gets resourceful and uses carrot tops in her pesto. What are your favorite pesto ingredients?

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It's spring in our apartment! We picked up a few new plants at the farmers market last weekend. It's so refreshing to have live plants and a light filled space to relax in this concrete city. I'd like to say I helped to beautify our space with greenery, but all of the credit goes to Daniel on this one. I don't seem to have the greenest of thumbs, so for now he can continue to grow the greens and I'll continue to cook them. This salad was the perfect lunch to enjoy in the sun with our new farmers market finds.

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Lentils, Shaved Carrots and Pesto Salad

This is a perfect lunch for one, it packs well, and is fresh and filling. Lentils keep well after cooked so cook a little extra and throw them in other salads throughout the week for a little extra protein. Check the above links for tasty pesto recipes. 

  • 1/2 cup brown lentils
  • 2 carrots
  • a few spoonfuls of pesto
  • salt and pepper to taste

Rinse lentils and cover with water in a small pot. Gently simmer until tender, about 20-30 minutes. Add more water if needed while simmering. When the lentils are cooked, drain and toss with a generous pinch of salt.

While the lentils are cooking prepare your pesto (there are several recipes above). To shave the carrots, peel lengthwise with a vegetable peeler and place in a bowl of ice water. Ice water makes the carrots curl. Before serving, drain the carrots and pat dry.

Combine lentils and pesto, toss with carrots. Season with salt and pepper to serve.

My Spring Socca Recipe is a Finalist on Food52

I'm so excited and honored that my vibrant spring socca recipe was chosen as finalist on Food52's contest for the best recipe with chickpeas. I would be so grateful for your vote. If you'd like to share this with friends, on facebook, twitter or instagram it would make my heart swell. This is a great recipe for spring and makes a great appetizer for dinner parties, if you try it be sure to let me know how it turned out. Thank you for following my cooking adventure and cooking with me along the way. Click here to cast your vote!