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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Gourmet Picnic: Chicken Pesto Sandwich

The theme for this month's 5 Star Makeover is Gourmet Picnic. As a part of the 5 Star Cooking Group, I was excited to transform a personal favorite: chicken pesto sandwich!

Chicken Pesto Sandwich
With memorial weekend right around the corner, it is the perfect time for picnics, good food and good company. I made a chicken pesto sandwich with chicken pudding, pesto juice, tomato powder, paprika pecorino frico, topped with a poppyseeed bread crisp. The chicken pudding was made using agar agar and rich chicken stock. The paprika pecorino frico introduces some spice to the sandwich, and the whole wheat poppyseed bread crisp is light and surprisingly flavorful.

Grinding Dehydrated Tomatoes
I dehydrated sliced tomatoes before grinding them into powder. Once the tomatoes were dehydrated, the flavors became extremely concentrated. A pinch was enough to add a layer of tomato flavors.

Chicken Pudding, Pesto Juice, Tomato Powder, Paprika Pecorino Frico
topped with Whole Wheat Poppyseed Bread Crisp

Thank you Natasha of 5 Star Foodie and Lazaro of Lazaro Cooks! for hosting this month's makeover and introducing such fun and creativity to cooking.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Exotic Flavors of India

In my attempt to prepare a complete Indian menu tonight, I found locating ingredients being the most difficult task of the process. But once I managed to gather all necessary spices, it was definitely worth the effort.

Flavors of India

I made an Ulli Sambar, or Shallot Sambar, a South Indian lentil-based stew with whole peeled shallots. Although Sambar traditionally calls for yellow lentils (or toor dal), I used red lentils, the closest type I managed to find. This worked perfectly because it also softened easily and carry a slightly sweeter taste, which is similar to yellow lentils. The unique texture and sweetness of Sambar, brought out by a sweet Tamarind paste, was a nice side dish to tonight's dinner.

Chicken Tikka Masala, served over Brown Rice
accompanied by Ulli Sambar and Mango Lassi

As the main course, I made Chicken Tikka Masala, or a curry dish of roasted chicken, over brown rice. Chicken breast pieces were first marinated in yogurt and spices, broiled, then added to the thickened curry. Of course, our dinner was accompanied by a must-have drink, Mango Lassi. Simple to make, Mango Lassi is a delicious drink consisting of mango, yogurt, milk, sugar, and a dash of cardamom. I highly recommend all of you to take advantage of the wonderful mango season!

Friday, May 13, 2011

"Pock" Granny, 3-Cup Chicken & More

You may wonder why I decided to title this post with irrelevant nonsense; fortunately, the blame goes to Chinese people in the past who had much imagination and time to spare.

It has been a few days since I last walked into my kitchen. Two! To be exact. Okay, it really hasn't been that long but it sure felt like a long time. I wanted to make food I loved and missed, so I cooked two of Chinese cuisine's most popularized dishes: "Pock" Granny Tofu and 3-Cup Chicken. These go by many other names: mapo tofu, spicy tofu, hot tofu, three teacup chicken, basil chicken, etc. The tofu dish is essentially a hot and spicy tofu broth with ground meat, while the chicken dish is saucy and sharp in flavor.  

Spicy Tofu in Hollowed Rice and 3-Cup Chicken
served with Shiitake Cabbage
I hollowed out the rice and poured the spicy "Pock" Granny Tofu into the center and served the 3-Cup Chicken on the side along with more sauce. 

"Pock" Granny Tofu + 3-Cup Chicken
The dish "Pock" Granny Tofu actually comes from the story of a woman who created this delicious dish. She was nicknamed "Pock" Granny due to her age and appearance, but she was known to serve simple and flavorful dishes to travelers at her street side inn. I have always separated Chinese food in two categories: food for the poor and food for the rich. While I am sure this holds true in many cultures, it never ceases to amaze me how popular the once commoner food has become today. This tofu dish is a perfect example. In comparison, 3-Cup Chicken has a much more scientific origin behind its name. 3-Cup refers to the key ingredients and measurements of this dish - a cup (teacup back then) of sesame oil : a cup of soy sauce : a cup of rice wine. Of course, others are added (basil, spice, garlic, sugar, etc.) as people become pickier, but it started with 3 very simple ingredients. 

The way my version of this dish is meant to be eaten is to mix all the flavors together and balance them with a cup of perfectly steamed rice sitting on a bed of vegetables.  

Things just taste better when you get to be the one to mess it up!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Mayan Cuisine and Us

Somewhere between life, career, and traveling, I took a hiatus from blogging. It was good because it made me realize how much I missed writing random snippets about my love for cooking and food, reading and browsing all your talented cooks' blogs, and simply taking the time to slow down time a bit. In this post, I want to share some very happy moments I spent with my husband at Playa Del Carmen, Mexico.

A Serene, Secluded Section of the Resort
 As coffee lovers, or caffeine addicts if you would, imagine our excitement when we saw the French Press in our hotel room. Every morning, we would wake up lazily, set the hourglass, and begin our fresh French Press coffee with Cafe Britt's coffee grinds. I am not quite sure if it was the mood or the coffee itself, but it definitely was some of the best coffee we've ever had.

French Press Coffee in the Mornings
Food, of course, like always, was a highlight of the vacation. The authentic, delicious and beautifully presented Mayan cuisine dishes are sorely missed!

Seafood Involtini
We also ordered Moloch, a combination of different Mayan flavors. The plate below consists of Pibxcatic, Papadzul, Shrimp Panucho, Tsotolbilchay and Tsic.

Moloch - Mayan Cuisine
At the resort restaurant, we had the privilege to try the most amazing mouthwatering quesadillas.

Blue Corn Quesadillas with Braised Short Ribs
topped with Oaxaca Cheese and Cilantro
PDC, we'll be back!