October 28, 2012

vegan chocolate mousse (and cake)

For Food & Fitness class we had to do a project on a healthy cookbook of our choice. I chose 500 Vegan Recipes because they had a recipe for chocolate mousse that I found intriguing.

It involved avocado (ripe, 1), tofu (firm, 1 pound) and agave syrup (1/4 cup).

vegan chocolate mousse ingredients

I pureed the tofu and agave syrup first, then added melted chocolate (dark, 2 cups). It was a little grainy, but I think it would've worked if the tofu was the soft kind. I wanted to try without avocado because Whole Food's vegan chocolate mousse is really good and all it is is chocolate, tofu and brown rice syrup.

pureed tofu

After I added the avocado the mixture became smoother/creamier.

pureed chocolate mousse

I wanted to serve samples to the class, so I made a vegan chocolate cake to accompany the mousse. This was my first foray into vegan baking and I had no idea to expect. The cake came out dark and dense, like bread almost. Besides having no egg, no dairy, it also didn't have sugar. The only sweetness was from the non-dairy yogurt and applesauce that I put in.

The cake by itself didn't taste very good, although it did have the texture/chewiness of a regular chocolate cake.

vegan chocolate cake

Thankfully it tasted better with the mousse. I cut the cake into little squares and placed them in little sample cups, then piped mousse over.

chocolate mousse cups

The mousse actually set at room temperature, to a ganache-like consistency. Definitely didn't expect that. Also the dark chocolate taste was too strong (and I'm speaking as someone who loves dark chocolate). If I were to make this again I would use a milk/dark chocolate mixture, and/or cut down the amount of chocolate in the recipe.

If anyone has any vegan dessert recipes to share, please let me know! I'd love to try other stuff.

fusion cabbage rolls

This is a fusion comfort food dish I dreamed up. It started with albondigas, or Latin meatballs. I've made regular/Italian meatballs and Chinese dumpling before, but never albondigas. I figured it was time to try, but I didn't want to just do meatballs, so I thought about using it as a filling for cabbage rolls.

So here is the filling: 1 pound ground beef, 1 cup cooked rice, 2 eggs (beaten), 5 cloves garlic (minced), 1/2 onion & 1 carrot (small dice), cumin, oregano, salt and pepper. Testing the taste/spice level meant microwaving small bits at a time and tasting/adjusting accordingly.

meat filling

For the cabbage part I chose to use napa cabbage - it's crunchier and I was curious how it would taste. Boiled the leaves in chicken broth until they softened.

filling & cabbage

Filling was spooned on was the leaves rolled up. Then the rolls went into the oven to cook, for about half hour or so until the meat was done.

cabbage rolling

To serve, I didn't want to do rice because there was already rice in the filling. So I decided to do orzo, which is like rice-shaped pasta. The marinara was kind of a lazy man's marinara: cooked mirepoix in chicken broth, pureed it, then added tomato sauce, Italian seasoning, bay leaf, salt & pepper.

The chicken on top is optional - the dish is good with or without it. But together the whole thing is very comfort food. The cabbage rolls are great though - juicy and crunchy and filling. You could easily make this a soup dish too, more like traditional albondigas, and it'd be just as filling probably, with some tortillas.

cabbage rolls with marinara & orzo

There was leftover filling, so I added finely chopped cabbage and scallions and converted it to dumpling filling. Nothing went to waste :)

leftover filling for dumplings

yummy granola bars

The most yummy thing that we've made in Food & Fitness class to date has been these granola bars. I made them at home with the recipe modified to my liking.

First, the wet mixture: 1/2 cup butter, 1/4 cup sugar, 1/3 cup honey, 1/4 cup flour, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon.

granola wet

Then the dry mixture: 2 cups puffed wheat cereal, 2 cups rolled oats, 1 cup dried apricot (chopped), 1/2 cup salted almonds, 1/4 cup dark chocolate chips.

granola dry

Combine the two mixtures and drop into a greased 9 x 13 pan. To press the mixture down without getting your hands all sticky, use a greased piece of parchment paper.

granola bars

Bake in a 350F oven for 20 minutes or until golden. Then let cool for at least an hour before attempting to cut it. Mine didn't cut very well but you might be able to avoid that problem with either a little more honey, or a little more hardcore cooling (in the fridge or freezer).

Feel free to substitute with your own favorite puffed cereal, dried fruits, nuts/seeds, etc!

thai red curry paste

In Sauces class we deviated from the classic cream/butter sauces to do something herb/spicy (the other mode of getting flavor). Specifically, Thai red curry paste!

I've only made Thai curry a handful of times, and always with packaged pastes. So making this from scratch was really exciting.

I started out with the dried spices - 1 tablespoon coriander seeds, 2 cardamom pods, 1/2 tsp black peppercorns, 1/2 tsp salt.

curry paste dry

Ground all of that with the mortar & pestle until it was powder.

grinding dry ingredients

Next were some ingredients I haven't worked with before: galangal (similar to ginger), lemongrass, what is supposed to be kaffir lime (but was actually just regular lime), and what is supposed to be coriander/cilantro root (actually just the stems and leaves). Even in culinary school we have to do Americanized substitutions, haha.

curry paste fresh

We did get authentic shrimp paste though. This stuff is potent.

shrimp paste

The recipe called for 10 dried chilies and 10 fresh chilies (I assume red bird's eye chili), but we made do with what we had. From left to right, I used 10 dried guajillos, 1 fresh fresno and 3 green bird's eye chilies.


Then there was a lot of mincing of the fresh ingredients. Clockwise from the top: 2 teaspoons lemongrass (lower portion), 1 teaspoon lime peel, fresh green chili, fresh red chili, 3 tablespoons shallots, 3 tablespoons garlic, 1 teaspoon galangal, 1 tablespoon cilantro stem, and 1 teaspoon shrimp paste in the middle.

fresh ingredients

Everything went in the mortar and pestle and was ground up. The dried chilies had to be soaked in water, de-seeded and pureed before it could go in though. All in all the yield was about 5 tablespoons.

curry paste

For each tablespoon, you sautee it with some oil, add 1/2 cup coconut milk, then a dash of palm (or brown) sugar and fish sauce. We cooked chicken with red bell pepper, basil and kaffir lime leaves. It was delicious.

thai red curry

October 27, 2012

marzipan figures

As part of the sculpture I'm working on at my internship, we needed little people figures. Chef ordered a whole box of modeling marzipan expressly for this purpose.

My first task was to make a bunch of different marzipan colors. There were some colors left over from last year that had dried out, but became workable once heated (in the microwave for ten or so seconds) and incorporated with new marzipan.

I portioned out the same amount for each color.


Used food coloring and kneaded the marzipan to get the right color and consistency.

marzipan green

After repeating this process a dozen times (and getting my hands dyed different colors), I had a whole "crayon box" full of colors.

marzipan colors

For the figures, I made torsos, legs, hats and shoes. In all the colors.

marzipan figures

The faces got eyes, noses and ears.

marzipan heads

And then I made marzipan Oprah. (Chef was doing a bunch of celebrities.)

marzipan oprah

And then we needed monsters, so I shaped whatever my fingers felt like. Didn't know I had that much imagination! (They became Oprah's new friends.)

marzipan monsters

portion control

Maybe because of Food & Fitness class and in general being ever more conscious of what I eat, I have been changing what/how I eat. Not dieting or avoiding foods, but by 1) eating smaller meals and 2) eating more often. This and lots of dance/exercise means fast metabolism and healthier being.

I think portion control and exercise is a much less stressful way to go than dieting. And portion control doesn't have to involve much of saying no - part of it is switching things around and tricking your eyes.

An example here is how I eat lunch at my internship, where everything is plentiful and self-serve. I take a plate and fill it with salad, then I take a bowl and fill that with starch and meat. It's a reversal from how things usually go, where the plate is starch and meat, and the bowl would be salad. (Which reminds me of the video we watched in Food & Fitness - it talked about Americans planning entrees around meat with starch and vegetables as sides instead of the other way around.)

internship lunch

Also, once I'm full I don't eat any more. Which is hard because I was brought up to eat everything in front of me, to never waste food. So I try to gauge my hunger level and only get enough food that I can finish. (I no longer feel bad about throwing away junk food though. In my mind since it's devoid of nutrients, it's not waste.)

So if you're contemplating healthy changes in diet or lifestyle, I would recommend portion control, and exercise. You don't have to say no to yourself to look good and feel better!

jazzing up ramen

My friend Jenn came over for dinner one evening and I had no idea what to make. She said she liked ramen but I only had the instant kind! She didn't care. But I didn't want to not live up to my culinary student-ness, so I jazzed it up with some sides.

Turkey bacon (because I was curious), caramelized onion, diced tomatoes, Momofuku kimchi (made with the SF Food Adventure Club).

ramen & sides

As for the broth, I used regular chicken broth. (Still need to get around to making dashi.) But what was exciting was making my first soft-boiled eggs. Just cracked them right into simmering (small bubbles on the side, not yet boiling) water and watched the whites coagulate in front of my eyes, no sous-viding necessary.

ramen bowl

Topped everything with some cut-up nori strips. Not too shabby!

yogurt "cheese"

Imagine eating cheese but not gaining any calories. Sounds impossible but you can get pretty close with yogurt cheese. All you need to do is hang up some non-fat (or low-fat) yogurt in a cheesecloth. The liquid drains away in a day and what's left is something that resembles ricotta.

hanging yogurt

Of course you have to season it. In Food & Fitness class we added chopped fresh herbs (chives, rosemary, thyme), garlic, salt and pepper. But you can always do sundried tomato, pesto, olives, etc. The possibilities are endless! I might even try yogurt cheese cheesecake and see how that turns out.

yogurt cheese dip

In case you're wondering about the crackers, the brand is Mary's and it's from Costco. Rice crackers loaded with different grains and seeds. Super healthy and super crunchy good. A great pairing with the yogurt cheese, or any other kind of cheese!

October 13, 2012

mole ice cream

Recently there was a special Oaxaca-themed dinner at my school. It was put on by the students who had attended the Oaxaca summer abroad program in order to raise money to help the students going next summer.

Each of us had a station with a dish that we'd learned to cook in Oaxaca. Mine was the octopus salad we made at the restaurant El Origen.

But to challenge myself, I also decided to make the mole ice cream I'd dreamed about when I was in Oaxaca.

I've made a savory (buttered popcorn) ice cream before, so I applied the same process to this one.

Basically, I soaked the mole spices (dried chihuacle+pasilla+mulato chiles, thyme, oregano, cinnamon, clove, peanuts, almonds, walnuts, raisins) in a milk and cream mixture, added corn syrup and sugar, then heated it, pureed it, and added beaten yolks and heated it again, and strained and cooled and churned it.

mole spices

Sesame seeds were a mole ingredient I left out, to put on a tuile cookie. Like I learned in first semester, I had to cut a mold out of a cake box, spread the tuile batter on, then sprinkled sesame seeds and baked them. The silicon mat is indispensable in this case - without them the tuiles stick and never come off in one piece!

sesame tuile

Just having the ice cream and tuile made dessert seem a little forlorn, so I added fried plantains. I didn't want them to get soggy so I pan-fried them, twice. They were hot after frying and I didn't want the ice cream to melt on them so I popped them in the freezer. I think the freezing made the outside crispier, which was a plus.

fried plantains

I was worried about the dessert being too savory, so I added goat's milk caramel that Cris and I made in Oaxaca. The caramel is really thick and un-drizzleable, so I made parchment paper cones for dispensing.

caramel cones

This is everything put together, with some cotija cheese sprinkled on top (since cheese often accompanies plantains but also for garnish).

mole ice cream 1

The ice cream itself was pretty good, maybe too spicy. It tasted like chai ice cream but spicy. And everything went well together, although I did forget chocolate as an ingredient. Everyone liked it, so maybe I could do it again next time with chocolate?

October 7, 2012

scallops meunière

In Sauces class we had the choice of doing Steak Diane, filet of sole or Scallops Meunière and I chose the scallops because I'd never really cooked scallops before.

Meunière is a classic French sauce of brown butter and lemon, most often used with fish or seafood. In our version it started with searing the scallops in a pan with oil, a few minutes on each side until golden brown.

searing scallops

Like the chicken dish from before, this was another pan sauce. After searing the scallops, I dumped out the excess oil, then sauteed butter until it started turning brown. Then I added the capers, raisins and almonds.

meuniere ingredients

The sauce was seasoned with Worchestershire and lemon, then chopped parsley was added at the end.

meuniere sauce

For the plating, we seared off a wedge of onion and some cauliflower florets. Since there were five pieces of scallop it occurred to me to make it a flower pattern, with the florets at the center and the onions fanning out.

plating halfway

We poured the sauce over it, hot. Another savory and rich sauce with just the right amount of tang, with the added bonus of sweetness from raisins and crunch from slivered almonds. Yum.

scallops meuniere

food & fitness: grains and legumes

In Food & Fitness class most everybody is non-culinary, and cooking with them has been a different experience, in a good way. Everybody is really eager to work together and learn, and even pitch in with menial tasks like dishes. Definitely didn't expect everybody to be so on top of it, but maybe my team just rocks :)

red team

We were assigned to do a hummus-like garbanzo spread. There was no tahini involved, but we made two versions of the spread and put sesame seeds in one. I like hummus better though.

garbanzo spread

I think the main point being made was that grains + legumes together give us the entire set of proteins that our body needs. Common grains are rice and wheat, with whole grains being vastly better for us because they contain the germ (essential nutrients) and bran layer (fiber). Common legumes are peas, beans and lentils.

It really amazes me that so many cultures have the grain + legume foundation to fulfill people's protein needs so that meat becomes secondary. Think about it, Latin America has rice and beans, East Asia has rice and soy, South Asia has rice and lentils, etc.

black beans & rice

Perhaps inspired by the grain/legume theme in class, I made quinoa at home. I've only made it once before, to eat cold as a salad, but this time I made it hot. Quinoa is unbelievably easy to cook, and it's surprising that more people don't know about it since it's a complete protein in itself!

I put quinoa (with some dried cranberries) in chicken broth, 1 part quinoa to 1.5 parts broth. You basically bring the mixture to a boil, then turn the heat off and keep the lid on for about 20 minutes while the quinoa cooks.

dry quinoa

Here what it looks like cooked.

cooked quinoa

Then I fluffed it with a fork, and added some chopped parsley (other good additions would have been caramelized onions or orange zest).

fluffed quinoa

I garnished the top with some crushed almonds, although other nuts would work as well. And to make it a complete dinner, I included some stir-fried veggies. Very satisfying, and no meat necessary!

quinoa dinner