Seafood Paella

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Paella is a wholesome and soulful meal that is meant for sharing. It transforms relatively humble ingredients into a deliciously complex and pleasing dining experience. While I love traditional Valencia-style seafood paella and never hesitate to order it at Spanish tapas restaurants, I find myself hard-pressed for time trying to juggle work, fitness, chores, taking care of Benji (my senior dog), spending quality time with my loved ones, meal prepping, and finding calm and tranquility in my day. Wow, it feels so much more overwhelming now that I’ve listed my responsibilities so exhaustively. And I’m sure the average person is struggling with similar challenges of having too much to do in the day and simply not having enough time and energy. This is why I am a fan of simple and hands-off cooking techniques. You remember the “set it and forget it” slogan from Ronco’s Showtime rotisserie machine? Maybe I just dated myself…Anyhow, I often use non-fussy cooking methods that will provide quick returns or at least require less of my attention and time. This is why I am a huge fan of the slow cooker and one-pot meals. Searing and boiling food, and then allowing it cook itself with minimal monitoring? Sign me up! So, I made a variation of seafood paella that veers away from tradition. I cover my rice with a lid to allow it to steam rather than babysitting it for an hour, carefully ladling broth in and massaging the rice. As much as I would love to do that, I am just pressed for time. I guess this recipe is more of an “arroz con mariscos” because other Latin-American countries also use the lidded pot for its steaming properties rather than the traditional paella cooking method

I made this for my family during one of our weekly Wednesday night dinner’s at my dad’s house. My sister has been having a stressful time in school, and I wanted to show my support in one of the best ways I know how: by nourishing her body and soul. I was really shocked when my father actually made positive comments about my dish. He comes from a culinary background as a dim sum chef, and he also has this strange idea in his head that Chinese and Vietnamese foods are the only ones worth eating. Yes, I realize that his is a very narrow-minded approach to food than most, and I most heartily disagree, but that’s my father for you.  I have learned to accept it, as you must do with most circumstances in life that are out of your hands. I have also learned to accept that he will likely never approve of anything that I make or think that it is tasty. It will never be authentically Chinese enough or Vietnamese enough. Which was why I was really shocked at his words “Wow, it looks good!” when I placed the finished paella on the dinner table. So there is your food miracle for the day. =P I hope that this dish brings some positive moments with you and your loved ones as it did with mine.

Cooking Tips

When in doubt, always have your fire lower rather than higher when you are cooking any potted rice dish with the lid closed. It is better to have to cook your dish longer than to have burnt rice. No one likes that. I prefer to cook my paella on medium low heat.

When cooking rice, I prefer to put less water than to put too much water because I hate mushy rice. Then, I will slowly add more liquid toward the end of cooking if the rice does not become soft to the desired texture of chewiness. Usually when cooking white rice, the ratio of liquid to rice should be 1:1.

Recipe
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Serves 6-8 people
2 tbsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 heads shallots, minced
pinch of salt
½ lb chicken thighs, cut into 2-inch chunks
½ sweet onion, sliced
1 red bell pepper, sliced
½ Kielbasa or any spicy cooked sausage
3 cups Arborio rice, washed and drained
½ cup dry white wine
1 can crushed tomatoes
½ quart of chicken broth
1 tbsp seasoned salt, or to taste (Trader Joe’s seasoned salt or Goya seasoning)
1 tbsp paprika
1 tsp saffron
½ lb large shrimp, deveined and peeled
½ lb calamari, sliced
1 green onion, sliced
lemon wedges for squeezing
Heat a large and deep skillet/pan on high heat. Add in oil, and fry garlic and shallots for 2-3 minutes, or until soft. Season chicken thighs with salt and pepper and add to the frying pan. Allow to brown.

Remove chicken from the pan. Add in more olive oil and stir fry onion and bell pepper on medium high heat for 2-3 minutes.

Add chicken back into the pan, along with Kielbasa, and stir fry together with vegetables on high heat for 1-2 minutes. Season to taste with seasoned salt. Add rice to the pan to stir fry together with meat and vegetables.

Add in wine, crushed tomatoes, and chicken broth. Season to taste with seasoning salt, paprika, and saffron. Mix rice thoroughly with liquids and then turn heat on medium low.

Allow rice to simmer on medium low heat for 20-30 minutes, depending on your stove and how often you peak at the rice. When most of the liquid has evaporated, check rice for doneness. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking. Add chicken broth or water as needed.

When your rice is just “al dente” mix calamari into the paella and place shrimp on top of paella and place the lid back on. Allow to steam and finish cooking until rice reaches desired level of doneness and most liquid has evaporated (~5 minutes).

Remove from heat, and serve with lots of green onion and lemon wedges on top.

Enjoy with your loved ones!

 

Vietnamese Braised Catfish (Ca Kho To)

IMG_0530.JPGFull disclosure: I actually used to hate catfish because of its muddy/earthen flavor. But throughout the years, I’ve learned to appreciate this meaty bottom-feeding fish that at first looks quite intimidating with its dragon-like whiskers. Growing up, my aunt would make delicious Vietnamese food for us for Sunday dinners. It was akin to the Sunday roast dinner that many American families have, but rather than a huge roast, we would have specialty dishes that required lots of time and preparation. I have lost count of how many times I’ve watched my aunt cooking this dish.

With the widespread popularity of pho and eggrolls being the ambassador foods of Vietnamese cuisine, many equally delicious Vietnamese dishes have been hidden in their shadow. My family actually never made pho at home because of how time and labor intensive it is. Ca kho to, however, is relatively easy and quick to make and packs such a punch of flavor. There are recipes that utilize a pre-made caramel sauce. I am going to challenge my readers to make their own caramel. It is such an easy and cheap product to make; yet its ready-made versions are often overpriced at grocery stores. And if I have any pet peeve it’s got to be overpaying for something that is not all that difficult to make myself. So, have a little faith in yourself, and give caramel a try! Once you master this skill, you can make caramel sauces for desserts, caramel candies, and even caramel sugar art if you are extra ambitious.

Cooking Tips:

Use fresh coconut water from a young coconut if possible (water from a brown coconut is no good). This will imbue your fish with the most intense and delightful coconut flavor.

I love getting my fish at the Asian grocery store because they offer fish cleaning and cutting services, which saves me lots of time and unnecessary mess in my kitchen. Have your butcher cut the catfish into steaks, as boneless filets will easily fall apart in the braising process.

Recipe
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Serves: 4

1 tbsp peanut oil
1 lb catfish steaks
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup fresh coconut water
1 large shallot, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/4 cup fish sauce
1/4 cup oyster sauce
1/4 cup water
1 red jalapeno, sliced
green onion, chopped

Place sugar into a saucepan on medium-high heat. Allow sugar to melt. Mix sugar crystals with melted sugar to ensure an even caramel. Continue heating until melted sugar becomes a light caramel brown color. At this point, add coconut water. Mix well and continue boiling on medium heat until the sauce reduces to the point where it can coat the back of a wooden spoon (~20 minutes)

Meanwhile, heat a deep frying pan on high. Drizzle with oil and sear catfish steaks on medium high heat until golden brown (3-5 minutes each side). Remove fish from pan and add in garlic, shallot, and red jalapeno into frying pan. Allow to sauté for 3-5 minutes until shallot softens.

Add seared catfish back into the pan and add fish sauce, oyster sauce, and a splash of water. Once the coconut caramel has thickened, add it into the catfish and mix well with the sauce. Allow catfish to braise in the sauce on medium low heat until sauce thickens and each side of the catfish has absorbed a thin coating of the sauce (~10 minutes). Flip catfish once one side has taken on a nice caramel color and allow the other side to braise in the sauce.

Adjust seasonings to taste: by adding in a splash of water, oyster sauce, fish sauce, or sugar.

Garnish with green onion and serve with white rice. Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Strawberry Tiramisu

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Warmer weather means one important thing for me: summer fruits! Berries, melons, mangoes, and peaches galore! Don’t even get me started. Strawberries have come back in season, just in time for Mother’s Day desserts! This year, I decided to make some strawberry tiramisu (essentially a trifle) for my mom and mother-in-law. Asian people have specific taste when it comes to their desserts: they like them with reduced sugar compared to American desserts. Many desserts made by American and French bakeries are often cloyingly sweet-too intense for me. The thing is, we can adjust our taste buds to be able to appreciate sweet and salty flavors without overdoing our seasonings. Whenever I look up desserts recipes, I always adjust the sugar to 1/3 – ½ of what the recipe calls for. That usually gives me the perfect amount of sweetness without falling into a diabetic coma.

In California, May is not exactly the best month to enjoy fresh strawberries. This is the beginning of strawberry season, which means the berries are often more bland or sour. When I take a gamble and buy some fresh strawberries, I’m never sure what I’m going to get. Which is why I love having strawberry dessert recipes on hand so that I can repurpose the strawberries if they are not sweet enough on their own to eat by themselves. I often make strawberry jam from strawberries that are just under or past their peak ripeness. I come from a family that firmly believes in wasting as little as possible so we try to be resourceful when it comes to preserving our food and stretching it that extra mile.

The strawberry tiramisu recipe that I’ve prepared can easily be altered using other summer fruits, including blueberries, blackberries, peaches, or even mango. In writing this, I suddenly feel the urge to experiment with all these other fruits! Tiramisu can use different cream bases along with mascarpone. I personally love crème patisserie and anything custard-related really. So I combined crème patisserie with mascarpone to create a delicious pillow of creaminess to cushion the bite of the cake and tartness of strawberry. Hope you enjoy!

Cooking notes/tips:

When in doubt, always put less sugar than you think a recipe will need. You can always add more sugar, but you cannot take it away once it has been added. Think about the sweetness level of all your ingredients. I knew that the sponge cake I was using had a higher level of sugar, so I made sure to make my strawberry jam and crème patisserie/mascarpone cream mixture minimally sweet to create balance in this dessert.

Tiramisu is traditionally made with lady fingers, but prepared vanilla sponge cake or angel food cake can be wonderful substitutes.

I almost always make tiramisu the day before because you need time for the cake or lady fingers to soak up the flavorful liquid with which you have doused it.

Recipe
Serves 24
Cooking Time: 40 minutes
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 60 minutes

Ingredients
2 loaves sponge cake
3 egg yolks
6 eggs
4 cups 2% milk
¾ cup corn starch
¾ cup sugar
1 tbsp vanilla extract
3 containers (24 oz) mascarpone
5 lbs fresh strawberries
½ cup white sugar
3 cups whipping cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp powdered sugar

 

Directions

Strawberry Jam:

Wash strawberries and place in a large saucepan. Reserve 24 strawberries for decoration at the end. Add sugar. Turn on high heat and allow to boil and reduce for approximately 30 minutes. Stir occasionally. When liquid begins to reduce, lower heat to medium or medium-low. Continue simmering until jam begins to thicken.

Optional: use immersion blender to blend the chunks out of the jam

Allow to cool for approximately 20 minutes. Set aside.

 

Crème Patisserie:

Heat milk in a sauce pan

In a large mixing bowl, whisk eggs, egg yolks, sugar, and corn starch together.

When milk almost comes to a boil, slowly whisk milk into egg mixture, one ladle at a time. This will heat the egg mixture. After egg mixture has become warm, add the rest of the milk and whisk into egg mixture.

Return the mixture to saucepan and heat on medium until it thickens to the consistency of a thin pudding. Whisk constantly to prevent curdling of egg mixture.

When crème patisserie is at the desired consistency, immediately remove from heat. Continue whisking and add in vanilla extract and mascarpone.

Transfer to a large clean bowl. Pass through a sieve when transferring to the bowl to ensure a smooth mixture (or at least pass the mixture from the bottom of the sauce pan through the sieve to prevent clumps from getting in).

Cover with plastic wrap, allowing the plastic to make contact with the top of the crème patisserie. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

 

Tiramisu Assembly:

Find a large square or rectangular container that is at least 4 inches in height.

Cut sponge cake into ½ inch thick slices and place a thin layer of cake onto the container.

Spread a generous layer of strawberry jam on top of the cake layer.

Spread a generous layer of crème patisserie/mascarpone cream mixture on top of jam layer.

Repeat until there are at least 2 complete sets of layers. Top the last layer of crème patisserie with a generous layer of strawberry jam.

Refrigerate at least 2 hours.

Serve with fresh whipped cream and fresh strawberries. To prepare Chantilly cream, place whipping cream, powdered sugar, and vanilla extract into a mixer or mixing bowl. Whip for 3-5 minutes, or until soft peaks form on the cream.

Decorate to your heart’s content and enjoy with friends and family!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bourbon Caramel Sauce

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These past few months, my life has been taken over by planning and preparing for my 2 weddings. I am happy to say that my husband and I have successfully tied the knot and we had wonderful celebrations with our beloved friends and family. Now that it’s all done with, we have been trying to clean up after the storm, literally and figuratively. We’ve needed time to clear our minds and our apartment of all the items that were left from our weddings. And now that we are comfortably settled, I am happy to be posting recipes of food that I’ve been cooking for us once again. That being said, it felt appropriate to start with something sweet since everyone knows us as “The Sweeties” and we are in the honeymoon period of our marriage. I hope that this recipes helps to spread sweetness (but not diabetes; it’s all in portion control, people) to those who try it.

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One of my favorite Food Network stars is Sandra Lee. She hosted a show called “Semi-Home Made with Sandra Lee.” I loved how she was a realistic cook in knowing that very few people have time and energy to cook everything from scratch. Sometimes you need help from the store, but there are ways to play things up and to put your own spin on prepared foods. I made this bourbon caramel sauce to accompany brownies that were made from a Ghirardelli brownie mix. I also use this sauce to pour on top of my bourbon caramel bread pudding.

Without further ado, I hope you enjoy this recipe. Caramel is actually really easy to make at home if you have the know-how and a little bit of patience.

Cooking Tips

If possible, use a sauce pan that is lighter in color when you’re making caramel. Dark pans make it more difficult to tell if the sugar has gotten to the perfect level of caramelization, which is crucial for making a successful caramel.

Be VERY careful when making any candy because you need to heat sugar to very high temperatures to melt it. NEVER dip your finger in to have a taste when you’re making this sauce or any candy because you will burn yourself.

Do not use plastic cookingware (e.g., plastic ladle) to stir the caramel. It will melt and ruin your caramel and cookingware. Instead, use silicone or wooden spoons for the job.

Recipe

Servings: 4-6
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cooking Time: 20 minutes

Ingredients
2 cups sugar
1 cup heavy whipping cream
splash of Bourbon
1 tbsp butter
pinch of salt to taste

Place the sugar in a sauce pan and allow to heat on medium high heat. Allow the sugar to begin melting. If necessary, use a spoon to mix the remaining sugar crystals with the melted sugar for even melting.

Once sugar is all melted, turn fire to medium or medium-low heat and allow the sugar to slowly brown, approximately 3-7 minutes depending on your pan and stove settings. Watch very carefully.

Once sugar is light brown in color (the color of light brown sugar), immediately add in whipping cream. Slowly stir until the chunks of caramelized sugar have fully dissolved into the cream. Then add splash of Bourbon.

Continue stirring and cooking on medium heat until sauce just coats the back of a spoon or until it reaches its desired thickness. At the end of cooking, add in butter and salt to taste.

Allow to cool and then taste for seasoning. Add additional salt to taste.