Rice Congee with Fish

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Rice congee is a classic Chinese breakfast dish. People from all over China and Hong Kong eat this dish. It has even spread to Vietnam, Korea, and Cambodia, and many other Asian countries. It is essentially the oatmeal of the East. The only difference is that congee is cooked down until the rice almost loses all of its original structure, resulting in a thick but wet soup. Another major difference is that rice congee is often eaten as a savory item. It is either cooked with a protein and its broth or with just plain water, then served with pickled savory vegetables. Oftentimes, it is served with a savory long donut for dipping.

When I think of congee, 2 things come to mind: grandmothers and being sick. The latter is not the most pleasant of thoughts, I realize. I have fond memories of having a big bowl of congee made lovingly by one of my grandmothers when I was down with a cold/flu. It was a vehicle for them to convey the warmth and love in their hearts. One grandmother actually made plain white rice porridge for us every day, which led to an eventual aversion to rice congee for much of my adolescence. As an adult, I can now reconnect with my roots and appreciate congee for both its complexity and simplicity.

Some classic congees are: egg, chicken and ginger, fish and ginger, pork and thousand-year egg.

 

Cooking notes/tips:

Make sure that you have an excellent quality broth to cook with your congee, because that is the foundation of flavor. If you rely solely on MSG-filled canned chicken stock, your congee will not be as nutritious or delicious. I always have homemade chicken stock in my freezer because I boil chicken for my dog to eat. If you want to make your own stock, just add some chicken thighs, breast, or bones to a big pot of water and let it simmer for an hour or so, and you’re good to go!

To save time, I use a rice cooker to cook the rice down first, and then I add it to the broth to cook down on the stove. Having the rice do its initial cooking in the rice cooker means that you do not have to monitor or stir until you start cooking it on the stove.

Toppings are everything when it comes to congee. Having fresh green onion and cilantro (unless you are one of those people with a genetically determined aversion to it) is almost a must. If you have time to make the shallot oil, that would be even better. Adding this touch is something I learned from my brother-in-law’s family, who has Cambodian roots. I believe Chinese people tend to drizzle a tiny drop of sesame oil as a topping for their congee.

Recipe
Serves: 4
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 2.5-3 hours

 1 quart chicken broth (homemade preferred)
1 quart water
½ cup michiu (rice wine)
1 cup white Jasmine rice, washed
2 tilapia filets (or other white fish)
4 tbsp minced ginger
2 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp of white pepper
3 tbsp fish sauce or to taste
1 bunch green onion, finely chopped
1 bunch cilantro, finely chopped
2 tbsp oil
1 shallot, thinly sliced

Heat a large pot with water, chicken broth, and rice wine. Once water begins to boil and turn fire to medium low. Add in rice. Drop a metal or porcelain spoon into pot –this prevents sticking. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking.

Boil for 2 hours until rice begins to cook down, resulting in a thicker consistency. (a thick soup texture). Stir occasionally and scrape bottom of pot to prevent burning and sticking.

Cut fish into thin pieces (½ inch thick) and marinade with fish sauce and ginger. Allow to sit for at least 10 minutes, then add to porridge. Cook on low fire for another 10 minutes until fish has cooked through and porridge is at desired consistency (much wetter and thinner than cooked oatmeal). Add approximately 4 tbsp of fish sauce, or to taste. Add white pepper.

While porridge finishes cooking, heat 2 tbsp of oil in a pan and place shallots in the oil. Fry on low medium heat until golden brown. Set shallot oil aside for topping.

Spoon into individual bowls and garnish with fresh green onion, cilantro, and some shallot oil.

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

Tomato Cucumber Avocado Toast

868A05A6-5D3E-4EDA-B98D-747EF0092292 (1)I am a person with many unpopular opinions and preferences. For one, I dislike Hello Kitty. * Gasp* This one has always shocked my friends. I also dislike Disneyland because I feel that it is an over-commercialized theme park that drains honest working people of their money and creates a vicious cycle for parents and their children. How does this relate to my post for today? My last unpopular opinion that I dare to share is that I dislike most breakfast foods. It’s not that I hate eating in the morning; I just do not enjoy the super rich foods that are popular as American breakfast items: scrambled eggs, omelets, pancakes, sausages, breakfast burritos. For breakfast, I usually enjoy lunch/dinner foods. People often give me strange looks when they see what I bring for breakfast. Growing up in a Cantonese/Vietnamese family, breakfast was often a savory affair that consisted of whatever leftovers we had from the previous night. Or we would have rice porridge (i.e., congee) flavored with chicken, pork, and various herbs.

Anyway, I’ve had to re-think what I find acceptable for breakfast because it is not ideal to start the work day on an empty stomach. I am someone who experiences pretty extreme hanger (defined as anger precipitated by hunger). It would definitely not be ideal to snap at my coworkers just because I have sworn off most breakfast foods. I like simple foods for breakfast that are not overly heavy or rich, and importantly, do not take too much time to prepare. So, toast with different types of toppings is a perfect solution. I really enjoy the freshness that lime juice, tomatoes, and cucumber bring to this avocado toast. It makes breakfast feel lighter, while also providing adequate nutrition to start your day. Ironically, there is a running joke about Millennials and how much money we spend on avocados. Who knows if my extravagant spending on avocados will prevent me from ever being a home owner? But I do know this: I will be smiling in the mornings because of the satisfaction from eating this delicious and satisfying breakfast. And happiness is what life is all about, right?

 

Cooking Tips

This is a ridiculously simple recipe, so no, there are no “real” cooking tips for this specific dish. But I think that seasoning is so important for this dish because of its simplicity and “cleanness” of ingredients. I made sure to lightly season all the layers of veggies with a sprinkle of garlic salt to infuse the avocado toast with flavor. If you only season on top, the rest of the toast will be bland and then you will be hit with a wall of salt on the top. That is definitely not yummy, nor is it pleasant. So, with this dish as with others, season your components individually and then as whole. Always season along the way.

With certain dishes using cucumber, you would want to cut the cucumber in half length-wise and spoon out the seeds in the center. In this casual breakfast dish, feel free to leave the seeds in.

Recipe
Servings: 2
Prep Time: 5 minutes

Ingredients
2 slices whole wheat toast
½ avocado sliced
1 Persian cucumber, thinly sliced
1 Roma tomato, thinly sliced
squeeze of lime juice
pinch of garlic salt
pinch of fresh ground black pepper

Place toast in a toaster/toaster oven and allow to toast for 5-10 minutes at 300 degrees F.

Slice avocado, cucumber, and tomato thinly. Set aside.

When toast is golden brown and crispy, layer cucumber on and sprinkle sparingly with garlic salt. Then layer tomato and sprinkle sparingly with garlic salt. Lastly, top with avocado.

Add a little splash of fresh squeezed lime juice on top of avocado toast. Add a small sprinkle of garlic salt and fresh ground black pepper.

Enjoy!

 

Piña Colada Yogurt Parfait

IMG_8598.jpgDesserts! Er…I mean yogurt for breakfast! Let’s be honest, I have been craving cakes, desserts, and ice cream like mad lately because of my new healthy habits. Since they are not a regular part of my diet, I cannot justify having ice cream for breakfast. But luckily, I CAN have this piña colada yogurt for breakfast and it is every bit as satisfying, rich, and creamy as ice cream is. The trick is using full fat yogurt. Oh-my-goodness! I feel like I have been lied to all my life by Yoplait and their low-fat or non-fat corn-syrup-laden grossness. I have now completely boycotted flavored yogurts and now I will never turn back. Flavored yogurts are often filled with way too much sugar and lots of unnatural ingredients that I cannot pronounce. And the amazing thing is-you can make your own fruit flavored yogurt for a fraction of the sugar and calories, and it will taste even MORE delicious than that pre-packaged crap we are tricked into purchasing. Here’s something that I learned through my cooking experiments with sweets- there is a point at which we reach a sweet spot of tasting sweetness in our food. After that point, even if you add more sugar, it does not necessarily increase your satisfaction or even pleasure with the sweetness. Instead, it becomes overly sweet and cloying. Unfortunately, many of us have had our taste buds trained by the food industry to crave overly sweet foods. But don’t take my word for it. Give it a try yourself and sweeten your own foods to your liking and see if you can taste the difference.

Another bone I want to pick with the dairy industry is: why do you keep making everything low-fat or fat-free? We know you just fill all that emptiness with sugar instead. I have discovered full fat plain yogurt and I am NEVER going back. My goodness, the rich delicious flavor and mouth-feel are incomparable to any fat-free yogurt I’ve ever had to eat. The great news is that this delicious base becomes the canvas on which you can paint using the full palette of natural seasonings and fruits available, from vanilla extract to brown sugar, honey, and fruit. The world is your oyster. So, it is through this re-awakening of my love of yogurt that has inspired this piña colada yogurt parfait. It can be your breakfast, but seriously it makes a mean dessert if you are trying to avoid ice cream. Hope you give it a try and enjoy this easy yet delicious recipe!

Cooking notes/tips:

If you are making this yogurt parfait ahead of time, make sure to omit the pineapple until you serve. I’ve noticed that the pineapple emits bitterness throughout the yogurt when it is soaked in it for too long.

Always choose fresh-squeezed lemon and lime juice when you can, especially if you do not plan to heat up/cook your dish. You can really tell the difference in terms of freshness of flavor. Bottled juices are probably fine for marinades since there are many other flavors and you will be cooking the flavor out, but nothing can replace the zesty bite of freshly squeezed citrus!

Ingredients
1 cup full fat yogurt
½ cup chopped pineapple (frozen or fresh)
1 tbsp honey or brown sugar
1 tbsp unsweetened shredded coconut
pinch of lime zest
juice of ¼ lime

Directions
Mix ingredients together and serve cold! It’s that easy!

Adjust honey and brown sugar to taste. Or omit for a healthier yogurt dish.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cajun Shrimp & Grits

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I’ve recently noticed that the progression of life-relationships, career goals, family obligations, personal goals-leads to more and more tasks that occupy my time and energy. Playing back the video of my life, I’ve allowed my professional goals to call the shots throughout most of my early years. Granted, this choice was out of necessity as I was striving for self-improvement. But, as I reflect on how my life has been up until this point, I realize that I do not wish to be remembered only as a “good worker.” I want to live my life fully and spend my time engaging in activities that bring me joy, not just money and more lines on my resume. In my clinical work with older adults, I have learned invaluable lessons that many of us do not realize until we experience life-and-death situations or “wake-up calls.” These patients have taught me that later on when I reflect on how I’ve lived my life, I will never wish that I had worked more or that I had gotten better grades or purchased another car or house. Ironically, that is how many of us live our lives. My life has focused on getting the grade, adding another spot on my resume, getting the job, and reaching financial security. Most people expect mental health workers to have it all figured out and to have life perfectly in balance. The reality is that we are all struggling with figuring out our values and living a life that is consistent with those values. Knowing what I know about what brings people true happiness, I still get caught in the capitalist narrative like a hamster spinning on a wheel. Sometimes I’m not sure how to get off. That may be why I chose to start this food blog in the first place. It was finally a project for which I did not expect a grade or some kind of monetary or tangible return. It was something that I did for me. It is my way of expressing and sharing my love of the magic that can happen in the kitchen when you have a creative mind and inquisitive palate. Even now, I struggle to find time to post on this blog, but I am trying to make a commitment to be more consistent. So here is something that I made for a sunset picnic with my partner today. He and I have not had much time to ourselves lately, and I wanted to make our picnic extra special. So, my mind automatically went to comfort food.

Without further ado, here is my recipe for Cajun shrimp and grits. I remember eating delicious vibrant foods when I visited New Orleans. The loud, bombastic flavors tantalized my taste buds and left me satisfied and happy. I believe that THAT is the essence of comfort food. I wish I could make another trip to New Orleans or the South for some real southern food. Short of that, I opted to bring the South to me. Hope you enjoy this recipe for a Sunday brunch or decadent dinner.

Cooking tips:

Overcooking shrimp is a common kitchen mistake. It leaves the shrimp with a dry rubbery texture. For this dish, you only need to sear both sides quickly and then finish off the cooking in the sauce. That way the shrimp will not overcook.

When sautéing in butter, always add a splash of olive oil or other oil with a higher burning point. Butter burns at lower temperatures, which makes it unsuitable for sautéing or frying on its own.

Leek, garlic, and shallot are seafood’s friends! I use these aromatic veggies in almost all the Italian and Cajun seafood dishes that I make because its pairing takes away from the stench that seafood can exhibit.

As a shortcut for the grits, I bought pre-made polenta. Otherwise, cooking grits from scratch can take 45 mins to an hour. If you have the time, be my guest. =) But time-savers are always welcome in my kitchen.

 

Recipe

Serves 2
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes

½ lb Shrimp
Cajun rub (below)
½ lb shrimp
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp red pepper flake
½ cup thinly sliced leek
1 thinly sliced shallot
¼ red bell pepper, diced
¼ green bell pepper, diced
¼ onion, diced
1 bunch scallion, sliced
½ head garlic, minced
1 tsp flour
1 tbsp water

Cajun Rub
¼ c brown sugar
2 tbsp barbecue rub (½ tbsp cayenne pepper, ½ tbsp black pepper, 1 tsp salt, ½ tbsp garlic powder)
½ tbsp chipotle powder
½ tbsp garlic salt

Grits
1 cup pre-cooked polenta
2 cups low sodium chicken broth
½ cup heavy whipping cream
1 tbsp butter
½ cup grated white cheddar
salt to taste

Directions:

Grits
Heat chicken broth and polenta in a pot. Bring to a boil and then lower fire to low heat. Cook for 15 minutes until polenta has softened.

Then add cream and grated cheese. Mix well into grits. Use a handheld immersion blender to work out any clumps and ensure that the grits are smooth.

Continue cooking until the grits have thickened and the excess liquid has evaporated. The desired texture should be that of runny mashed potatoes. When your grits have reached this stage, check for seasonings and add salt to taste.

Shrimp
Devein, clean, and pat dry shrimp. Then mix with Cajun rub and set aside.

Heat a large skillet on high heat. Add in butter and oil. Then add aromatic vegetables: leek, shallot, garlic, red and green peppers, and onion. Add red pepper flake. Sauté and sweat until the vegetables have just softened. Remove from pan.

Add more butter and oil to the pan to sear shrimp. Sear shrimp until both sides are just golden brown and the inside is still uncooked. Add in sautéed aromatic vegetables and cook together for 1-2 minutes.

Then add ½ cup of water to deglaze the pan. Allow to cook for 2-3 minutes until the sauce reduces. Then mix flour with 1 tbsp water and work out any clumps. Add this mixture to the shrimp and cook until slightly thickened –another 1-2 minutes. Check for seasoning and add salt, pepper, and/or red pepper flake as needed.

Take off of heat and serve on top of grits.