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!

 

Realistic Pita Pizzas

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Wow, I can’t believe it has been over a month since I last posted. Life has felt like a whirlwind this past month. Starting a new job, adjusting to my role, and finding a way to take care of my patients while also finding time to care for myself and those that I love, including my wonderful dog son Benji and my fiance.

Thus, for Thanksgiving this year, I had to tackle some smaller and more time-friendly dishes. Although it would have been lovely to post a lavish Thanksgiving spread, I had to be realistic. As luck would have it, I caught a cold yesterday, right as I was entering into 4 days of time off from work and Thanksgiving festivities. But, as I’ve learned from the patients that I care for, we have to roll with life’s punches. Many things in life are out of our control and many situations are not easily changed just because we will them to change. So, in sitting with acceptance of everything- the fact that I have not yet gained mastery of my new work role, the fact that I came down with a cold at the most inconvenient of times, the fact that my lower and upper back have now decided to act up-I had to recognize that I will not be able to pour my heart out into elaborate and traditional Thanksgiving dishes that would razzle dazzle.

Instead, I’ve prepared something that I had to cook in my real life out of a desperate attempt to provide delicious food to my loved ones without casting me over the edge of exhaustion and overwork. I hope that this pita pizza will also help you out when you find yourself reeling from the multitude of responsibilities that have fallen upon your lap and dinner/lunch still needs to be made. This recipe is all about “making it work” and doing just enough to get by. It is a compromise because life is all about making little sacrifices here and there to make room for other things that are important in our lives. Although cooking and sharing cooking tips is a really important part of my life, it has had to take a backseat for the past month and half due to my other roles and responsibilities. But, the most important thing is that I want to keep posting. I want to continue expressing myself and sharing in this way, so I’ve found a way to get back to it. Just in a smaller capacity than I had originally planned. That is how I create balance in my life and I have to accept that some things will not be as perfect as I wish them to be.

Servings: 4
Cooking Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients
4 pita pockets
1 can tomato sauce
1 tsp olive oil
2 Italian hot sausages
1/4 cup onion, sliced
1 sprig green onion, chopped
1 cup whole milk mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup whole milk ricotta cheese

Directions

Heat skillet on medium high and place in sausage. Cook until browned, breaking up sausage into little pieces. Remove when cooked. In the same pan, add in sliced onion. Cook on medium-low heat until caramelized and golden brown. Stir occasionally for even cooking.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit

Assemble pizza: spread sauce onto pita and place cooked sausage, caramelized onion, and green onion. Top with generous layer of mozzarella cheese and evenly drop dollops of ricotta cheese on top.

Bake in oven for 10-15 minutes or until golden brown. Depending your oven, the underside may become brown first. To brown the top, simply turn on your broiler for about 30 seconds – 1 minute and watch carefully until the top has browned. Otherwise, the pizza will burn.

Enjoy and Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

 

Chicken Breasts in Creamy Marsala Wine Sauce and Cremini Mushrooms

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As I continue on my fat loss journey, I’ve been challenged to find filling and fulfilling delicious foods that are not packed with fat and carbs. I’ve grown up with a certain expectation at every meal: a big hunk of meat, a big pile of starch (rice, potato, or pasta), and a small bunch of veggies. Needless to say, changing to a low-grain diet can be challenging because you often feel dissatisfied and that something is lacking. Moreover, fit meals often showcase boiled and bland chicken and fish. I’m sorry- I was born a food lover and I refuse to limit myself to these unappetizing options. If I subsisted on these options, I would be either miserable or cheating on my diet all the time. So, in the spirit of sustainable lifestyle changes to my eating, I have accepted that I cannot have a grain with every meal and have the body that I want. Thanks a lot, powers that be! But just because I cannot pile my plate full of delicious Jasmine rice and fluffy mashed potatoes during every meal does not mean that I cannot enjoy the foods that WILL nourish my body and keep it lean. And I fully intend to continue enjoying my meals. So I’ve had to be a bit creative in how I prepare my food to keep it interesting and appetizing. Otherwise, I’ll be on my way to an In-n-Out drive through faster than you can say “screw it!”

Chicken breast is a staple of any American household, and it is the usual suspect when it comes to protein sources for people trying to stay fit. Unfortunately, due to its low fat content, it is easily overcooked, leaving it rubbery and unpalatable. The solutions? Don’t overcook it and add a sauce! Usually cream sauces are full of saturated fat. I opted to use Laughing Cow cheese as a base for this sauce, a trick I learned from The Hungry Girl. That woman is a genius. I also used a bit of water mixed with flour as a thickening agent so that my sauce turned out velvety and rich.

Cooking Tips

-Low on time? Slice your chicken breast thinly to ensure even and fast cooking.

-substitute laughing cow cheese as the base of heavy cream-based sauces; add flour + water mixture to thicken

-when making any meat dish with a sauce, make sure to barely undercook the meat when you are searing. The meat can finish cooking in the sauce. If you cook thoroughly during searing and then cook in the sauce, you will have an overcooked rubbery piece of meat.

-when in doubt, do not overcrowd the pan when searing anything. You will end up with a steamy mess instead of the golden brown crust you are trying to achieve. Also, do NOT flip/turn the meat until you are sure the golden brown crust has formed. This will also leave you with steamed instead of seared food (Same thing applies when you are going to eat out at an AYCE Korean BBQ place. Just sayin….)

 

Recipe
Servings: 4-6
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 15 minutes

 

Ingredients
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, sliced into medallions
2 packages cremini (baby Portobello) mushrooms
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 shallots, sliced
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
1 tsp garlic salt
1 tbsp black pepper
1 cup Marsala wine
2 wedges of original Laughing Cow cheese
1 cup grated Parmigianno Reggiano
1 tbsp flour
2 tbsp water
1 bunch chopped parsley

Season chicken breast slices with garlic salt and pepper. Let sit for about 10 minutes while you prep (chop) other ingredients.

Heat a skillet on high heat and add olive oil. Sear chicken breast pieces and place onto a plate when they are done searing.

Using the same pan, add butter, garlic, and shallot along with sliced cremini mushrooms. Sauté until mushrooms have become golden brown. Add Marsala wine to de-glaze pan. Cook for 1-2 minutes.

Add in seared chicken to the pan along with mushroom mixture. Add Laughing Cow wedges, and Parmigianno Reggiano. Turn heat to medium and allow sauce to reduce.

Mix flour with cold water thoroughly until all lumps have dissolved. Add flour water mixture to the chicken and continue cooking until the sauce has thickened. Taste for seasoning and add salt, pepper, red pepper flake, and Parmigianno Reggiano to taste.

Lastly, top with generous amounts of chopped parsley and serve. Enjoy!

Vegan Basil Almond Pesto

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Before you click “x” out of this blog, give me a chance to explain. Just because the name of this recipe has the word “vegan” in it, doesn’t mean this recipe is necessarily meant to be healthy. My version of pesto leaves out Parmigianino Reggiano, not out of a vendetta against cheese and dairy. I adore pesto recipes that include this amazingly full-bodied and complex cheese. The only issue is I typically do not have good quality Parmigianino Reggiano on hand. As a resourceful cook, I try to make do with what I have. I think it builds creativity and problem solving skills when you have to whip something up in a pinch using only the ingredients that are already in your kitchen. Try it out. You’d be surprised what you come up with! That is how this pesto recipe came about: I used what was available and ended up with something quite delicious.

Summertime brings about one of my favorite food seasons-I love the basil, the tomatoes, the berries, the melons….oh my goodness, the sweet sweet nectar of perfectly ripe yellow fuzzy peaches. Summertime usually means grilling, salads, and all things fresh to contrast the hot weather. Tonight for dinner I made a simple appetizer comprised of ooey gooey burrata cheese, splashed with balsamic vinegar, and served with heirloom baby tomatoes and my homemade pesto. That is going to the star of this post. I love love love pesto of all kinds, but my favorite is the Genovese style basil one. Traditional pesto uses pine nuts as the nut of choice. However, pine nuts are considerably more expensive than almonds, walnuts, and other nuts that I tend to have in my pantry. My version is a variation of the traditional basil pesto.

Cooking Notes/Tips:

I hate it when my pesto turns brown due to oxidation from exposure to air. A quick tip is that I use a good splash of lemon juice in my pesto recipe to prevent browning. Not only does the lemon juice preserve the vibrant green color of the basil, it also adds a note of brightness that uplifts the pesto and rounds out its symphony of flavors.

I would advise against cooking the pesto or heating it up because that also threatens the integrity of the delicate basil. If you’d like to mix it into pasta, I’d recommend tossing the pesto with the pasta in a cool bowl, or drop it into your pan for a quick few seconds before serving. To me, there is nothing worse than oxidized pesto. Yuck!

Since making pesto creates such a mess in my kitchen, I like to make this stuff in larger batches. Place into a sealed container and cover with saran wrap. Place it in your freezer and you’ll always have pesto ready to go for yummy Italian recipes.

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Suggested uses: You can add pesto to your pasta, use it as a base for a vinaigrette, mix it with mayonnaise to create a delicious aioli, serve it with fresh tomatoes on bruschetta, spread it with your favorite soft cheese, or just eat it by the spoonful.

 

Ingredients
2 cups fresh basil leaves
2 cloves fresh garlic
juice of ½ small lemon
1 cup toasted almonds
½ c olive oil
salt & pepper to taste

 

Directions

  1. Place basil, garlic, lemon juice, almonds, and olive oil into a food processor and allow the mixture to blend until it becomes a smooth paste. You may need to mix things up with a spoon to get the mixture going.
  2. Drizzle more oil if necessary
  3. Season with salt and pepper to taste