≡ Menu

Paella: A Vegetarian One-Dish Feast

vegetarianpaella

Paella is traditionally meant to feed many. The Italians call it risotto, the Spanish, paella. There are similarities and differences, of course, such as the smoky paprika and saffron in paella, and the parmesan and creamy nature of risotto. [click to continue…]

{ 0 comments }

Summertime

Summertime-Party-Platter

“Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.” (Henry James, novelist)

Summertime comes and my three children remind me about the last week of school, counting down each day. Of course, for a working mother, the reminders aren’t necessary. Summer camp tuitions and what to make of those leftovers becomes tantamount to the payments due at the first of each month. As much as I am a positive-minded type, I feel the worry creeping into my mind, and pleasure, my dearest friend, goes under the covers to hide. I’m first out of bed and last to settle down for a mere handful of hours each night. Too many responsibilities, decisions, events. Dishes, laundry, doodads from dolls and toys strewn on the floor. An email box full of newsletters, bill reminders, intro offers for meditation programs, life coaching webinars, and suggestions on how to finally get organized are in between those invites to rooftop cocktail events to kick off the summer. Leftover boxes stack themselves into towers: take-out Chinese, take-out Thai noodles, sushi rolls in to-go containers, a mishmash of salsas in portable cups, hot chili sauce from the Vietnamese tofu rolls. The refrigerator can describe the goings-on of our lives in condiment jars, containers and genuine attempts to prepare homemade meals.

There have been phases. The wrap phase, where I make breakfast wraps in lavash bread, and sandwich wraps for lunch. The cold noodle phase, with tell-tale tahini jars full of my blended concoctions of lime juice, tahini, soy sauce, sesame oil and variations.

The best phase this summer has been the party platter phase. I can honestly say that making platters works for feeding many people, all with different tastes, without spending hours in the kitchen and calling it a bonafide meal. My teen son can eat anything and everything within a matter of minutes. My daughters each have their own likes and dislikes. One doesn’t want pepper, mustard, hummus, strawberries, or tomatoes. The other, my oldest girl, will eat those things, albeit sporadically, asking for avocado toast but eating half and claiming to be full. If I eat her leftovers, she’s fine with that. My love of bread and the intention to lose weight are at odds. The avocado toast isn’t pushed aside in these cases, and I make up for it by believing that bread is a necessary food group, eaten for centuries, and wasted upon the gluten-free. My collection of mustards, my penchant for olives and olive tapenade, all of the items can be gathered and made into a veritable feast. 

Stephanie-in-the-Japanese-Garden

Heat 

I had planned a garden, and began to plant what I could anytime I found a little time to spare, with whatever small amount I had in my wallet. A few cherry tomato plants in terracotta pots, some succulents along the path I made on the side of the house with found shells, Mexican beach pebbles, broken pavers that cost less than a dollar each. I had hoped to plant a full vegetable garden this year. Summertime is here. I missed the chance to plant in the spring since I moved into my house two and a half years ago. 

California weather is sunny, as we all know, but a few days ago there was a blaze of heat– 111F degrees is not balmy. The sun was a furious torch of relentless fire that completely scorched my newly planted sod. The jasmine vines were charred, as well as the herbs and bougainvillea, and the rosebushes were fried to a crisp. One day, one hundred eleven degrees. My grass looks like hay. I was quite pleased with my luscious carpet of green, even though it was decadent to invest in, and surely not drought resistant. Perhaps it was indulgent of me to want the green grass. Even the succulents were burned to a shriveled brown clump.

So I got out there in the morning with a paint brush and painted the ugly cinder block wall a deep forest green. It gives everything around it the illusion that there is more verdant greenery than there actually is. I’ll do anything I have to in order to make my garden a sanctuary of plants, leaves and flowers. My wooden table– the one you see in many of my food photos– is bleaching out with the direct sun rays on its surface every day. My props for food photography are usually the bleached wood table and the old wooden fence. 

Vietnamese summer rolls, Thai-style glass noodle salads, cold sesame noodles, and other dishes that don’t require heat, are on the menu at my house. Though the days have been unbearably long. I wake up around 5:30am and down a half-blended protein smoothie before the rigors of a bootcamp workout. Once I’ve sweated through a circuit of lunges, squats, tricep pushups, crunches, and other forms of physical torture, I’m ready for breakfast. Eating every two and a half hours was a prescribed concept by the trainers that eat for fuel. I’m an eat-for-pleasure type, and the eat-for-fuel approach has me questioning whether or not I can do this sort of thing. If only fuel could be grilled cheese sandwiches, we’d all be losing weight in no time. 

soft-tofu-crispy-bean

A Month of Tofu

I’ve eaten plain tofu with tamari soy sauce for a quick protein fix. I cannot say this is a highly sensual experience in the positive way, although I have enjoyed cold tofu with soy sauce before, as in the homemade tofu that is found in authentic Japanese restaurants– that tofu is sublime, not to be confused with the store-bought. One morning after a workout I tried vegan “eggs” which consisted mostly algal flour and algal protein. They were absolutely repulsive when cooked as “scrambled eggs” and tasted like slimy putty or spongy rubber, or both. I wasn’t sure if I could eat them, even after adding my own dash of this and that, such as Vietnamese curry powder, turmeric, sea salt and cayenne. It’s more like eating a science experiment of flavored play dough. The vegan cheese was gooey and reminded me of the time I stretched my childhood friend’s Stretch Armstrong action figure until the goo inside of its arms squished out. 

Needless to say, attempting to eat a training diet has been challenging. I’ve turned down tempting dinner invites and cocktail hours (no drinking while training) and did the usual dinner, dishes and laundry sort of evening, yawning by 9pm, and crawling under the covers before 10pm. Who have I become? 

The one dinner that shines in its flavorful glory was at a Chinese vegan restaurant for my birthday. I’m a June baby, and summertime is my favorite time of year—evenings are warm and sundresses become evening attire. This summer, tofu is elevated as the main course for my breakfast, lunch and dinner. I might as well have it made in ways that mimic the marvelous sort of degustatory delights. 

This restaurant (Vege Paradise in San Gabriel for those interested) serves plant-based versions of Chinese banquet food. The menu is mind-bogglingly tempting, especially when hungry and even more so when hungry and inquisitive. I asked the waitress for her suggestions, since there were many choices. She brought out a vegan “seafood” soup along with sautéed pea shoot leaves, mushrooms and basil with “kidney” and a sizzling platter of soft tofu in a lustrous amber-colored sauce, covered in crispy bean, which tasted sort of like crumbly pieces of seasoned pork. You might argue this and I don’t blame you. I’ve tasted bacon, pork, chicken, snake, and all kinds of things you wouldn’t expect a vegetarian to admit. To me, life without animal protein means discovering restaurants that serve vegan Chinese food. My romantic partner (and unswerving omnivore), Eddie, known for his extreme eating ways, loved the veggie “kidney” dish. He also swooned over the soft tofu with crispy bean platter. For a food critic of Eddie’s caliber to appreciate and enjoy the food (which is Taiwanese/Chinese Buddhist by origin), this is saying something about the quality. Also, Eddie is Taiwanese. I’ve reminded him of all the vegetarian-friendly restaurants that exist in Taiwan, and discovering Chinese food vegetarian style in our own city of Los Angeles is a second best to that (until we travel to his hometown of Taipei, of course. I’m sure his love of chicken feet and pig brains will be well satisfied). 

I’ve always loved veggies, so being a vegetarian for many (or most) years of my life (since I was a teenager) has been easy to do where I live. Los Angeles has a bevy of vegan and vegetarian restaurants, with raw vegan, vegan, gluten-free, vegetarian, plant-based organic eateries in every way imaginable: Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, Taiwanese, Mexican, Indian, and maybe Korean (only at the spa, not the BBQ places). However, where I falter in my plant-loving diet, at least when attempting vegan, is my love of eggs.

This month I am trying to get my protein sources from tofu, and although I appreciate the white jiggly stuff, I’m already over it as a daily meal. Tofu is transcendent as hiyayakko (cold tofu 冷奴), topped with katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes), green onions, grated ginger and season with a little bit of soy sauce. Vegan and vegetarian preferences can omit the bonito flakes. You can change the toppings with other condiments, but if the tofu is homemade and of good quality, you’ll enjoy the cold tofu anyway. There is a type of Japanese homemade tofu that is more like a creamy custard than a cube, silky enough to make the eyes roll back in pleasure.

Vegan-Ramen

I’ve eaten a vegan egg in a bowl of vegan ramen that surprised my senses delightfully. The chef, Ilan Hall, described his method of creating a vegan egg that looks and feels like the ajitsuke tamago—that perfectly soft-boiled egg marinated in a sweet-salty soy sauce. The ramen broth was unbelievably porky in flavor. The chef said the recipe for the vegan ramen broth happened by accident one night after making some other recipe that involved kombu and sunflower seeds. The sunflower seed risotto that Chef Hall made at his other restaurant was the catalyst for the vegan ramen idea. It begins with a mushroom dashi: cooked onions, roasted sunflower seeds, white miso, and nutritional yeast. The “eggs” are molecular gastronomy gone plant-based, using sodium alginate and some kind of mad scientist level cooking. 

Vegan-Yum-Woon-Sen-Noodles

 Cold Noodles 

When I was pregnant with my second child, I had cravings for the cold noodles at Mandarin Deli. They came to the table in a big serving bowl, slathered in sesame sauce and topped with cucumber slivers. At the time, I lived in an artist loft in downtown near Little Tokyo. The cold noodles became somewhat of an obsession with me. Ever since, that creamy sesame sauce has been my sort of comfort food. Anything to do with sesame— including those addictive little sesame balls we get in Chinatown— has me under its spell.

Cold noodles done Thai as spicy yum soon sen salads, Korean cold noodles in a icy soup. Summer is here, and they are easy to make. Busy days and no time to cook after work, picking up the kids, driving here and there. The Asian supermarkets carry every variety of rice noodle, sauce, sesame oil and seasoning, as well as herbs and veggies.

I have longed for leisure, quiet moments and naps. Eddie has been traveling much, and I’m declining invitations to dinners, mostly due to my deep craving for alone time and aversion to long drives in traffic, aside from wrangling childcare and playdate sleepover plans for my girls. My laptop, an aging MacBook Pro, is on its sixth year, sputtering along, now used for music and games, it has become our arcade and stereo system. I have to-do lists for other to-do lists, all sectioned in projects to tackle and ideas, then the household planners, the list for groceries. Sometime, perhaps one Sunday morning, I’ll find myself wandering to the farmers’ market for fresh ginger, basil, greens and vegetables to create a big bowl of cold noodles for lunch. It is possible I’ll take the day off and go to the beach. Cold sesame noodles make a good picnic basket meal with toes in the sand. 

 

 

 

 

{ 2 comments }

Tea & Chocolate

3teas3chocolates

Two of my favorite things, tea and chocolate, are paired together in a heavenly way. Palais des Thés offers their miniature set of three teas and three chocolate bars (from Valrhona chocolates) to give you a taste pairing that’s beyond genius.

Tea with dessert has been served for centuries, but mostly cookies and cakes. Certain teas are enhanced when savoring something that brings out their taste. Here’s a little bit more about pairing teas with sweets

No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. (Marcel Proust)

The literary reference to Proust and the Madeleine comes to mind when tea mixed and mingled with the taste of something else– cookie, cake, madeleine— and I think, if Proust had discovered the flavor combination of tea with chocolate, then maybe that crumbly madeleine might have been pushed aside for chocolate instead, n’est ce pas

Each tea is paired beautifully with a flavor complementing chocolate in the tea set as follows:

Grand Yunnan Impérial tea has a floral sweetness, called the “mocha of teas” because of its cocoa notes, paired with a taste of the floral dark chocolate Alpaco (66% dark Valrhona chocolate). 

palais-yunnan-chocolatePure Indulgence Pear, a Chinese Mao Feng green tea, has fresh fruity notes that enhance the flavors, as the essence of pear mingles in the mouth which brings out the vanilla and caramel in the chocolate. 

palais-pear-tea-chocolate

Thé du Hammam is an enchanting tea with fruity and floral notes that pair with the delicate creamy taste of Opalys 33% white chocolate. 

PalaisDesThesHammam-WhiteChocolate

 

I know I got a little link happy in this post, but I thought you’d enjoy discovering these tea blends paired with chocolates as much as I did. Side note: when I took photos of the teas and chocolates for this post, I was tormented by a squirrel. My backyard photography “studio” for these images was a wooden gate that I use as a tabletop, placed underneath my orange tree. I was lucky to have an overcast day in which to shoot and wanted to take advantage of the light. The menacing squirrel wanted the chocolates (I’m assuming) and would not leave me alone. As I attempted to focus my camera and carefully set up each shot, the rustle of the branches above startled me into shrieking and cursing at the pesky creature. See, everyone wants tea and chocolate together, including squirrels. 

 

 

 

{ 0 comments }

Adagio in the Afternoon {tea review}

Adagio-Tea-Almond-Oolong

“Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world earth revolves — slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future.” — Thich Nhat Hanh 

There are tea lovers and coffee lovers, just as there are those who prefer mustard to ketchup, or soba noodles to udon. Yet, tea flourishes in an age where drive-thru lattes can be had at any early or late hour. The art of tea is timeless. 

The thick froth
Lustrous like freshly fallen snow,
And resplendent like the spring’s blossom.
~Du Yü, “Ode to Tea”

I’ve loved tea since childhood; I was raised by my very proper British grandmother who poured Darjeeling at tea time (and other various English teas) along with shortbread cookies and tea biscuits. I’ve made attempts to drink coffee in this latte obsessed city, but there’s nothing that can sway me away from a good cup of tea. Tea houses in the Chinese neighborhoods are the best places to have tea in Los Angeles (there’s a plentitude of teas offered) but aside from going out for a pot, making tea at home is best. Besides, you can stay in your pajamas and snuggle up with a good book while sipping slowly. 

“I say let the world go to hell, but I should always have my tea.”― Dostoyevsky

I’m quite particular about my tea. I do love black tea the most, with almond milk and a spoonful of honey, though half and half and a heaping spoonful of brown sugar is how I grew up drinking it. My tea cabinet is packed full with many varieties, and soon my pantry may be taken over by tea rather than kitchen staples. But it doesn’t matter how much tea I have at home, there’s a curiosity about different types of tea that will always appeal to the sensualist in me.

TeaCup-Adagio

A package of Adagio teas arrived on my doorstep with samples of a few types of black and green teas. It wasn’t long before the kettle was whistling and I poured a teapot full. My two girls were excited to taste the different blends and have a tea party. We all decided that almond oolong was perfect to pair with macarons I had saved in the fridge just for the occasion. 

Adagio-Tea-Macarons

 The almond oolong tea steeped beautifully in my favorite Chinese teapot. The scent of almond tea awakened with each sip, as the depth of flavor grew richer and more fragrantly pleasing. Nutty with a marzipan aroma, the fruity floral Taiwanese tea delighted my daughters, as they asked if they could have more once they finished the pot. 

Darjeeling is one of my favored tea choices, so the name Ooooh Darjeeling caught my eye. A rare oolong tea from India, its fruity/floral notes finish smoothly without growing bitter as it steeps. It has a smoky aroma that hints at cardamom, yet it remains light and delicately pungent. This tea has an earthy complexity. Darjeeling is typically served as an afternoon tea.

The Black Dragon Pearls are hand-rolled into tea “pearls” which open up and fill the teapot with the aroma of chocolate mingled with an earthy Yunnan black tea. This was the perfect cup for early morning. As my son enjoyed it while readying for the day, he commented on how good it was (teenage boys don’t tend to remark about their morning cup of tea). I made another pot of the Black Dragon tea and understood why— cocoa fragrance, smooth taste, paired well with a non-dairy cashew creamer. 

Pu-erh Hazelberry tea was a great choice for a sample taste, since most pu-erh tend to vary depending on its age and stage of fermentation. The younger pu-erh can be bitter, but this fruity and nutty tea has top notes of strawberry and cream which layers so deliciously together with the hazelnut and enchants without any cloying sweetness. 

Adagio’s Jasmine Pearls are a new household favorite in my kitchen tea arsenal. This is a green tea from the Fujian province of China. The tea is infused with night-blooming jasmine essence in a process that takes twelve nights of the flowering blossoms to perfume the green tea leaves. I’ve enjoyed the tea by placing a tea bag inside a teapot and shared it rather than in a single tea cup alone. There is something poetic about the way this tea is prepared, and it has an aphrodisiac effect upon lovers. I’m not suggesting that the strength of the jasmine pearl tea is an outright love potion, but do not underestimate its effects upon inspiring romantic moments (or bursts of creativity). It has enough caffeine in the right sense to induce a euphoric state, and one that improves mental clarity rather than inducing dreaminess. 

 Tea is a divine herb. ~Xu Guangqi

This post was generously sponsored by Adagio Teas. Ordering was easy and pleasant to do (I nearly ordered enough tea to fill my kitchen pantry… I do love tea that much). I was quite surprised at how quickly my order arrived— possibly the best online ordering experience I’ve ever had. You will find exceptional tea at reasonable pricing available through Adagio teas. 

{ 3 comments }

Monets-Roasted-Carrot-Soup

Impressionist painter Claude Monet’s cook, Marguerite, used carrots grown in the Monet home garden within many of the dishes served at the artist’s dining table. Since discovering the cookbook Monet’s Palate, I made a recent jaunt to my local farmers’ market, gathering handfuls of carrots to make this soup.

I imagined how this soup would be prepared from Monet’s kitchen garden at his home in Giverny, as the weight of many bunches of carrots selected and placed into my canvas bag pulled upon my shoulder. The bag grew heavier after some fragrant spring leeks were added, a large bunch of celery still covered in mud, and other items I couldn’t resist buying. I went home, washed off the soil from the carrots and prepared them for roasting. Soon the sweet earthy aroma of roasted vegetables filled my kitchen.

In the cookbook, details of Monet’s kitchen garden are explained; which vegetables he preferred (zucchini squash –or courgette— and celery, to name a few favorites) and how he enjoyed his salad greens (“Merveille de Quatre Saisons” head lettuce with red-tinted leaves and a buttery heart, and “Paresseux de Castillon” spinach) heavily seasoned with black pepper. Monet’s kitchen garden was a sprawling 2 1/2 acres. Among the variety of vegetables planted, there were fruit trees, lettuces, herbs, melons, onions, leeks, beans, artichoke, rhubarb, and vegetables with unusual colors “to satisfy his colorist’s eye.” Carrots in Monet’s garden were the deep orange ‘Scarlet Nantes’ variety that dates back to the 1850s and the spike-shaped ‘St. Valery’ which dates back to 1885.

This carrot soup comes alive with ginger, cumin, and coriander, however, the toasted almonds add another dimension to its flavor. When making this soup, adjust the ginger and cumin to your liking, and for my own version at home, I used a sweet potato in place of the suggested baking potato, omitting the honey, adding a dollop of crème fraîche to garnish. If presenting this soup as an entirely vegan recipe, a cashew-based crème fraîche would work quite nicely.

Monet’s Palate Cookbook is full of inspiring and lively French recipes, many of which are vegetarian, or can be adapted as vegan and vegetarian, as the current culinary trends are parallel to Monet’s farm-to-table rustic home cooking described within his family’s cooking journals. From the cookbook: This soup, while still easy to make, is a bit more exotic in taste than a traditional French recipe. Roasting the carrots brings out their inherent sweetness; the addition of garlic, ginger and cumin adds an earthy depth of flavor; and fresh-from-the-garden coriander, also known as cilantro, adds brightness.

Serve this as a vegan lunch or a warm, nourishing bowl before your main course for dinner.

Roasted Carrot Soup with Ginger, Cumin, Coriander and Toasted Almonds

2 pounds (900 g) carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 celery stalk, diced
1 onion, diced
1 large baking potato, peeled and diced (cook’s note: I used 1 sweet potato)
5 whole garlic cloves, peeled
1 tablespoon peeled and chopped fresh ginger
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons (30 ml) extra virgin olive oil
3 cups (720 ml) low-sodium vegetable broth or stock
1 cup (240 ml) water
2 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander (or cilantro), divided
1 tablespoon (20 g) honey (optional)
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup shredded peeled carrots
1/4 cup (30 g) toasted slivered almonds

Place carrots, celery, onion, potato, garlic, ginger and cumin in a roasting pan or on a large rimmed baking sheet. Add olive oil and toss well. Roast until vegetables are tender and lightly caramelized, 35 to 45 minutes.

Transfer vegetables to a large pot. Stir in broth, water, 1 tablespoon coriander, honey, sea salt and pepper and bring to boil. Remove from heat and cool slightly.

Using an immersion blender (or a high speed blender), puree soup until smooth. Adjust seasoning with additional sea salt and pepper.

Return soup to heat. Add shredded carrots and stir thoroughly.

Ladle soup into bowls. Garnish each bowl with a bit of remaining coriander and toasted almonds. Serve immediately.

{ 0 comments }