Friday, May 30, 2014

Roast Pumpkin and Tomato and Feta Cheese Salad

This is the best salad I have had in a long, long time (made by my own hand).  Everything just meshes incredibly beautifully and perfectly and what makes me most happy is that I did not even really plan to make this salad this way, it just came together.

You will need:

a bunch of rocket or arugula, preferably some green with a little kick or bitterness
1 small or 1/2 big kabocha squash, otherwise known as Japanese pumpkin
feta cheese
cherry tomatoes
olives (if desired)
a few sprigs of thyme or a dash if using dried thyme
a few leaves of rosemary or a dash if using dried thyme
brown sugar
salt and pepper

I mean, look at that ingredients list - am I worse than an Italian grandma or what?  I obviously do not measure anything when I cook - and making salad can hardly be counted as cooking anyway.

Wash the squash thoroughly, scoop out the seeds, chop into 1 inch squares (or slightly bigger or slightly smaller depending on your preferences).  Toss in olive oil, brown sugar, thyme, rosemary, salt and pepper.  Plop the cubed squash onto a baking sheet.

Wash the tomatoes, halve.  Plop the tomatoes onto a baking sheet.

Roast both the squash and the tomatoes in the oven at 400 F for about 10-15 minutes.  The squash takes less time than you would expect. I was really surprised because I expected it to take a while, and nearly burned it all.  The tomatoes will take a while longer, depending on how close to "sundried" you like your tomatoes. 

While the squash is baking, wash the lettuce, dry with a salad spinner (invaluable kitchen tool, definitely in my top 10), chill.

Chop up the feta cheese (it will likely have come in a big block).

Once the tomatoes and squash have cooled, toss into the rocket along with the olives and feta.  Toss everything with your choice lemon or balsamic vinaigrette.  I dare you to try, just try, not to finish this in one setting!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Baking: Oatmeal Banana Muffins and Cookies

So I know it seems like all I ever bake are things with oatmeal and bananas.  Looking back on my baking posts, I am starting to think that that's the case.

This picture is from a while back - when I made a modified oatmeal and banana muffin with yogurt instead of oil. 
I have recently grown bolder with modifying recipes (let's face it, I was never meant to be a baker.  I am terrible at following instructions in recipes).  There are cooks and there are bakers, and I fall solidly in the cook camp. 

Where is the fun, after all, if you just follow the recipe to a tee?  It is likely that attitude that foreshadowed many a baking fail at my hands...

The recipe I used  kind of made up this time as I went along was:

  • 2½ cups old fashioned oats
  • ½ cup avocado and ½ cup vegetable oil (in lieu of 1 cup plain low fat Greek yogurt)
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ cup brown sugar (reduced from the suggested ¾ cup)
  • 1½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  •  1 tablespoon flax seeds
  • 2  ripe bananas (I estimated this as I was using a cup of frozen banana mush I happened to have on might have been more like 3 big bananas)

  • I try to use yogurt or applesauce instead of oil when cooking any kind of these baked goods, however, my yogurt had gone bad!  Being way too lazy to run out to buy more (that entails running up and down four very long flights of stairs, I'll have you know) I opted to use avocado as a substitute.  I did not want to use a full avocado because I figured the flavor would be too strong.  A good rule of thumb is to split the portion half and half, avocado with oil or some other mushy ingredient of your choice.
    This recipe is really easy to make.  You just dump everything into a bowl.  It does not matter the order of the dry ingredients or the wet ingredients.  The recipe I was looking at did not call for flax seeds, however, I am newly inspired to slip flax seeds into anything I can.  They are innocuous and flavorless and supposed to be-oh-so-good-for-you, especially if you are *arhem* irregular.

    Here, a nice half cup of gloopy green stuff.
     Are you scared yet?  Avocado in the baked goods!
    Technically when you are done mixing all of the ingredients together, you are supposed to put it in a blender or food processor and blend it until everything is chopped thin and smooth.  Lacking either of those kitchen utensils, I opted to just make a chewier, more texturized cookie. 

    When I ran out of silicone muffin cups, I plopped the batter down onto a cookie sheet and made cookies instead. 
     The end result was kind of like a mooffie  - the chewiness and heartiness of a muffin, in the shape of a cookie.  You can still see the tinge of green in these little monsters.

    Wednesday, May 28, 2014

    My New Business Card Holder

    I really like opals and pearls and mother of pearl (and, oh, while we're at it, emeralds and sapphires and diamonds and rhinestones and all kinds of baubles!) but I feel like they get a reputation for being a little staid, a little stuffy, or maybe a little tacky.
    But I couldn't resist.  I picked up this vintage cigarette case on etsy for my business cards (I must stay away from etsy... etsy is sooooo deliciously and terribly bad for me my wallet) and I love it.  It is so shiny!
    The case is in such good shape except for some minor spots inside (see picture below) that in a fit of paranoia I thought the seller lied to me about it being a vintage item.  However, it is made by Colibri, which I did not realize has quite a history, and it must be a bona fide cigarette case because Colibiri simply don't make much else  (I googled).  The spring is still nice and springy and the clasp tight and secure.
    Now I will be happy (and maybe slightly distracted by its dazzle) when I have to tote my business cards at networking functions or conferences.  The sparkly case will also hold a key or a credit card, should I wish to pack light as I mingle. 

    Wandering Around Wan Chai

    I stumbled upon the cutest little bunch of stores and galleries just off Star Street, Moon Street and Sun Street the other day while killing time before dinner in Wan Chai.  This area contains the perfect juxtaposition that I so relish here -- the almost decripit local buildings, exuding a melancholy air of mild neglect, with laundry and dirty tarps hanging haphazardly every which way, wedged cheek to cheek next to and above store fronts featuring panels of shiny glass, clean lines, elaborate metal and sleek tile. 


    Tuesday, May 27, 2014

    22 Ships

    This past weekend I finally went to eat at 22 Ships, a tapas restaurant, in Wan Chai.  I went with two girl friends (who also happen to be coworkers, but I feel like just describing them as coworkers is a little bit misleading).  Working in a small office full of men, the women feel a need to stick together (sometimes).  And these women are really great.  So, yeah, girl friends.

    We went to a "secret bar" (really just the adjoining room to Ham & Sherry, the bar across the street from the perpetually crowded 22 Ships) to wait for our number to be called.  The bar was too dark for good pictures to be taken, but I liked the school theme throughout.  The bar had a little yellow school bus perched next to the straws and napkins.  The drinks menu was in a school book labeled "Exercise Book" and was the kind with pictures and dotted lines to guide beginning penmanship.  When the bill came, it came in a report card.  Maybe a little kitschy, but in the dim recesses, with the little stools, and the very cool hidden entrance (nothing to indicate a door but a single light bulb and a rickety shelf perched outside), it all seemed to work.

    Dinner, when it finally (finally!) came, was pretty good.  Prices were high considering how small the dishes were, but it is Hong Kong and I was not surprised.  This is also the super swanky area of WanChai now that has changed a lot in recent years, popping up with all kinds of creative concept stores and high end restaurants.  So all in all it was in line with my expectations.  I would say that it is not a restaurant for large parties, due to its tiny space and refusal to accept reservations.  Everyone sits on bar stools and you are more likely to end up sitting next to your party than across or around, so this may be a restaurant best for date night.  It is definitely not a child friendly place!

    Because the restaurant made us wait so long (we suspected they gave away our seats to another party first), they offered us complimentary sangria and oysters.  The oysters… were okay.  I could have done without the green foam.  As with sushi, I prefer this kind of seafood unadulterated.  Just give me some shallot vinaigrette and lemon and I am set.

    Next came the tomato and buffalo mozzarella with micro greens and a red pepper aioli.  I did not realize there would be red pepper aioli, which kind of soured me on the whole thing.  I can't help it - not sure why but I have never been a fan of red pepper!  Otherwise, this dish was fine - good cheese and fresh tomatoes.
    Next came the hamachi (yellowtail) with pickled radish and micro greens.  This dish, I loved.  It was superb.  It had light, crisp, clean flavors balanced with pinpricks of tartness from the radish.  I kind of wanted to lick the plate. The drawback of tapas is that you can't have the whole dish to yourself!
    The next dish that came was the salt roasted beetroot with balsamic cream and malt nuggets.  There were pockets of basil aioli in there as well.  This dish was a marvel.  As someone who usually steers clear of cream and avoids beetroot if possible, I was not expecting to like this dish at all.  Thus the complexity of the flavors, the contrast of the lightness of the foam with the slippery softness of the beet and the hard, tough crunch of the nuggets, completely blew me away.  Thanks, 22 Ships, you have caused me to view beetroot and cream in an entirely new light!
     The next dish that came was ham and manchego in a lightly toasted sandwich with two little quail eggs on top.  Neither of my friends were eating the eggs, so I gobbled down both of them!  It is funny to eat quail eggs sunny side up because quail eggs are so small that it really looks and feels like you are eating dollhouse food.  This dish, while truly just a glorified grilled cheese, was very tasty.  The salty ham, the pungent cheese, the creamy yolk from the quail egg… what's not to love?
     The baby squid came next.  Again, with the red pepper aioli!  Doh.  I managed to avoid most of it though, as it was on the bottom.  The little pieces of salami made this dish.  The baby squid was also very tender.  I could not figure out what the black blobs were - I think it was the squid ink.  Very pretty presentation, right?
     The lamb shoulder was next.  It was braised lamb shoulder with cubes of sweet potato.  (Are you noticing, as I was by this point, that micro greens feature prominently at this restaurant?)  This one I could have skipped.  The meat was kind of tough and there was not enough sauce.  Basically it lacked "jus".

    Next were the grilled peppers with sea salt and pepper.  I do not think I will ever eat these peppers without thinking of Michael and I huddling over a tiny bowl of these perfectly fried peppers at a bar in Paris, avoiding the rain and trying not to get pushed around too much by boisterous tourists.  As you can see, they did a good job here blistering the skin and getting it to that meltingly soft texture.  Only complaint was that some of the bigger peppers were not sufficiently seared and were still bright green and crisp.  The little peppers are best because they get cooked so thoroughly.
    Final dish of the night was the sea bass with grilled artichoke and spring onion, paired with a garlic puree.  This was a great dish to end on as it left a good memory - the artichokes were amazing ( flavorful and tender) and the sea bass was cooked just right (not too raw, but not too tough).  The garlic puree was the perfect touch to a dish that otherwise would have been too light.
     I hated the wait and could have used barstools with backs, but overall I see the appeal of 22 Ships and would say that it is one of the better meals I have had in a western establishment in Hong Kong.  I could easily see myself coming back here (provided the wait time is much less)!

    Sunday, May 25, 2014

    Coral Manicure and Robin's Egg Blue Pedicure

    I have really been on a nail painting kick lately.  For someone who was not allowed to wear polish on her toes or hands until she was over 16 (my dad can be strict in weird ways), I was pretty interested in manicures, as a fun and exciting but forbidden activity.  Unlike my sister (who may have managed to sneak in a few manicures in subtle colors and claim innocently when questioned that "it is oil from eating with my hands") I was a goody goody and actually obeyed my dad's arcane and arbitrary rule.

    So, before 16, it was not allowed, and after 16, I ceased to care.  Funny how things happen like that. 

    Even in New York, the cheap manicure and pedicure capital of the US of A, I did not fall prey to time consuming and expensive (it adds up) habit.  But now... but now!

    Since moving to Hong Kong, I have really begun to relish this somewhat strange but oh-so-satisfying ritual of getting my nails done. Maybe it is because open toed shoes are possible here all the days of the year. Or maybe it's because I have taken a new shine to my hands and fingers, so I want them to be pretty. Or maybe it's because everyone here always has nice, fun, inspiring colors.  Or maybe it's because nail technology has advanced significantly, what with the advent of soft gel and shellac (rendering the polish longer lasting and immune to chipping and scratching). It's likely all of the above.

    Without further ado, I bring you my new coral pink manicure.  I did not really even try but they matched my outfit perfectly.

    I went for robin's egg blue on my toenails.  My camera makes them look almost neon but it really is just a bright blue. 
    Funnily enough, I couldn't make up my mind to get them both done at the same time, so I went with my friend to ManiPedi in Central to get the manicure, then got my pedicure at NailMe in Wanchai.

    Friday, May 23, 2014

    Biggest Blueberries Ever

    Wow.  I could not get over the size of these.  Are these blueberries genetically modified or what?  They are freaks of nature.  Think Driscoll has some 'splainin to do....

    But impressive size aside, they are still incredibly sweet and delicious.  I just don't know whether I should be frightened.

    Thursday, May 22, 2014

    Baking: Sometimes Butter is Best

    In for a penny, in for a pound, right?  My dirty dishes are stacked up so high that I figured there would be no harm in baking some more.  After this week of juicing, kale chips and yogurt (I came home last night and in a guilty frenzy dumped all of my white, processed sugar), I decided tonight would be the night to make...chocolate chip cookies.  With butter.  Because life without some indulgence and decadence is just no fun at all.

     I made one extra large cookie with the leftover batter.
     It's not the prettiest cookie, but it is kind of fun.  And it sure will be tasty.

    Wednesday, May 21, 2014

    Holy Moly, Kale Chips!!!

    How have I not made kale chips before??

    When I first heard the idea I knew it was something I would like.  Every recipe I vaguely heard made it sound like a really, really easy thing to make.  So why have I not made it until now?

    Wow.  I hope it's not bad to eat an entire bowl of this (like, is it possible to overdose on Vitamin A and Vitamin K, or something).  As soon as I popped my first batch out of the oven, I knew the chances were slim to none that I could make this last more than a night.

    Here is what you need to do:

    Preheat your oven to 275 degrees F.  I read a few different recipes and I think the lower temperature is better / doesn't burn your kale to a crisp.

    Remove the ribs from the kale, leaving 1 1/2 inch pieces (I approximated and cut some into 1 inch pieces, figuring more surface area meant more crispy bits, which I love).

    Toss with olive oil and any other topping of your choice, depending on how healthy you wish to be.  I opted for a light sprinkle of salt, pepper, cumin and chili pepper.  I think next time I will try a soy sauce and sesame "Asian" variation.

     Bake until crisp, turning the leaves halfway through if you wish.  I had mine in for about 20 minutes for my first batch and then nearly 35 minutes for my second (larger and wetter) batch.
    Pull out of the oven.  You're done!

    My first batch:

    My second batch:
    As you can see, my second batch was a little bit more baked.  You can experiment with how dry/crispy you like the kale (this may vary inversely with how impatient you are to get your hands on this said kale).

    Just try not to burn your greedy little fingers snatching these up from the baking sheet!

    Don't laugh - my plate not more than five minutes later: