Delicious and healthy recipes, cooking tips, international cuisine, and anything related to food and the culinary arts...

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Making Vietnamese Style Beef Soup

Vietnamese style beef soup

Vietnamese style beef soup is a healthy addition to your meal. You can enjoy it from the comfort of your own home without having to go to a Vietnamese restaurant.

To make the Vietnamese style beef soup you will need three different stocks - vegetable, shrimp, and beef. You can make them simultaneously but you will need three pots. If you don't have three pots you can make them one after the other. But if you do that make sure to rinse the pot each time.

To make the vegetable stock:

Add the following ingredients to a pot filled with water - medium onion, large carrot, few stalks of celery and some Napa cabbage leaves. Add sea salt and place over medium heat. When the water comes to a boil simmer for about 40 minutes. Once done, remove the vegetables from the pot. You can discard the onion but keep the rest of the veggies for the soup. If you feel they are too soft you can throw them away and add fresh ones when you eat the soup but keep in mind that carrots and celery won't be soft.

To make the shrimp stock:

Take shrimp in its shell (at least 1/2 a pound), wash it and place into a pot filled with water. Cook the shrimp until it turns pink. When done remove the shrimp onto a bowl. Remove the shells from the shrimp, place back into the pot of water and let it cook a little bit more to bring in more flavor to the stock. When done remove the shells from the pot. You can use a skimmer to do that or drain through a colander. 

To make the beef stock:

Take a handful of thin slices of beef fat, rinse under running water and place into a pot of water. When the pot comes to a boil cook the beef fat for about 4 minutes.

To make the soup:

Combine the three different stocks in a large pot. Add the cooked slices of beef fat, and the cooked shrimp. Then add slices of carrot, Napa cabbage and celery - from the stock and/or fresh ones. Stir everything. Add some sea salt if you think the soup needs more salt. Then heat and enjoy!

You can also add some Enoki mushrooms. Before adding the Enoki mushrooms to the soup you need to cut off about an inch from the bottom of the stem, separate the strands and rinse under running water. Enoki mushrooms can be eaten raw so you don't have to cook them but they are a bit hard. To soften them, simply add them to the soup when you are heating it up on the stove. If you prefer you can place them into boiled water, cover, and hold for about 3 minutes, then drain, before adding them to the soup. This will make them softer.  

Monday, April 22, 2013

Making Baked Eggplant Boats for a Cooking Contest

I was a member of a cooking group on Facebook where people share interesting, delicious recipes and recipe photos with others that love to cook. Every week there is a cooking competition where participants must create a dish that has a secret ingredient that is chosen by the previous week's competition's winner. The photo of the end product (the prepared/served dish) must be submitted to the competition along with the name of the dish and what ingredients go into it. Once all the entries are submitted the admin of the group posts all the photos (without mentioning the chef's name) and members are asked to Like their favorites. The photo with the most Likes wins. No actual prizes are awarded but the winner gets to choose the secret ingredient for the following week's competition and his recipe photo is displayed as the cover image of the group for one week.

I had never entered the competition before but after hearing that the secret ingredient would be eggplant I became inspired to enter. After pondering about what new dish to create I came up with an idea of doing baking stuffed eggplant and called the dish baked eggplant boats, which I thought was very creative since the eggplant resembles a boat shape-wise. I already had eggplant in the fridge waiting to be cooked and I already had other ingredients that I could use for stuffing. There was no need to go shopping, which saved me time. 

The ingredients I used for the stuffing included eggplant (of course), red bell pepper, carrots, onions, Kumato tomato, Enoki mushrooms, Basmati Rice, dried basil, Ketchup/Aji Mirin mixture and a mix of four shredded cheeses (Mozzarella, Monterey Jack, Cheddar, Parmesan). 

It was fun making this dish and also challenging at the same time as the most important part of the recipe was to remove the flesh from the eggplant so that I could stuff the shell with all these great ingredients. I had never done this before so it took a bit of time to get this done so as not to break the eggplant shell or make holes in it. After finally mastering this step everything else that followed in the recipe was a breeze. It still took a fair amount of time though but that was okay. I couldn't wait to try the end product and to present it in a beautiful way on a plate for the competition. 

I used two eggplants for this recipe that were medium-sized. After I removed the flesh from the eggplant, made the stuffing and placed it inside the eggplant shells along with the four shredded cheeses I popped the tray in the oven at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for about 25 minutes or so. Once done cooking I turned off the oven and removed the tray onto the table. To create the competition photo I used two halves of the eggplant and laid them out on a square plate, putting a bunch of Chinese basil leaves in between them and garnishing the plate with crushed dried parsley flakes. 

Baked eggplant boats stuffed with Basmati Rice,
eggplant, Enoki mushrooms, Kumato tomato, onions,
organic carrot, red bell pepper, and four shredded cheeses
(Mozzarella, Monterey Jack, Cheddar, Parmesan)

For the full recipe including instructions and recipe photos head to this link: Baked Eggplant Boats.

After I laid the eggplant out for the photo and snapped one, I dived right in and found myself in heaven. The baked eggplant tasted so good that I ate one whole half of the eggplant in one sitting. I was so happy that the dish turned out delicious (especially since it was my first time making it) and was excited to enter it into the competition.

The deadline for the submissions was Sunday 10pm. I emailed mine on Thursday. I waited to get a reply email letting me know that the submission was received but never got any email. At first I thought about emailing them to see if they got my submission but then I thought that perhaps they don't reply to submission emails so did nothing about it. On Sunday, when less than an hour was left to submit recipe photos I decided to ask if mine was received just to be sure. Their reply was no. I couldn't believe it. After I had spent so much time preparing this dish and working on its presentation the last thing I wanted was to not be a part of the competition. After communicating back and forth with the admins of the group and resending them my submission it turned out that my email was in SPAM. Out of everyone else's entries mine was the only one that made it into spam, which frustrated me big time. Why the heck was it in spam? I certainly wasn't spamming anyone! Thank God I asked the admins if my submission was received. Had I not asked the them about it I would have never been part of this competition, which would have been quite a disappointment. Turns out they do reply to submission emails, so from now I know that if I take part in this competition again but don't receive a reply email that means my email never went through or went straight into spam. I hope that doesn't happen again!. 

I will not lie, I was so sure I would be the winner of that week's competition. I envisioned my recipe photo being displayed for all to see as the group's cover image. I imagined all the praise comments and likes I would get and lots of people asking for my recipe. In the end though my dish didn't win, getting only about 59 Likes. But people wanted to know my recipe, which made me feel proud. 

The dish that won had double the amount of Likes. I was bummed that I didn't win but was still proud of myself for entering the competition and for creating something new and delicious that I know I will be making again and that others want to make too. 

After finding out that I lost to someone whose dish (a set of three separate dishes in one) was made from recipes Googled online instead of being made from the chef's own imagination/creativity, which was revealed only after the dish had won, I became pissed off big time. It is unfair to the other participants when one of them enters the competition by Googling recipes online instead of creating ones from his/her head even if they are slightly altered. They should be disqualified from the competition if they do that. But I guess in this group entering someone else's recipes into the competition is allowed.

Learning that the winner "cheated" left me with no desire ever to compete again if I would be up against people like that. But I have changed my mind. I will enter again, if the secret ingredient will inspire me. I want people to see my creations and to hopefully try creating them on their own. I am not a professional chef, in that I don't do this for a living, but I do have the talent and the passion for cooking and I want to showcase it to the world. No one can take that opportunity away from me, not even those whose creativity means going online and Googling recipes, and then making them. That's considered "cheating", even if it doesn't seem that way to those doing it and shouldn't be allowed in competitions. 

Monday, April 15, 2013

Enjoy a Delicious Bowl of Farina Creamy Hot Wheat Cereal

You don't have to be a kid to enjoy a delicious bowl of Farina creamy hot wheat cereal. It is delicious, filling, and comforting too. This is one of my favorite breakfast foods and I never get tired of eating it. Sometimes I even have it for supper.

Making a delicious bowl of Farina creamy hot wheat cereal, to enjoy in the morning or even at supper time, is not difficult whatsoever. All you need is an eight ounce glass of (organic) milk, three tablespoons of Farina creamy hot wheat cereal, a pinch of sea salt, a tablespoon of sugar and some butter. 

Take a bowl and mix the Farina creamy hot wheat cereal with a tablespoon of sugar and a pinch of salt. Then pour the milk into a pot, stir in the Farina creamy hot wheat cereal and place over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Bring the pot to a boil and then lower the heat, letting the mixture thicken. Keep on stirring it occasionally so it doesn't stick to the pot or form into clumps. When done, turn off the heat and remove the contents onto a bowl. Add some butter, whether already melted or from the fridge, and stir. Enjoy!

You can eat Farina creamy hot wheat cereal as is, or you can liven it up, as I do, by adding some roasted sesame seeds and some dried or fresh berries. For an even greater variety, I sometimes add slices of fried Mortadella to it and perhaps even some fried onions. Of course when I do that I leave out the berries. :) It tastes great and I love it every time.

Farina creamy hot wheat cereal with melted butter,
roasted sesame seeds and dried berries -
wild blueberries, strawberries, Zante currants,
montmorency cherries

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Making Homemade Pizza

I never thought I'd be making homemade pizza because I thought it was a very complicated process and that it involved making my own pizza dough that I didn't know how to do as I had never done it before. After my uncle told me about the pizza that he made at home, how delicious it was, and how easy it was to make I decided to make one myself using some of my favorite ingredients - Crimini mushrooms, apple smoked bacon, marinated artichokes, mixed olives, and four cheeses (Mozzarella, Monterey Jack, Cheddar, Parmesan). 

Turns out I didn't have to make my own pizza dough. It is actually sold in supermarkets. All I have to do is buy it, defrost it (if frozen), place it onto a large cutting board, and roll it with a rolling pin. Then I have to pop it into the oven for about ten minutes, take it out, add the ingredients, and pop it back into the oven for about fourteen minutes or so. And the pizza is done!

Making my own pizza was certainly an interesting experience. Even though I didn't have to make my own pizza dough I still had to roll it. I had never done it before so this step of the recipe was a bit time consuming. I wanted the dough thin and in a perfect rectangular shape. Getting it to be that way was a challenge because it never came out quite the perfect shape so I gave up on that. The ingredients of the pizza and the taste of it after it's been cooked is more important than having the perfect shape after all.  

It was also a challenge when it came to transferring the pizza dough from the cutting board to the aluminum tray. My uncle had suggested I first roll it onto the rolling pin and then unroll it onto the tray. When doing so I forgot to spread flour on the rolling pin, so the dough got stuck to itself and to the pin and I couldn't unroll it. I had to tear it to pieces just to get it off the rolling pin and then I had to start rolling the dough from scratch to get it thin and as close to a rectangular shape as I could get. When I finished that I decided not to bother with the rolling pin again and just transferred the dough by hand. For me it was much easier to do, and it actually worked without me having to do it all over again.

Working with the dough took a bit of time and was a bit frustrating for me. But this was my first time working with dough so it was definitely a learning experience and I don't regret deciding to make my own pizza because in the end it turned out great. 

The pizza tasted so good that I ate most of it myself. I just couldn't stop. I would have ate the whole thing had I not become full. It was that good. And I have to say it was way better than the slice of pizza I had at a pizza restaurant recently. Goes to show that homemade pizza can actually taste better than pizza bought elsewhere, especially since it is fresh and the ingredients are fresh and "real". Nothing artificial added. No added flavorings. Just "real" ingredients and a lot of love. 

Homemade pizza with tomato paste, mixed olives,
marinated artichokes, Crimini mushrooms,
apple smoked bacon, and four cheeses
(Mozzarella, Monterey Jack,
Cheddar, Parmesan)

Check out some great tasting homemade pizza recipes, like the one I wrote about here, that you are sure to love.

Happy cooking and happy eating everyone!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Tomato Carrot Soup with Basmati Rice

Tomato soup is a favorite of mine. I always order it at a restaurant if it is on the menu but I am not always lucky. Often enough it is either not available or not offered at all, which leaves me very disappointed.

I thought about it and decided to make tomato soup myself. It's not complicated and I can enjoy it whenever I want to without having to search for a place that serves it that day. 

There are many varieties of tomato soup. The one I came up with is Tomato Carrot Soup with Basmati Rice. It is hearty and delicious and oh so easy to make. 

The next time you crave for some tomato soup give this recipe a try. You are going to love it and even may find yourself making it again and again. Click on the link below for the complete recipe along with a full list of ingredients, step-by-step instructions and relevant recipe photos. 

Tomato Carrot Soup with Basmati Rice

Tomato Carrot Soup with Basmati Rice