All posts by Karon Liu

Karon Liu is a freelance food writer based in Toronto who is slightly lactose intolerant but will otherwise eat and cook anything.

5 Tasty Ways to Use Hummus (That Aren’t Dip)

Nutritious, filling and most importantly, tasty, hummus is so easy and inexpensive to make that there’s no excuse not to make it from scratch. We all know that hummus is everyone’s go-to dip for vegetables and pita, but how else can you use this popular Middle Eastern condiment? Here are five delicious ideas to hummus-ify your meals.

Basic Hummus Recipe
Traditional hummus contains tahini, a creamy paste made from ground sesame seeds. However, I tend to skip the tahini since I don’t use it in much else. You can make your own tahini by simply grinding sesame seeds and olive oil together in a food processor—and this version is tasty as is.

Ingredients:
1 591 mL can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced*
Salt, to taste
Lemon juice, to taste

Directions:
1. Combine chickpeas, garlic and olive oil in a blender, food processor, or a bowl if you’re using a hand blender.
2. Purée the ingredients until everything becomes a smooth and velvety texture, with all the lumps gone. If the mix is too thick, thin it out with a bit of water.
3. Add salt and lemon juice to taste. Continue blending until everything is well incorporated. Store in an airtight container in the fridge.

*If the taste of raw garlic is too strong, use one clove or opt for roasted garlic, which yields a milder, sweeter taste.

Hummus_sandwiches

1. Sandwich Spread

Skip the mayonnaise and use hummus to beef up and boost flavour in your sandwiches and wraps. The nutty taste goes especially well with turkey slices, and the creamy texture adds a good contrast to crunchy toppings like cucumber and carrots. In the picture below, I made a vegetarian breakfast sandwich with thinly-sliced mini cucumbers and chunks of leftover, roasted butternut squash from the fridge.

Hummus_PastaSalad

2. Pasta Salad Dressing

Thin out the hummus with olive oil and a bit of water until the consistency is similar to a creamy salad dressing. Add salt and pepper to taste. Toss the dressing in a big bowl of fusilli, penne, or any pasta shape that has crevices to hold on to the hummus. Bonus: if you’re using hummus from the fridge, the cold dressing will help cool down the cooked pasta quicker. Here, I added chopped cucumbers, sliced chicken breast, and roasted corn and onions for a summery weekend lunch with the family.

Hummus_Chicken

3. Chicken Topping

Jazz up a piece of grilled chicken breast by smearing hummus and sprinkling crushed raw almonds on top for some added texture. Bake the chicken at 400ºF for 12-15 minutes until it is well done.

Hummus_SaladDressing

4. Salad Dressing

The strong, garlicky taste of hummus goes especially well with the bitter taste of dark greens. Similar to the pasta salad, dilute the hummus with olive oil and water until it reaches Thousand Island-like consistency. Add a bit more lemon juice and salt, and mix with the greens.

Hummus_Soup

5. Hearty Soup

This soup is so thick and creamy (not to mention protein-filled) that this pot can feed four people, especially when you add in the vegetables. Speaking of, you’ll have to sauté the veggies (or better yet, roast for at about 30 minutes at 400ºF) until they’re soft, before you dump them into the pot. If you have any leftover roasted carrots and potatoes in the fridge, use them in this recipe to skip the first step and save time. Save this soup recipe for the cold, winter months when you’ll be craving a hot bowl of soup with a big punch of nutty, garlicky taste.

Ingredients:
2 cups hummus
2 1/2 cups no-salt added chicken broth, plus more for vegetables
2 cups carrots, chopped into small pieces
1/2 cups potatoes, chopped into small pieces
1/2 cup pancetta, chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste
Chopped green onion, to garnish
Grated Parmesan, to garnish

Directions:
1. Bring a splash of chicken broth to a simmer in a saucepan. Add the carrots and potatoes. Cover and let cook until they begin to soften. Add more broth if the pan starts to dry up.
2. Meanwhile, in a medium-sized pot, bring the chicken broth to a boil. Add the hummus and stir until well incorporated. Reduce to a simmer and stir occasionally.
3. Using the same pan used to cook the vegetables, add a bit of oil and fry up the pancetta until it starts to brown. Add it to the soup pot, along with the cooked vegetables. Stir and bring to a simmer.
4. Pour the soup into individual bowls. Garnish with chopped green onion and parmesan. Serve immediately.

5 Easy Dishes You Make in a Toaster Oven

The toaster oven is a marvelous appliance when you’re cooking for one or two people, and don’t want to turn on the oven just to bake a single chicken breast.

Here are five easy ways to cook delicious meals and snacks with this underrated kitchen appliance.

Breakfast: Warm Turkey and Gooey Mozzarella English Muffins

This simple yet satisfying breakfast sandwich beats anything you’ll get at a coffee shop en route to work. Protein from the turkey and healthy fats from the avocado will keep your hunger in check, while the spicy mayo, which can be made in advance, will wake up your taste buds. This recipe makes two English muffins, enough for you and your roommate (or you and your hangover).

BreakfastSandwich

Ingredients:
2 whole wheat English muffins
2 slices mozzarella
1/2 avocado, thinly sliced
4 slices turkey breast
1 Tbsp mayonnaise
Sriracha, to taste

Directions:
1. Slice the English muffins in half and top each of the bottom halves with a slice of mozzarella and two turkey slices.
2. Toast all four halves in the toaster oven until the cheese starts to melt.
3. In a small bowl, mix the mayonnaise with Sriracha until it’s to your liking.
4. Top the toasted muffins with avocado slices and a smear of the spicy mayo.

Mid-Morning Snack: Roasted Spiced Almonds

Forget buying the sugar-laden, honey-roasted nuts and opt for toasted almonds for a healthier snack that you can take to the office. Toasting the almonds intensifies the nuttiness and gives them a better crunch.

Almonds

Ingredients:
1 heaping cup raw almonds
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 tsp salt
2 big pinches cayenne

Directions:
1. Set the toaster oven to the bake setting at 400°F.
2. In a pan lined with aluminum foil, toss the almonds with the olive oil ensuring that every nut gets evenly coated.
3. Sprinkle salt and cayenne on the almonds and toss again. Spread the almonds out in single layer and bake for 12-14 minutes until the almonds turn a dark brown, but not black.
4. Let cool for five to 10 minutes before serving. Let the almonds cool completely before storing in an airtight container.

Lunch: Baked Chicken Fingers with Cucumber-Mango Slaw

Nothing will replace the greasy goodness that is a bucket of fried chicken (NOTHING!), but this baked version uses significantly less oil and still has that satisfying crunch.

ChickenTenders

Ingredients:
1 boneless, skinless chicken breast cut into thick strips
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp grated parmesan
1 tsp Italian seasoning
1/2 panko crumbs
1/4 cucumber, julliened
1/2 mango, julliened*
Chili flakes, to taste
Salt, to taste

Directions:

1. Set the toaster oven to the bake setting at 425°F.
2. In a small bowl, lightly coat the chicken strips in olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Set aside.
3. In another bowl, combine the panko crumbs, parmesan, and Italian seasoning. Dredge the chicken in the crumb mixture, pressing the crumbs into the meat to ensure they’re heavily coated.
4. In a baking pan covered with aluminum foil, line the chicken strips in a single layer. Bake for 8 minutes. Flip, then bake for another 7 minutes or until the chicken is cooked completely. Let the chicken rest for five minutes.
5. In the meantime, toss the cucumber and mango together. Sprinkle with chili flakes on top. Serve with chicken strips, which go well with dips like Dijon or ketchup.

*Wash the mango and slice the skin off with a paring knife. Slice along the length of the mango, keeping the knife as close to the pith in the middle as possible. Repeat with the other side. You’re now left with two mango halves or “cheeks” and the inedible seed in the middle.

Afternoon Snack: Vegan, Dairy and Gluten-Free Sweet Potato Oat Cookies

These soft and chewy cookies are basically made from a sweet potato that’s been baked, pureed and mashed with rolled oats. They’re essentially teething cookies (my baby niece approves), but I’ve also been passing them off as vegan, dairy-free, and gluten-free (as long as the oats came from a gluten-free factory) treats for my friends who suddenly became intolerant to everything. Hey, as long as they taste good, right?

SweetPotatoCookies

Ingredients (makes about a dozen cookies):
1 medium sweet potato
3/4 cup rolled oats
2 tsp maple syrup
1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg

Directions:
1. Set the toaster oven to the bake setting at 400°F.
2. Poke holes in the sweet potato with a fork. Place on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil and bake for 40 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes.
3. Set the toaster oven to 350°F.
4. Remove skin and place in a mixing bowl. Using a hand blender (or a spoon or potato masher) mash the potato to get a creamy consistency. Add in the oats, maple syrup, vanilla, and spices. Mix until well combined.
5. Make Tbsp sized dough balls and place them on a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Arrange them so that none of them are touching the edges of the tray or each other. Slightly flatten the cookies with your palm.
6. Bake for 15 minutes. Let cool for 5 to 10 minutes before transferring to cool completely on a wire rack.

Dinner: Lemon-Pepper Cod with Roasted Vegetable and Kale Salad

Roast whatever vegetables are in season when they’re at their most flavourful (not to mention cheapest) — potatoes, parsnips, beets, sweet peppers — mix it up to keep things fresh and exciting.

CodSalad

Ingredients:
1 cod filet
2 Tbsp lemon juice
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 cup summer squash, cut into small cubes
1/2 cup carrot, cut into small cubes
1/3 cup white onion, diced
2 cups kale, stems removed and torn into bite-sized pieces
Salt and pepper, to taste
Zest of 1/2 lemon (optional)

Directions:
1. Preheat the toaster oven to 400°F.
2. In a pan lined with aluminum foil, toss the vegetables with olive oil until everything is evenly coated (about 2 Tbsp). Sprinkle with salt and pepper and bake for 20 minutes, or until the vegetables start to soften. Remove from oven and pour the vegetables into a bowl to cool.
3. Sprinkle the cod with 1 Tbsp of olive oil and 1 Tbsp of lemon juice. Season both sides with salt and pepper. Place on roasting pan and bake for 15 to 20 minutes until the fish is flaky and no longer translucent. Let the fish rest for 5 minutes before serving.
4. In the meantime in a serving bowl, toss the kale with the warm, roasted vegetables and 1 Tbsp of lemon juice. Place the cod on top, sprinkle with lemon zest and serve.

Two Ways to Roast Peppers Perfectly

Roasted peppers have a wonderfully sweet, caramelized flavour that makes for a tasty accompaniment to many dishes. They’re rich in vitamin C and packed with antioxidants, and we’ve got two easy ways to cook the colourful capsicum.

Green, Yellow, Orange or Red?
All bell peppers come from the same plant, with each colour representing the different points of maturity. Green peppers are basically unripe, lack sweetness and can have a subtle bitter taste at times. This is why green peppers are cheaper to buy than red peppers, and are a despised ingredient among many chefs. Orange, yellow and red peppers are matured green peppers and have a much fruitier, pleasant taste, though most argue that red peppers are the sweetest.

RoastedPeppers_Stove_Roast

Using a Gas Stove
If your house has been blessed with a gas stove, you also lucked out on the fastest and least messy way of roasting peppers. Simply turn on the burner and place one or two whole peppers directly on the flame. Using a pair of tongs, rotate the peppers to ensure all sides are blackened. The more charred the peppers, the easier they’ll be to peel later.

RoastedPeppers_Stove_Roast2

Using an Electric Stove (or Toaster Oven)
Unlike most vegetables where you simply roast them at 375°F, bell peppers are best cooked using the broil setting. Broiling is like using an upside-down barbecue; the heat comes from above and will char the surface of the food, which is what you want when cooking peppers.

RoastedPeppers_Broiler

Give your whole peppers a very light coating of oil and then place them on a lined baking sheet (it gets messy when the peppers’ juices start leaking out). Set the oven to a high broil and place the pan of peppers inside. You’ll see the skin start to bubble and then blacken. Flip the peppers every so often to ensure they get an even char on all sides. This should take anywhere between 40 minutes to 1 hour.

RoastedPeppers_Broiler_2

Cleaning the Peppers
Once the peppers are completely blackened, place them in a large bowl or pot and cover with plastic wrap for 15 minutes to steam. This steaming process loosens up the skin to make the peeling process easier.

When they’re done steaming, slice open the peppers (be warned, there will be lots of juices spilling out) and clean out the seeds, ribs, and stems. The charred skin should slip off easily. Do not rinse the peppers under running water in an attempt to make the skin flake off easier, as the water will simply wash away the pepper’s sweet juices. Slice the peppers to desired thickness.

RoastedPeppers_Stove_Roast4

Store the peppers in an airtight container in the fridge for up to two weeks. Use them for sandwiches, salads, an addition to your homemade hummus or in the following recipe for roasted red pepper soup, which pairs superbly with a grilled cheese sandwich on a chilly afternoon.

Roasted Red Pepper Soup
Serves: 4

RoastedPepperSoup

Ingredients:
6 medium-sized red bell peppers, roasted, cleaned, and diced
1 cup chopped white onion
1 cup chopped potato
1 cup heavy cream, whole milk, or coconut milk
4 cups no-salt added chicken broth, or one 900mL box of no-salt added chicken broth
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 pats of butter
Salt, pepper, and chilli flakes to taste

Directions:

  1. In a soup pot over medium heat, melt the butter and sauté the onions until they begin to sweat and turn translucent. Add the potatoes and garlic and continue to cook for five minutes. Add the peppers, broth, and cream/milk. Stir, cover, and bring down to a simmer for 20 minutes.
  2. Using a blender, blend everything until it reaches a creamy and smooth consistency.
  3. Season with salt, pepper, and (optional) chili flakes to taste.
  4. Serve immediately or let cool completely to room temperature before storing in airtight containers in the fridge for up to three days.

5 Halloween Party Recipes Inspired by Scary Movies

Alright, so making cute party snacks isn’t your strong suit— that’s OK! Not everyone has a steady hand (or patience) to make immaculate marshmallow jack o’ lanterns or a five-layer tombstone cake. Here are five Halloween recipes that are meant to look messy and gross, but actually taste delicious. Bonus: you can do this while already half in the bag over a witches’ brew (gin) and still impress your friends.

Halloween smoothie recipe

Camp Crystal Lake Waters, inspired by Friday the 13th
Makes about 4 cups

Welcome your guests with a shot glass filled with some murky brew.

Ingredients:
4 cups kale leaves, stems removed and leaves torn into small pieces
2 cups sweetened almond milk
1 cup blueberries
2 Tbsp freshly grated ginger
2 Tbsp maple syrup

Directions
Place all ingredients into a blender and mix until everything is evenly blended. Pour into shot glasses and serve.

Halloween recipe red pepper hummus pita pockets

Puss-filled Wounds, inspired by A Nightmare on Elm Street
Yields: about 2 cups of hummus, enough for about 30 pitas plus leftovers.

A snack of roasted red pepper hummus served in mini pita pockets. Make things less hectic by making the hummus the night before.

Ingredients:
2 cups canned chickpeas, drained and rinsed (or one 591ml can)
2 whole roasted red peppers
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and lemon juice, to taste
Two bags of bite-sized pitas

Directions:
1. Combine chickpeas, roasted peppers, garlic and olive oil in a blender, food processor, or a bowl if you’re using a hand blender.
2. Purée the ingredients until everything becomes a smooth and velvety texture and all the lumps gone. If the mix is too thick, thin it out with a bit of water.
3. Add lemon juice and salt to taste. Continue blending until everything is well incorporated. Store in an airtight container and refrigerate until ready to serve.
5. To serve, cut open a hole in the middle of the pita and stuff a spoonful of hummus inside.

Halloween recipe pea soup shot glass

Regan’s Demon Vomit Shots, inspired by The Exorcist
Yields about 12 cups of soup.

Make this chilled pea soup the night before and reheat just before serving, or serve chilled with mint or basil leaves as garnish.

Ingredients:
4 cups frozen green peas
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
3/4 cups whole milk or cream
1 cup potato, chopped and peeled
1/2 cup white onion, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 pats butter
1/2 cup grated parmesan
Mint or basil leaves, for garnish (optional)

Directions:

1. In a large soup pot, melt the butter over medium heat and sauté the onions and garlic until the onions become translucent.
2. Add the chicken broth and milk. Bring to a simmer.
3. Add the peas and potato.
4. Continue to simmer. Blend the mixture until smooth. Add in the parmesan and stir until it’s all melted. Let cool completely before refrigerating in an airtight container.
5. Sprinkle with additional grated Parmesan before serving.

Sized_BloodyMarshmallows

Bloodied Campfire Marshmallows, inspired by Cabin in the Woods
Yields about 36 bloodied marshmallows.

A sweet spread of marshmallow skewers, drizzled with coloured chocolate for your hungry guests to enjoy. This is meant to look messy and splattered, so don’t spend too much time trying to get the “blood” to drip just right. You can also make this the night before.

Ingredients:
1 bag large size marshmallows
1/2 pound red chocolate wafers (available at bulk food stores)
1 Tbsp chocolate chips

Directions:
1. Place the chocolate wafers and chips into a microwave-proof bowl that’s been wiped completely dry.
2. In intervals of 15 to 20 seconds microwave the chocolate on med/high, stirring the chocolate in between as it melts. Continue until the chocolate has completely melted and there aren’t any lumps.
3. Over a sheet of parchment paper, drizzle the melted chocolate on top of the marshmallows using a spatula, allowing it to run down the sides of the marshmallows. Allow the chocolate to harden and dry before skewering them.

Halloween party recipe LeatherfaceJerky

Leatherface Fruit Jerky, inspired by The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

This fruit leather with licorice strings is gooey, sticky and slightly slimy, perfect to gross out your guests while they pick at it.

Ingredients:
1 package thin red or black shoelace licorice
2 cups fruit gummies of various colours and flavours

Directions:
1. Place a heatproof bowl over a pot of simmering water, making sure that the water does not touch the bottom of the top bowl.
2. Pour in the gummies and stir occasionally with a rubber spatula until the gummies have melted and melded into one gooey blob.
3. In a baking tray lined with parchment paper, pour in the melted candy mixture. Using the spatula, spread the candy evenly in a rectangular shape about 1/2cm thick. Let the candy cool to room temperature then chill in the fridge for a few minutes. This will harden the candy so that it’ll be easier to peel off the parchment.
4. Remove from fridge and peel the candy off the paper. Using a pair of scissors to cut the candy into uneven, haphazard shapes.
5. Cut the licorice into short strands and place on top to replicate stitches.

Brussels Sprouts Even The Pickiest Eaters Will Love

Brussels sprouts have always been one of the most feared vegetables among kids and it’s usually because they’ve only tried one version at home: boiled to a miserable soggy, mushy mess, with no flavour at all. Thankfully in recent years chefs have been doing this vegetable justice, browning the leaves to give them a crispy crunch, adding accoutrements like nuts and maple syrup, and pairing the otherwise bland vegetable with a bit of fat from umami bombs like bacon and cheese.

Here’s an easy way to serve up this cruciferous vegetable that’s loaded with vitamins K and C. Yes, it uses a bit of pancetta and butter, so it’ll never be as healthy as just steaming them, but then again, would you rather eat them without any flavour?

If you have a bit more time on your hands, you can also roast Brussels sprouts for 30-40 minutes at 400°F after tossing them in a light coat of olive oil. But below is the quicker version perfect for a weeknight dinner.

BrusselsSproutsPlate

Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta and Parmesan

Ingredients:
(serves 4 as a side dish or 2 as a main)

1 pound (4 cups) Brussels sprouts, washed, trimmed, and halved
1/3 cups pancetta cubes
1 1/2 tsp unsalted butter
2 tsp maple syrup
Salt and pepper, to taste
Parmesan cheese, for garnish

BrusselsSprouts

Directions:
1. In a pot of salted boiling water, blanch the Brussels sprouts for 2-3 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water.
2. In a pan over medium heat, melt the butter. When it starts to brown, add the Brussels sprouts and stir occasionally. Continue cooking until the sprouts start to brown, 6-8 minutes.
3. Add the pancetta and cook until they start to brown and crisp up, 3-4 minutes. Pour in the maple syrup and gently toss. Season with salt and pepper.
4. Pour into a serving dish and grate a bit of parmesan cheese on top. Serve immediately.

734863_10151322355189438_2070375187_n Karon Liu is a freelance food writer based in Toronto who is slightly lactose intolerant but will otherwise eat and cook anything.

4 Amazing Apple Recipes to Try This Fall

Available year-round, apples are a great way to add a hint of tartness and cut through rich and hearty dishes, and they pair perfectly with fall spices like nutmeg and cinnamon. Opt for varieties like Fiji, Gala, Pink Lady, or, my personal favourite, the Honeycrisp, which lends particularly well to cooking and is just an all-around tasty snack.

Apples with winter spices cinnamon nutmeg

Cranberry Applesauce
The addition of tart cranberries gives the sauce a grapefruit pink-hue and that extra zing that goes great with grilled pork chops and roasted turkey, or even in a sandwich. Since it’s essentially a fruit puree, you can make extra batches and freeze them in popsicle molds for a festive frozen dessert. It’s cranberry and applesauce rolled into one!

Ingredients:
3 cups peeled, cored, and roughly chopped apples
2/3 cup apple cider
1/2 cup frozen cranberries
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp allspice

Directions:
In a saucepan combine all the ingredients. Cover. Simmer over medium heat for 25 minutes until the apples and cranberries become soft. Mash with a fork or roughly pulse in a blender. Makes 1 1/2 cups of sauce.

Applesauce

Apple-Stuffed French toast
Because going out to weekend brunch is becoming more and more of a challenge as it gets colder, have this recipe handy for cold days when you want a restaurant-worthy meal. For a variation, use bananas and pears, or a mix of both.

Ingredients:
4 slices of thick bread like challah, brioche, or plain white sandwich bread
2 eggs, beaten
1 medium apple, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced into rounds
1 tsp ground cinnamon (1/2 teaspoon per French toast)
4 pats unsalted butter
Powdered sugar and maple syrup for garnish

Directions:
1. Melt two pats of butter in a pan over medium heat. Fry the apples until they become soft and begin to brown and slightly crisp up. Remove from heat and set aside.
2. Dredge the bread slices in the egg. Place one slice on the hot pan then place the cooked apple slices on top of the bread. Place other bread slice on top, sandwiching the apples.
3. Continue cooking until the bread begins to turn a golden brown. Flip and cook until both sides are done.
4. Slice the toast diagonally. Drizzle with maple syrup and dust with powdered sugar on top. Makes 2 servings.

AppleFrenchToast

Apple-Tuna Salad Croissants
Shout out to my junior high Home Economics teacher Mrs. McClusker for teaching me to add apples to tuna salad. It gives the tuna a pleasant crunch and mellows out its fishy taste, making it less of a olfactory hazard to eat at the workplace. I further sweetened the tuna with the addition of apple cider and torn kale leaves that have been tossed in balsamic, giving it a nice tart flavour so that you don’t have to drown the fish in mayo.

Ingredients:
2 croissants, sliced horizontally
1 can tuna, drained
1/2 medium-sized apple, cut into small matchsticks
2 kale leaves, stems removed and torn into small pieces
1 Tbsp apple cider
2 tsp mayonnaise
Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:
1. In a bowl, combine tuna, mayonnaise, apples, and apple cider. Mix gently with a spoon, careful not to mush the apples.
2. In a separate bowl, add a small splash of balsamic vinegar (you need less than what you think you need). Massage the kale with your hands for a few minutes and squeeze out any excess liquid. Set aside.
3. Lightly toast the croissant halves until warm. Fill with kale and tuna salad. Serve immediately. Makes 2 croissants.

AppleCroissant

Baked Cinnamon Apples
While there will never be a substitute for a homemade apple pie, baked apples offer that same taste without having to roll out the dough. It’s also a healthier option — unless you place a giant scoop of vanilla ice cream beside it. No judgment.

Ingredients:
4 medium apples
2 tsp cinnamon (1/2 tsp   per apple)
2 pats butter (1/2 pat per apple)
1 tsp nutmeg (1/4 tsp  per apple)
2 tsp brown sugar (1/2 tsp  per apple)

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
2. Using a melon baller or a metal measuring spoon, scoop out the core of the apples from the stem end.
3. Fill the holes at the top of the apples with a bit of butter, a pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg, and a sprinkle of brown sugar.
4. Place apples in an oven-safe dish. Carefully pour water into the dish, just enough to cover the bottom. Bake for 30 minutes until the apples soften and brown on the edges. Remove from the pan and serve immediately. Serves four.

Baked Apple

734863_10151322355189438_2070375187_n Karon Liu is a freelance food writer based in Toronto who is slightly lactose intolerant but will otherwise eat and cook anything.

Hong Kong-Style Macaroni Breakfast Soup

Soup for breakfast? Absolutely! This easy-to-make (and kind of trashy) breakfast dish is such a staple in Hong Kong that not only is it found at every diner, you can order it at the local McDonald’s in the morning.

Basic macaroni soup typically comes with ham (the luncheon meat variety, never the thick-sliced Thanksgiving kind) or Spam (hence its trashy reputation) as well as a fried egg, but feel free to make it your own by adding vegetables like steamed broccoli or replace the ham with poached chicken. The broth is kept rather light since the ham is plenty salty, but you can also add a splash of sesame oil to punch up the savoury flavour.

I grew up eating macaroni soup and this has become my go-to for a quick and filling dinner that can be made in 15 minutes.

MacaroniSoup_sized

Ingredients:
1 cup dry elbow pasta
3 cups no salt-added chicken broth
1 tsp light soy sauce
2 slices black forest ham
1 egg

Directions:
1. In a pot, combine the chicken broth and the soy sauce to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente.
2. Meanwhile in an oiled pan, fry the egg until the yolk is just slightly runny.
3. Pour the cooked pasta and broth into a bowl. Top with egg and ham slices. Serve immediately and pair with a cup of Hong Kong-style milk tea.

734863_10151322355189438_2070375187_n Karon Liu is a freelance food writer based in Toronto who is slightly lactose intolerant but will otherwise eat and cook anything.

Best Ways to Ripen Avocados

We’ve all been there; schlepping a bag of avocados from the supermarket, thinking of all the delicious guacamole and sandwiches we’ll be making with them. Then BAM — three days later and all five avocados are soft and you have a day to eat them all before they go bad.

There are a few ways to make a bag of avocados last more than a week. In fact, the two avocados in the photo above were from the same bag. The one on the left is ready to eat, while the one on the right still has a few more days to go before it can be eaten.

Here’s how to do it:

Avocados_sized

Finding a Ripe Avocado

Look for a dark exterior as opposed to green (see photo above). You can also (gently!) press down on the stem. If it gives a bit, then it’s ripe. If it’s too hard or too mushy then it’s not ready or starting to rot.

Many online sources suggest flicking off the stem to see if it reveals a pretty green patch, but doing that to a dozen avocados, just to find one or two ripe ones is kind of a jerk move. Without the stem, the blotch will turn dark from air exposure and no one else will be able to tell if it’s ready. Also, resist the urge to squeeze avocados as you can bruise them, and subsequently make other shoppers believe that they’ve got a ripe avocado when they’re actually grasping at a fruit that you tampered with.

Ripening of Avocados

Online help forums tell me to take half of a hard avocado and pop it in the microwave for a few seconds (gross) or force it to soften by mashing it with a mallet. This might help with the texture, but the taste won’t be great compared to an actual ripe avocado.

Another popular tip is to put the whole avocado in a brown paper bag with an apple or banana because those fruits release ethylene gas; an odorless gas that causes other fruit to ripen. In my experience, it doesn’t make that much of a difference from leaving them on the kitchen counter at room temperature for two or three days.

But one thing that really helps is heat. Steve Gonzalez, owner and chef of Latin restaurant Valdez in Toronto, says that when he’s in a pinch he’ll put avocados on his roof top patio. Arturo Anhalt of Toronto’s Milagro Cantinas also says that 30°C is a good temperature to accelerate ripening times. At one of his restaurants, he’ll actually put unripe avocados in the basement’s engine room.

But in the end, if want to eat an avocado as soon as you leave the supermarket, just buy one that’s already mature (sometimes there will be a “ripe” sticker right on the avocado).

Slowing Down the Ripening Process

When you come home with groceries, take out the number of avocados you plan on eating in the next two days or so and put the rest in the fridge where they can last an extra week. The cold will slow down the ripening process, but you’ll have to take them out a few days prior so they can ripen again at room temperature. Ripe avocados will last an additional day or two in the fridge.

The Other Open Half

As you know, avocados should be eaten as soon as they’re cut open because the air will start turning the flesh into a mushy brown-like a banana. But since most people eat just one half of an avocado at a time, Anhalt says to tightly wrap the remaining avocado half in plastic wrap, ensuring minimal air comes into contact with the exposed area. He also suggests that if you’re storing guacamole; make sure the plastic film sticks directly onto the guacamole itself.

Freezing Avocados

Be warned that freezing avocados will negatively affect the taste and texture. Both Anhalt and Gonzalez don’t recommend freezing avocados, though Gonzalez says the only time he’ll freeze them is if he’s making ice cream or a mousse.

But if you must, mash the avocado into a pulp, mix in a squeeze of lemon or lime juice and store in a freezer bag. Flatten the bag out to get rid of any excess air and keep in the freezer for up to three months.

Avocados_guac_sized

The Bare-Minimum Guacamole Recipe

Every chef and home cook will swear that their guacamole recipe is the best. We’ll leave that argument to them. In the meantime, here’s a super bare-minimum recipe that will kick things off. Experiment by adding other ingredients like chopped tomatoes, cilantro, green onions, chilies, hot sauce, and even pineapple chunks. I like a chunky guacamole, but if you want a smoother, mousse-like consistency, use a blender or food processor.

Ingredients:
2 ripe avocados, roughly cubed
1 Tablespoon white onion, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
Juice of 1/2 lime*
Salt, to taste

Directions:

In a bowl, combine avocados, onion, garlic, and lime juice. Using a large serving spoon, mash everything together until you achieve a desired consistency. Add salt to taste. Serve immediately.

*Some would call this blasphemous but you can substitute in lemon juice if you don’t have a lime. Since lemons are more acidic, add a bit of the juice at a time and taste it so that your guacamole doesn’t turn to lemonade.

734863_10151322355189438_2070375187_n Karon Liu is a freelance food writer based in Toronto who is slightly lactose intolerant but will otherwise eat and cook anything.

DIY Brunch Taco Party

Skip the lines and the hassle of corralling a large group into a 40-seat restaurant by hosting brunch at your house with an easy and fun breakfast taco party. Have your friends assemble their own tacos and they can even make their own corn tortillas from scratch. Not only does this keep your friends busy, it also means less work for you.

BreakfastTacos_sized

Restaurants typically use a tortilla press to flatten balls of masa (corn flour), but unless you have one of your own, here’s a way to achieve perfectly round and flat tortillas using two cutting boards, some plastic wrap and a steady two-foot jump. Seriously.

For the Tortillas:

Ingredients:
Two sturdy wooden cutting boards (or large, heavy hardcover books)
Plastic wrap
Corn flour (Maseca is a popular brand)
Water
Salt
Frying pan

BreakfastTacos5_sized

Directions:
1. Follow the instructions on the package of corn flour to make the masa dough. Typically it’s 1 cup of corn flour, 3/4 cup of water and 1/8 tsp of salt to yield 8 tortillas. Double up the portions to make more.
2. Use a Tbsp-sized measuring spoon to make evenly sized individual balls of dough.
3. Put one of the cutting boards on the floor and place a piece of plastic wrap on top of the board.
4. Place a dough ball in the middle of the cutting board, followed by another piece of plastic wrap on top. Carefully place the other cutting board (or sturdy book) on top of the dough ball. Holding on to a countertop (or trusty friend) for balance, make a two-foot hop directly on top of the cutting board, flattening the dough ball. Shift your weight back and forth and side to side to ensure that the dough is flattened.
5. Remove the cutting board and gently peel away the plastic wrap, revealing a perfectly round corn tortilla. Place the tortilla on a hot, un-greased frying pan for about 30 seconds on each side.
6. Stack the cooked tortillas on top of each other on a plate. Place a slightly moist sheet of paper towel on top to prevent the stack from trying out.

tacos3

Taco Fillings:

There are no rules as to what you can put in a brunch taco, but here are some suggestions. Fill individual bowls with these toppings and let your guests make their own:

– Diced tomatoes
– Sautéed mushrooms
– Green or white onions
– Sliced avocados or guacamole
– Hot sauce
– Spicy mayonnaise (Sriracha mixed with mayo)
– Bell peppers
– Cut up bits of chorizo or breakfast sausage
– Scrambled eggs
– Lime wedges

734863_10151322355189438_2070375187_n Karon Liu is a freelance food writer based in Toronto who is slightly lactose intolerant but will otherwise eat and cook anything.

Easy Hong Kong-Style Milk Tea Ice Pops

Summer is here and what better way to celebrate than with a delicious frozen treat or two. These ice pops are inspired by the classic Hong Kong milk tea, which is hands-down the most popular beverage you’ll find in Hong Kong diners. It’s essentially black tea with sugar and evaporated milk, which I like to call, “The Chinese Double-Double”.

With help from my mom, who is a bit of a milk-tea connoisseur, we made a much more concentrated version of the tea to make up for the lack of flavour you get from freezing tea (tip: whenever you’re making ice pops, make sure the liquid is much sweeter than you think it should be before freezing).

Serve these at the end of the meal in place of tea or coffee for a cool, refreshing treat.

HKMilkTeaPopsicles_1_foodnetwork

Ingredients:
4 Orange Pekoe tea bags
4 cups water
1 cup evaporated milk
1 cup sugar*

Directions:
1. In a pot, pour in the water and toss in the tea bags. Cover and bring to a boil. Let boil for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the tea simmer, covered, for another 5 minutes.
2. Remove the tea bags. Gradually stir in the sugar, making sure it’s dissolved before you add more. Stir in the evaporated milk.
3. Pour the tea into a pitcher, and then pour into popsicle molds. Freeze overnight.

This recipe yields 4 cups of milk tea, which makes approximately 14 large ice pops.**

* My mom prefers cane sugar, but white sugar is fine.
** You can technically drink any leftover tea but this is a super-concentrated and sugary version. If you want to make a normal cup of hot milk tea, one or two teaspoons of sugar and enough milk to turn the tea into a light caramel colour, is enough.

Hong Kong’s Milk Tea Culture

Many British traditions still run deep in everyday Hong Kong life (it was only in 1997 that they were no longer under British rule, after all). The most obvious is afternoon tea, or “ha oom cha” as it’s called there, which is why many Hong Kong-ers add milk to their breakfast tea rather than drinking it straight-up like the rest of China.

Milk tea is typically made by bringing the tea and the water to a boil together, rather than adding hot water to the tea; the argument is that it brings out more flavour. In old-school diners, you’ll see cooks strain the tea through a sack-like cloth (not unlike pantyhose), which has resulted in locals joking about restaurants using old pantyhose to make the tea in an effort to save money. At least, I hope they’re joking.

You’ll never see milk tea at dim sum or traditional Chinese restaurants. Instead, milk tea is found in more Western-style places where the tea is consumed in the morning or afternoon alongside thick slices of French toast (Hong Kong-ers prefer Lyle’s Golden Syrup since maple isn’t common), or sweet and savoury pastries like pineapple buns (a bun that doesn’t actually  contain pineapples, but got its name because it looks like one).

In the summer, you’ll find iced milk tea and you can thank the Taiwanese for combining tapioca and milk tea to create bubble tea. There’s also “yin-yang”, a variation in which milk tea is mixed with coffee, served hot or iced.

Milk tea remains a huge part of Hong Kong culture. In fact, since 2010 there’s been an annual international competition in search of the best milk tea maker, held just north of Toronto in the suburb of Markham. There you can find a concentrated Chinese population and thus, it’s where Torontonians say you’ll find the best Chinese food. But there’s no category for Best Milk Tea Ice Pops—yet.

734863_10151322355189438_2070375187_n Karon Liu is a freelance food writer based in Toronto who is slightly lactose intolerant but will otherwise eat and cook anything.

How to Make Faux Pho

Pho, the Vietnamese rice noodle soup dish (pronounced “fuh” with the inflection and not “faux” as it’s commonly mispronounced), has quickly become a go-to comfort food for many. Its distinctive blend of aromatics and, of course, wallet-friendly price point, is a welcoming sight on a cold, miserable night. For those times when venturing out the door is too much of a challenge, here’s a surprisingly easy way to recreate the flavours in less than half an hour in your very own kitchen.

Phobroth_sized

Faux Pho Broth
Yields enough broth to cook noodles for two people, or make one XL-sized bowl.

Ingredients:
900 ml no sodium-added chicken or beef broth
3 star anise pods
2 teaspoons all-spice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon black pepper
Sriracha, to taste
Salt, to taste
Package of noodles (Vietnamese rice noodles or Japanese udon)

SpicyPho_sized

Directions:
1. Bring the broth to a simmer in a soup pot. Add the anise, all-spice, black pepper, cinnamon. Continue to simmer for 10 minutes.
2. Season with salt to taste. Drizzle in Sriracha as well if you want a spicy broth.
3. Throw in noodles. Continue to simmer until noodles are tender.
4. Finish with various toppings and serve immediately.

Toppings:

Proteins
Make sure to slice the meat really thinly so that they’re easier to pick up (and eat) with chopsticks.

Grilled chicken
Roast beef or flank steak
Tofu steaks
Peeled shrimp (grilled or boiled in the broth)
Fried or boiled egg sliced in half

Vegetables
Raw veggies add that distinctive watery crunch that contrasts the hot, earthy broth.

Bean sprouts
Green onions
Snow peas or sugar snap peas
Kimchi
Green onions
Corn niblets
Mushrooms (add when the broth is simmering with the spices)
Raw baby kale or spinach leaves
Quick Pickles*

Quick Pickles*

Directions:
1. Simmer sliced cucumbers, julienned carrots, white onion, and daikon in a saucepan with 1/2 cup white vinegar, and a pinch of both salt and sugar for 10 minutes.
2. Remove from heat and pour into a bowl.
3. Let cool to room temperature or chill before serving.

734863_10151322355189438_2070375187_n Karon Liu is a freelance food writer based in Toronto who is slightly lactose intolerant but will otherwise eat and cook anything.

Easy Hot and Sour Soup with Shanghai Noodles

Crunchy wood ear, soft tofu cubes, silky egg ribbons, tangy vinegar, and an umami-laden chili broth makes the classic hot and sour soup a delicious bowl of bold flavours and textures that are surprisingly easy to throw together. If you’re celebrating Chinese New Year, you’re going to want to start the feast with this appetizer, or do what I did and throw in fresh Shanghai noodles to soak up the delicious soup and make it into a main.

While hot and sour soup was never much of a fixture at our family’s Chinese New Year’s dinners (a good chunk of my family can’t even handle the spice of black pepper), my mom and resident Chinese-cooking expert Uncle Simon gave me some tips when I was developing this recipe. For them, the key is using “toban jan”, a fermented paste made of chilies and beans used throughout in Sichuan cooking. This is what’s going to give you that deep reddish-brown colour and that signature spicy umami kick. You can find this in the Asian aisle at the supermarket and it goes wonderfully with tofu, chicken, stir-frys, and on top of rice and noodle dishes. Think of it as Chinese sriracha.

For the sour component, I was advised by both of them to use ketchup. I love them both (especially if they’re reading this post) but I substituted the ketchup with a sharper, less sugary rice vinegar that turned out quite well. If any readers decide to listen to my mom and use ketchup, please tweet me @karonliu and let me know how it goes. A tip I did use was cooking the noodles separately in water rather than in the soup. This is because the noodles have a light coating of flour, which would leave a chalky taste in the broth.

One final note: wood ear mushrooms are sold dried at the Chinese grocer and need to be soaked in boiling water for 30 minutes before they’re ready to be eaten. Shimeji mushrooms can be found fresh at the Asian grocer (along with the Shanghai noodles), but if you can’t find them use another slightly chewy mushroom like enoki or shiitake.

Hot and Sour soup recipe Food Network Canada

Ingredients:

For the soup base
1 litre no salt-added chicken broth
3 tablespoons Chinese chili-bean paste (the anglicized name is “toban djan”)
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoon cornstarch

For the pork
1/2 pound pork loin, sliced into long and thin strips (about a cup)
1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
1 teaspoon light soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated ginger

For the toppings
4 wood ear mushrooms
2 ounces shimeji mushrooms (about a cup)
1 cup firm tofu, cut into cubes
1 large egg
4 ounces fresh Shanghai noodles (about 1/4 package)
Chopped green onions for garnish

Directions:

    1. If your wood ear mushrooms are dehydrated, reconstitute them by soaking them for 30 minutes in boiling water. Do this ahead of time, or even the day before. Store the hydrated mushrooms on a plate with a damp paper towel draped on top.
    2. In a medium-sized soup pot, bring the chicken broth to a boil.
    3. In the meantime, mix all the ingredients for the pork together (meat, soy sauces, sugar, cornstarch, and ginger) in a bowl. Set aside and let marinate for five minutes.
    4. In a slightly oiled pan, sear the marinated pork until it starts to brown, about one or two minutes. Set aside.
    5. When the broth is boiling, add the chili paste and vinegar. Stir until the paste has completely dissolved. Chop the wood ear mushrooms into smaller slices and add them to the pot along with the simeji mushrooms. Stir and add in the cornstarch to thicken the soup. Bring to a boil and add the tofu and pork. Whisk the eggs together and add them to the boiling soup very slowly in a thin stream. Keep the soup to a simmer.
    6. Bring a fresh pot of water to a boil and cook the noodles until they are al dente, about two to three minutes. Drain and set aside.
    7. To plate, pour 3/4 of the soup into a large bowl. Pile the cooked Shanghai noodles high on top in the centre, and then ladle the rest of the soup around the noodles. Garnish with green onions and serve immediately. Serves two as an appetizer, or one as a main dish.

734863_10151322355189438_2070375187_n Karon Liu is a freelance food writer based in Toronto who is slightly lactose intolerant but will otherwise eat and cook anything.

Made Easy: The New Year, New You Green Smoothie

It’s 2015 and chances are you are A) Still nursing one heck of a hangover or B) Making a resolution of some sort to eat healthier. Smoothies are a great way to pack in lots of veggies when you don’t have the time or appetite to munch on a salad, and unlike a juice, you get all the healthy fibre from the skin and pulp, making you feel fuller longer.

KaleSmoothie_smoothie

In this smoothie, the sweetness of the apple juice helps temper the bitterness and grainy texture of kale, while the frozen blueberries keeps the smoothie cold and adds a tinge of tartness. Ginger has long been used as a home remedy to help with an upset stomach, but more importantly, its spice adds a nice kick to the end of every sip. Feel free to adjust the amounts of each ingredient to your taste and experiment with other greens and fruits you have on hand. Smoothies are also a great way to use up greens that are starting to wilt and would otherwise look sad in a salad.

If you want to cut down on the amount of sugar, replace the apple juice with almond or coconut milk and add an additional teaspoon of maple syrup or honey. A scoop of unflavoured protein powder would also make this a nice breakfast option on the go.

ATT61427

Ingredients (makes one serving):

1 1/2 cups kale, stems removed and chopped finely
1/2 cup baby spinach leaves, chopped finely
1/2 cup frozen blueberries
1 cup apple cider or juice
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger*
1 teaspoon maple syrup

KaleSmoothie_peelingGinger

Directions:

  1. Blend all the ingredients in a blender until everything is well mixed and liquefied. Drink immediately.

*The easiest way to peel ginger is to scrape the skin off with the edge of a spoon.

734863_10151322355189438_2070375187_n Karon Liu is a freelance food writer based in Toronto who is slightly lactose intolerant but will otherwise eat and cook anything.

Made Easy: Chewy Ginger Cookies

I love making cookies at Christmastime because 1. It’s a heck of a lot cheaper than buying presents and 2. Anything homemade automatically trumps anything store-bought. Unfortunately, I don’t have the time (or the steady hands) to make icing and meticulously squiggle happy faces on gingerbread men. Also, let’s be honest—no one ever eats more than one iced cookie because the sugar content is through the roof.

Instead, I turned to this recipe for a spiced molasses cookie developed by my friend Eric Vellend, who in turn adapted his recipe from American cookbook author Dorie Greenspan. It’s like a very delicious broken telephone.

GingerCookies_plated_sized

When I first made these cookies, I misread the recipe and used freshly grated ginger rather than ground ginger (in my defense, Chinese kitchens are way more accustomed to cooking with fresh than ground ginger). In the end, it didn’t turn into the ginger snap it was supposed to. Instead, I got an incredibly moist, fluffy, and chewy cookie, with an intense fresh kick of ginger. I loved it, my family loved it, and that’s why I kept doing it.

The original recipe also calls for brown sugar, but you can make your own by simply adding a Tablespoon of fancy molasses for every cup of sugar. The recipe uses molasses and sugar anyway, so you might as well use a little extra and save yourself from having to buy an additional ingredient.

GingerCookies_ingredients_sized

Ingredients:

2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar, plus more for rolling
1/2 cup and 1 Tablespoon fancy molasses
1 large egg

GingerCookies-2

Directions:

  1. In a medium bowl combine flour, baking powder, salt, ginger, cinnamon, allspice, and pepper.
  2. In an electric mixer, cream the butter, sugar, and 1 Tbsp of molasses on medium speed until it reaches a fluffy consistency. Turn down the speed and add the rest of the molasses and egg. Continue mixing until everything is well incorporated.
  3. Carefully add the dry ingredients and continue mixing until just blended. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for two hours.
  4. Preheat the oven at 350°F.
  5. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper. Using a 1-Tablespoon cookie scoop (or measuring spoon), form balls of cookie dough and roll them in granulated sugar.
  6. Place the balls on the baking sheet 3 inches apart from each other. Flatten the balls with the back of a spatula until they reach about 2 inches (5 centimetres) in diameter and about 1 centimetre thick. Bake for 18-20 minutes or until the edges start to brown but the centre is still soft. Let cool for 5 minutes before carefully transferring to a metal rack to cool completely. (The centre of the cookie will solidify a bit more but still remain soft.)
  7. Store in an airtight container for up to a week.

734863_10151322355189438_2070375187_n Karon Liu is a freelance food writer based in Toronto who is slightly lactose intolerant but will otherwise eat and cook anything.

Made Easy: Mom’s Chinese Ginger-Soy Sea Bass

This very traditional Chinese dish was hands-down one of my favourite things to eat growing up. Luckily, it’s also one of the easiest things to make as the fish takes less than 20 minutes to cook. In fact, my mom calls it her “I’ll make this cause I have no time for anything else” dinner.

The cooked ginger-scallion soy sauce pairs amazingly with white rice, so you might want to make extra for your guests. I’ll pass down words of wisdom from my late grandfather: as delicious as the fish is, never mix it with your rice and scarf it down in the event you choke on a tiny fish bone.

Steamed-Chinese-Ginger-Soy-Sea-Bass-Fish-recipe

Ingredients:
2 whole sea bass (1lb to 1 1/2lbs each), cleaned
4 green onions, julienne
1/3 cup ginger, peeled and julienne
10 slices peeled ginger
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup soy sauce
3 teaspoon sugar
Cornstarch

steamed chinese ginger soy fish recipe

Directions:

1. Place a metal trivet into a large wok or pot (or use a small heatproof plate placed upside down). Pour water in; just enough to almost reach the top of the trivet. Bring the water to a boil.
2. In the meantime take a heatproof dish, one that is big enough to hold the fish as well as fit inside the wok/pot with the water, and line the bottom with some of the green onions so that the fish won’t stick when cooking.
3. Rinse the fish in cold water and pat completely dry with paper towels. Rub the entire fish with a light coat of cornstarch. Place three slices of ginger inside each fish and two on top of the fish. Place the fish on the dish.
4. When the water in the wok/pot is boiling, place the dish on top of the trivet. Cover with a lid and steam for 15 to 18 minutes until the flesh is opaque.
5. While the fish is cooking, heat the oil in a saucepan. You can test when it’s hot by placing a chopstick into the oil. When bubbles form around the chopstick, it’s ready. Toss in the julienne ginger and cook for 30 seconds. In a separate bowl, combine the sugar and soy sauce. Add that mixture to the hot oil and stir until the sugar has melted and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat.
6. When the fish has cooked, discard the slices of ginger from the fish and drain any excess liquid. Pour the cooked soy sauce over the fish and serve immediately.

Pair with bok choy or Chinese broccoli sautéed with minced ginger and garlic, and steamed white rice. Two fish will serve four to five people.

734863_10151322355189438_2070375187_n Karon Liu is a freelance food writer based in Toronto who is slightly lactose intolerant but will otherwise eat and cook anything.

Made Easy: A ‘50s Wintertime Dinner

You can thank generations of mad men and their brilliant commercials for making you crave the oddest things during the holiday season: Triangular-shaped chocolates that come in a tube, quarter-chicken rotisserie dinners, pop chugged by dancing polar bears… For me, it’s the dishes you’d find on the dinner table of a typical suburban family during the ‘50s and ‘60s, like green beans topped with crispy onions and chicken with cream of mushroom soup. This is quite remarkable since I’m a kid born in Hong Kong during the ‘80s.

Inspired by the two most famous recipes created by the Campbell’s soup company—the Classic Green Bean Casserole and the Quick Mushroom Chicken Bake—as well as the classic sweet potato and marshmallow casserole, try this simple and pleasing meal for five (or four ravenous people) that takes about an hour from start to finish.

Begin with the sweet potato mash since the potatoes take the longest time to cook, followed by the green beans, as both dishes can be kept warm in the oven (at 350°F) while the chicken is being cooked. The plastic tablecloth really maxes out the kitsch factor (thanks, mom).

RetroDinner1

Mashed Sweet Potato

Ingredients:
4 pounds sweet potato (about 6-7), peeled & chopped into evenly sized chunks
1/4 cup heavy/table cream
2 Tablespoons maple syrup
2 teaspoons unsalted butter
Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:

  1. In a large pot, toss in the chopped sweet potato and pour in cold water, enough to cover the potatoes completely. Salt the water and bring to a boil. Continue boiling for 30 to 40 minutes, until the sweet potatoes are soft.
  2. Drain and let the potatoes air dry for a few minutes.
  3. Transfer the potatoes to a large mixing bowl. Add the cream, maple, syrup and butter. Using a potato masher, whisk, or wooden spoon, mash and whisk everything together until you reach a smooth, fluffy consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Transfer the mashed potatoes to an oven-proof serving bowl and keep warm in the oven at 350°F until ready to serve.

Buttery Green Beans

Ingredients:
1 1/2 pounds green beans, washed, ends removed
1 medium sized white onion, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoons unsalted butter
Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:

  1. Blanch the green beans in a pot of salted boiling water for three minutes. Drain and shock the green beans with ice-cold water. Set aside.
  2. In a pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Sauté the onions until they become translucent and start to turn a golden colour. Add the garlic and stir.
  3. Add in the green beans and butter and continue sauté for 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to an oven-proof serving dish and keep warm in the oven at 350°F until ready to serve.

RetroDinner-resized

 

Chicken and Mushroom Cream Sauce

Ingredients:
8 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
2 cups heavy/table cream
1 pounds cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 celery stalk, minced
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven at 350°F.
  2. Season the chicken breasts with Italian seasoning, salt and pepper. Cook on a cast iron skillet or a frying pan until well done, about 6 to 8 minutes for each side. Keep the cooked breasts warm on an ovenproof dish in the oven while the remaining breasts are being cooked.
  3. In the meantime, sauté the mushrooms and celery in an oiled saucepan over medium heat until the mushrooms are browned and the celery is softened. Add the cream and simmer for 15 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Arranged the cooked chicken breasts on a serving dish and let them rest for about 5 minutes. Pour the mushroom-cream sauce over the chicken, or serve the sauce on the side in a separate bowl. Serve immediately.

734863_10151322355189438_2070375187_n Karon Liu is a freelance food writer based in Toronto who is slightly lactose intolerant but will otherwise eat and cook anything.

Made Easy: Colourful Roasted Vegetables and Garlic Quinoa

The leaves have fallen off the trees and the skies are consistently grey. It’s time to head to the farmers’ markets for a dose of colour! Vibrant heirloom carrots, creamy parsnips, ruby red beets, and yellow and red mini potatoes are in season now, so a colourful roasted vegetable platter will impress at the dinner table (or Christmas table for those already planning menus). Serve it with a side of this garlicky quinoa and grilled chicken seasoned with salt, pepper and Italian seasoning for a meal that you can also pack for lunch the next day.

Colourful Roasted Vegetables and Garlic Quinoa

RoastedVegetablesQuinoa_sized

Ingredients:
1 bunch baby heirloom carrots, peeled and cut into smaller sticks
1 bunch baby parsnips, peeled
2 whole garlic bulbs, tops sliced off
4 whole beets
24 red and yellow mini potatoes
1 cup dried quinoa, rinsed and strained
1 1/2 cups water
Vegetable or avocado oil*
Salt and pepper
Italian seasoning

RoastedVegetablesPan_sized

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven at 400°F.
2. In a pot of salted boiling water, blanch the potatoes for five minutes. Drain and let dry.**
3. Toss the parsnips, carrots, garlic bulbs, and potatoes with oil, salt, pepper, and Italian seasoning in a large bowl.
4. Wrap whole, unpeeled beets individually in aluminum foil.***
5. Place all the vegetables in a single layer on two large baking trays lined with parchment paper. Bake for an hour until the vegetables are soft, begin to appear wrinkled, and become fragrant.
6. In the meantime, bring 1 1/2 cups of salted water to a boil in a small pot over medium heat. Add in the quinoa, cover and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes until the water has evaporated and the quinoa has a fluffy texture. Remove lid and fluff with a fork.
7. When the vegetables are done roasting, remove from oven. Take three or four garlic cloves from the bulb and dice (or mash) into smaller pieces. Add the garlic into the pot with the quinoa. Gently toss with a fork.****
8. Remove the beets from the aluminum foil and peel off the skin. Slice the beets into thin slices.
9. Arrange the vegetables on a platter and serve with the garlic quinoa. Serves four generously.

RoastedVegetables_sized

Notes:

*Avoid using olive oil when cooking or roasting at high temperatures. Olive oil smokes and becomes bitter when exposed to high temperatures, so use oil that has a higher smoke point like vegetable or my current obsession, avocado.
**Have you ever roast potatoes and find that the insides are still hard and raw even after an hour of cooking? Blanch the potatoes first to give them a head start at cooking. This will give the potatoes their pillowy, almost mashed texture inside and a crispy skin on the outside. This extra step was a revelation for me.
***Unlike most vegetables where you first peel then roast, the skin of beets are much easier to remove when you roast them first. You’ll notice that you can literally peel the skin right off with your fingers once the beet is roasted. Of course, let the beet cool first so you don’t burn yourself. You’ll also want to do the peeling over the baking sheet and close to the sink since beet juice stains everything it touches.
****Garlic is downright heavenly when it caramelizes in the oven, creating a sweeter and less sharp garlic taste compared to its raw state. Leftover roasted garlic cloves can be added to soups, hummus, spreads, other roasted vegetables, grains, heck, it makes everything better.

734863_10151322355189438_2070375187_n Karon Liu is a freelance food writer based in Toronto who is slightly lactose intolerant but will otherwise eat and cook anything.

Topics: Made EasyVegetablesQuinoa

Made Easy: Awesome Chicken Soup for the Lazy Soul

We’ve gone over pho and roasted red pepper soup, but when it comes to cold and flu season there’s nothing like a big bowl of homemade chicken soup. It’s surprisingly easy to make and once you taste the made-from-scratch stuff you’ll never buy a can of it ever again.

This basic chicken soup recipe is meant to be customized to your tastes, so once you get the hang of making it feel free to add other spices like curry and cumin, vegetables like potatoes and torn kale leaves, or even make it creamy with coconut milk. You can also turn it into a fuller meal by adding rice, pasta, or dumplings once the soup has simmered down. It reheats quick and as weird as it sounds, makes for a great breakfast since it’s loaded with protein that will get you through to lunch.

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Chicken Soup
Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients:
2 stalks celery, diced
2 medium-sized carrots, diced
1 small white onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tablespoons olive oil or butter
1 whole chicken, cut into smaller pieces
8 cups water
2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:

  1. In a medium-sized soup pot, heat the oil or butter over medium heat and sauté the celery, carrots, garlic, and onion until they begin to soften, the onions begin to turn translucent, and the carrots start to caramelize.
  2. Add the chicken and stir for one or two minutes. Pour in the water, cover, and bring to a boil. Add the Italian seasoning. Don’t taste it yet—it’ll taste like water and you’ll end up adding way too much salt. Instead, reduce heat and let simmer for at least an hour to let some of the water evaporate and the chicken flavour from the bones, cartilage, and meat permeate the broth. The longer the soup simmers, the more intense the flavour will be.
  3. Give the soup a taste and season with salt and pepper as necessary. Take the chicken out of the pot and with a fork, remove the skin and shred the meat off the bones (the meat should be fall-off-the-bone by now). Discard the chicken skin, bones, and cartilage. Put the shredded meat back into the pot and continue to simmer for 30 minutes. If you’re adding pasta, rice, or dumplings, now is the time to add them.

Celery, Carrot, and Onion: The Holy Trio of Flavour

One of the basic flavour elements of French cooking is the mirepoix: the combination of chopped celery, carrot, and onion. It’s used commonly in soup and sauce recipes, and not to mention adds a delicious base to stir-frys (this one is less French).

Other nations have their own version of the mirepoix. In Italy you’ve got the soffritto (basically a mirepoix with garlic, which is the base for this soup); Spain and Latin American and Caribbean nations have the sofrito consisting of bell peppers, onion, garlic, paprika, and tomatoes (even then each country in these regions have their own variations on this); Poland has the wloszczyzna that contains carrots, parsnips, celery root, leeks, and cabbage; and Germany has Suppengrün, which is carrots, leeks, and celeriac.

Save Your Bones

The next time you pick up a rotisserie chicken from the supermarket, keep the bones to make a future batch of chicken broth (assuming you or your loved ones haven’t sucked on the bones because… gross). Store the bones in a bag in the freezer, and take them out whenever you’re in the mood for soup.

734863_10151322355189438_2070375187_n Karon Liu is a freelance food writer based in Toronto who is slightly lactose intolerant but will otherwise eat and cook anything.

Topics: Made Easy, Soup, Chicken

Made Easy: How to Cook and Peel a Pumpkin with Recipes

It’s that time of the year again when mantles and table tops are dressed with clusters of tiny pumpkins to ring in the harvest. A lot of my friends buy the miniature pumpkins at the supermarket since the big ones won’t fit in their apartments. Then once Halloween is over they get thrown out. Rather than putting good food to waste, here’s a tutorial on how to cut, peel and cook these colourful little squashes.

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Step 1: Wash
Thoroughly wash the outside of the pumpkin, removing any dirt and dust. Pat it dry with a towel.

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Step 2: Stabilize
The tricky part about cutting into pumpkins or any other kind of round produce (eg: onions) is that they’ll roll around on the cutting board, making it easy for the knife to slip and cut your fingers. To solve that, using a sharp knife and slice across the top and bottom of the pumpkin to create a flat surface for it to rest on. You can also place the pumpkin on a towel to further prevent the pumpkin from rolling around when you’re cutting it.

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Step 3: Peel
Using a sharp knife or a vegetable peeler, peel away the outer skin.

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Step 4: Half
Cut the pumpkin in half.

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Step 5: Gut
Using a large metal spoon, scrape out the pumpkin seeds (keep them for toasting later) and the stringy guts.

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Step 6: Section
Cut the pumpkin halves into smaller sections, and then into smaller chunks to prepare for roasting.

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Step 7: Roast

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven at 375°F.
  2. Place the pumpkin on a lined baking sheet and toss with a bit of olive oil, salt, and pepper. Add enough oil so that every chunk is slightly shiny, but not so much that there is excess oil on the pan.
  3. Bake for 45 min to an hour, or until the pumpkin is soft with a slightly crispy exterior.
  4. Remove from the oven and serve immediately.

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Bonus: try roasting some pumpkin seeds.
Since the oven is already on, you might as well give the seeds a roast to make a snack out of them.

Directions:

  1. Separate the seeds from the guts in a colander under cold running water.
  2. Like the pumpkin, drizzle the seeds with a very light coat of olive oil, salt, and pepper (or some cayenne for some heat).
  3. Roast them on a baking sheet (use the pan that was used to cook the pumpkin to minimize cleanup) at the same 375°F temperature for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the seeds turn a light brown and become crispy.

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Pumpkin and Pancetta Spaghetti
This easy to make and colourful pasta is a delicious way to serve fibre-rich pumpkin. The squash’s natural sweetness compliments the salty pork while the spinach absorb all the flavours in the pan. I prefer using fusilli, penne, or any other kind of pasta with lots of nooks and crannies to hold the bits of pancetta and cheese.

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Ingredients:
2 cups dried whole-wheat fusilli pasta
1/3 cup pancetta cubes
3 cups baby spinach leaves
1 1/2 cups roasted pumpkin, cubed
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish
3 Tablespoons whole milk or heavy cream
Salt and pepper, to taste
Extra virgin olive oil, to taste

Directions

  1. Cook pasta in a pot of boiling salted water until al denté. Drain and set aside.
  2. In a large oiled pan, sauté the pancetta until they start to brown and crisp. Add pasta, roasted pumpkin, and spinach leaves. Toss altogether.
  3. Add the milk and parmesan. Stir gently until the spinach leaves begin to wilt, the cheese has melted, and the milk has mostly evaporated.
  4. Season with salt and pepper, and drizzle with a bit of olive oil to finish. Garnish with parmesan shavings. Serves 2 hungry pumpkin eaters.

734863_10151322355189438_2070375187_n Karon Liu is a freelance food writer based in Toronto who is slightly lactose intolerant but will otherwise eat and cook anything.

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Made Easy: How to Get Perfect Crispy Skin on Fish

When cooked properly fish skin can be one of the best parts of a filet, not unlike how you secretly want to just eat the skin off a piece of fried chicken. Aside from a crunchy, chip-like texture, the benefits of keeping the skin on the fish is that it has doses of omega 3’s and its helps lock in the moisture when cooking over high heat. Here are a few tips on getting an even, caramelized texture when searing a piece of fish, skin-on.

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Pat it Dry
Before cooking, take a paper towel and pat down the entire fish to remove any excess moisture. The most common problem home cooks have when cooking fish is that the skin sticks to the pan or becomes soggy. This is because when the skin is wet, the water turns into steam, steaming the skin rather than crisping it up. Placing a wet filet on to a hot oiled pan will also result in tiny droplets of hot grease jumping off the pan and on to you (remember, water and oil don’t mix). You can also sprinkle some salt or dust a bit of flour on to the skin to further remove moisture.

Heat it up
Much like last week’s omelet tip, make sure the oil in the pan is hot enough to prevent the food from sticking to the pan. Use flavourless oil that can withstand high temperatures such as vegetable or avocado so that it won’t overshadow the delicate flavours of the fish. Olive oil will smoke under high heat and turn bitter, so save it for the salad dressing. When the oil is hot enough over medium-high heat, it should shimmer and become less viscous.

Sear it
Place the fish skin side down on to the pan. If the oil is hot enough, the fish should sizzle upon contact. Let the skin crisp and slightly harden for a minute as flipping it too soon will tear the skin. When the skin gets crispy, it’ll easily slide around the pan. Once that’s achieved, turn down the heat down a bit so that the skin doesn’t burn. Flip the filet over and continue to finish cooking the fish.

Let it Rest
Once the fish is opaque and no longer translucent, take if off the heat and let it rest on the plate for a few minutes. Cutting into it immediately would make all the juices leak out.

Make the Sauce
As the fish is resting, pour in two or three tablespoons of chicken stock (or vegetable stock) into the pan and scrape it down with a spatula over medium-low heat. If you’re cooking salmon, add in a splash of maple syrup. If you’re cooking a milder fish like cod or tilapia, add in a few squeezes of lemon juice. When the sauce has slightly thickened, pour it over the fish, or some steamed vegetables on the side.

734863_10151322355189438_2070375187_n Karon Liu is a freelance food writer based in Toronto who is slightly lactose intolerant but will otherwise eat and cook anything.

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