Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Live. Love. Learn. Be All You Can Be. Now. Not Later...

Nearing two decades, I've worked with food in many arenas... restaurants, catering, TV, magazines, R&D, test kitchens, from private to corporate with the humblest to the gourmet of ingredients, and in the most-detailed and adrenalin-pumped of pace... but you know what? The satisfaction and rewards does not compare to part of what I do today-- simply serving lunch of wholesome yummy real food to school kids. Seeing a child try something new, a kid enjoy a food they couldn't stand before and just hearty happily-fed smiles all around... that is my joy! The kids here have special learning challenges which makes it even more special.

“So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they're busy doing things they think are important. This is because they're chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.” -- Morrie Schwartz

-- Author Mitch Albom, Tuesdays with Morrie (An Old Man, a Young Man, and Life's Greatest Lesson)

On-site lunch club coaches are hired to serve the prepared food at each of the participating schools and impart food education as well as encourage the kids to try new foods. I am one of those lucky lunch club coaches and I absolutely love engaging my young students on what they are about to eat. The monthly-changing menu offers an array of globally-inspired dishes that focus on whole grain products, in-season fruits, vegetables and products grown & produced locally. Wholesome, hearty and energy-sustaining. "Seconds please!"... :D

Enjoying lunch leftovers brought home-- Chili Chili Bang Bang over whole wheat couscous balls and Carrot Slaw with savoury sweet Samurai Sauce. And sliced oranges for dessert.

Too often I hear many say they are counting down the years to retire so they could finally get to do what they enjoy or love. But really, who knows ten years when we don't even know what happens tomorrow right? Should we not be enjoying in the here and now? If you love what you do, it's not work and the word 'retirement' may sound foreign. I mean, sure we could go on sacrificing our inner passions and minds of fulfilling nourishment... We will continue to be, but at the end of it all, have we truly lived? #lifeistobelivednow #makeeverydaycount

“Everybody knows they’re going to die, but nobody believes it. If we did, we would do things differently. There’s a better approach. To know you’re going to die and be prepared for it at any time. That’s better. That way you can actually be more involved in your life while you’re living. . . Every day, have a little bird on your shoulder that asks, ‘Is today the day? Am I ready? Am I doing all I need to do? Am I being the person I want to be?... The truth is, once you learn how to die, you learn how to live… " -- Morrie Schwartz

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Happy Thanksgiving Weekend...

It was a steamy seafood delight kind of big family Thanksgiving Sunday feast at my parents! And for good measure, we had East meeting West and West meeting East... talk about unconventional! :) We savoured and devoured seafood at their natural best- steamed! Crabs, shrimps, mussels and oysters with either a splash of lemon or a dip in a saute green onion soy oil. Pan-fried pike and a rotisserie chicken was also part of the spread. Yup, there was my homemade Caesar salad and bruschetta served as sides along with my mom's lovely green wakame seaweed salad, brussel sprouts and boiled potatoes! The table was certainly adorned with plates full of textures and colours, making the cheap plastic table covering barely noticeable... we doing it Chinese restaurant-style! lol

My mom prepared four fiesty Vancouver crabs for the main event...

Love seeing the kids all cracking, peeling, picking and digging into their selection of crustaceans.

A little bit of everything...

Cheers Everyone!

I couldn't resist cooking this incredible Vietnamese street food specialty banh xeo coconut crepe for Thanksgiving brunch. This kind of bean sprouts-mung bean-shrimp-pork filling deliciousness served with seasoned fish sauce nước mắm cham and fresh herbs inspired gratefulness at the table all around. A good start with a nod to our family heritage (my husband's side) on a traditional Thankful Canadian occasion! 

Vietnamese Sizzling Crepes Bánh xèo

The finale for the official day's celebration took on some of the classic faves.. 

no turkey but a roasted chicken with the fixins', perfect for our fam of five. 

Hope you all had a fantastic weekend with your family and loved ones!

Monday, October 9, 2017

Vietnamese Sizzling Crepes (Bánh xèo)...

Bánh xèo, a popular Vietnamese street food translates to "sizzling", because of the sound it makes as it cooks in the hot pan. This is a second updated crepes a la Saigon recipe on my blog, inspired by yet another Vietnamese-Aussie chef Luke Nguyen. This is my preferred version because it is lighter in coconut flavour vs. Nhut Huynh's rich coconut cream banh xeo recipe. Its signature crispy, crunchy but foldable crepe is made with a batter of rice flour, potato flour (my own adaptation for extra crispiness), turmeric for colour and coconut cream (yup you read right, no eggs). Salivating at the cooking photos in Luke's cookbook Street Food Asia, I couldn't resist getting the ingredients and making it for a family Thanksgiving brunch. This kind of bean sprouts-mung bean-shrimp-pork filling deliciousness served with seasoned fish sauce nước mắm cham and fresh herbs inspires gratefulness at the table all around. A good start with a nod to our family heritage (my husband's side) on a traditional Thankful Canadian occasion! Feeling blessed!

Vietnamese Sizzling Crepes (Bánh xèo)- (adapted from Luke Nguyen)
Makes 4 to 6 crepes

1/3 cup dried mung beans, soaked overnight and drained
2 Tbsp. oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
300 g raw shrimps, peeled and cleaned
200 g pork belly, skin removed or pork shoulder, thinly sliced
salt and ground white pepper
2 large handfuls bean sprouts, washed and drained well
2 green onions, mostly green tops, thinly sliced

Pancake Batter:
3/4 cup rice flour

1 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp. potato starch (this is what gets the crepe crispy)
1 tsp. turmeric
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup chilled carbonated water
3/4 cup coconut cream (my sis-in-law swears by brand Savoy)

Garnish: Green lettuce leaves, herbs- Thai basil, mint leaves, Vietnamese coriander (rau ram), sliced cucumber
Nước mắm chấm (seasoned fish sauce): see note below

Place mung beans in a steamer basket and set over a saucepan with water, cover and steam for 20 minutes or until soft.

NOTE: To make Nước mắm cham: i) Dissolve 1/4 cup granulated sugar in 1/3 cup boiling water; ii) Mix in 3 Tbsp. fish sauce and 3 Tbsp. white vinegar or fresh lime juice; leave to cool; iii) To season, add 2 finely chopped garlic cloves and 1 tsp. of Vietnamese chili sauce (sambal oelek) or 1 finely chopped Thai or hot red chili to taste.

Season prepared shrimp and pork with a little salt and ground white pepper. Make the pancake batter by sifting the flours into a bowl, add the salt and turmeric and whisk well. Pour the soda water and coconut cream into the bowl and whisk until a smooth batter is formed. Let rest for 10 minutes. 

Heat oil in a frying pan (best to use crepe pan if you have one). Add one minced garlic and saute with shrimps for two minutes or until cooked. Set aside and repeat with pork, then remove from pan.

Lightly oil a frying/crepe pan and place it over medium heat. Sprinkle green onions in the pan and pour 1/4 batter into the centre. Holding the handle, swirl the mixture to spread over pan. The pancake should be quite thin. Scatter the mung beans, shrimps, pork and bean sprouts over half the pancake. Reduce the heat to low and cook for about 4-5 minutes, or until pancake is crisp and browned. Using a spatula, fold the pancake in half and slide onto a large plate. Repeat with remaining ingredients.

Pour some batter, lift pan and swirl until evenly thinly coated.

Crispy but pliable for an awesome fold!

To serve, you can cut the pancake into several pieces and wrap in lettuce leaves, herbs and dunk into the nuoc cham. Or you can tear up lettuce and herbs over the pancake, pour the sauce and eat it straight! Whichever you decide, I can guarantee you it will be utterly delicious!

My twins were happy campers lapping up this savoury fresh pancake!

Eat is straight up with herbs and nuoc cham on top.

Or wrap crepe pieces with lettuce in parcels and dip in nuoc cham.
This crepe got the extra extra crispy treatment :)

Monday, October 2, 2017

Food Revolution Toronto October Contest-- Soups!

Resharing from Food Revolution Toronto:

This month's Food Revolution Toronto contest, share a photo of your SOUP with our team on social media and you will be eligible to win a Jamie Oliver cookbook courtesy of HarperCollins Canada! We are featurng Jamie Oliver's Super Squash Soup with the best Parmesan croutons for inspiration “A totally delicious spiced squash soup, served with mega cheese on toast for dunking.”- Jamie.

Here are some of my own inspirations with our orange friends this fall. This is my twist on butternut squash soup with the addition of apples and fresh dill.The apple's tartness livens up the squash and balances its natural sweetness. So simple to do with little ingredients, and just a little blender magic at the end, you'll have a smooth, velvety soup ready in less than an hour. Fresh dill and bits of red onion adds texture and a refreshing dimension of flavours.

Butternut Squash Apple Soup with Dill

In this Thai-Style Pumpkin Soup, the mellow pumpkin off-sets the richness of coconut milk and a gentle blessing of spicy Thai curry paste makes the soup really delightful to sip and savour. Pumpkin can easily be substituted with butternut squash. But the key to taking this soup from good to great is the cilantro lemon garlic pesto you swirl on top.. it truly elevates the taste to another dimension of flavours-- one with tang and bite!

Thai-Style Pumpkin Soup with Cilantro Pesto

How to Enter:

Show us your soup! Snap a photo of your soup and tell us a little bit about it!

You MUST use the hashtag #CookwithFoodRevTO AND tag us on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook. That's it! Then you'll be entered to win a cookbook!

Eligibility and Contest Rules:

– Contest begins on October 1st 2017 at 6am EST on and closes October 31st 2017 at 6pm EST.
– Prize consists of one (1) Jamie Oliver cookbook.
– Open to readers of the age of majority with a Canadian mailing address.
– No purchase of any product necessary for entry.
– Winner will be chosen randomly (using random.org) from all qualified entries on October 31st 2017 after 6pm EST.
– Winner will be notified via email November 1st 2017 and will have 48 hours to respond to the email.
– Winner will be required to answer a skill testing question.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Thai-Style Pumpkin Soup with Cilantro Pesto...

I've been dining on Thai food but it's really been a while since I've cooked Thai cuisine. Pumpkins are showing up everywhere and I've been daydreaming about making this gorgeous and sumptuous Thai-inspired coconut soup, perfect for the cooler fall weather. A soup I loved many years back but for some reason haven't made since. I'm not a fan of coconut milk in foods because I find it too rich but this is a definite exception! The mellow pumpkin off-sets the richness of coconut milk and a gentle blessing of spicy Thai curry paste makes the soup really delightful to sip and savour. Pumpkin can easily be substituted with butternut squash. But the key to taking this soup from good to great is the cilantro lemon garlic pesto you swirl on top.. it truly elevates the taste to another dimension of flavours-- one with tang and bite! Best of all, I get the stamp of approval from my family!

Thai-Style Pumpkin Soup with Cilantro Pesto
Makes 6 to 8 servings

1/4 cup olive oil, divided
1 onion, chopped
2 tsp. finely chopped ginger
1 tsp. Thai red curry paste
2 lbs. pumpkin, peeled and cut into small cubes
2 cups chicken or vegetable broth ( or about 1-1/2 cans (397 mL))

1 bunch cilantro, leaves plucked and chopped
Zest and juice of one lemon
3 garlic cloves
1 can (400 ml) coconut milk
Thinly sliced red onion and cilantro leaves for garnish

Heat 1 Tbsp. of oil in a large pot over medium heat and sauté the onions for one minute. Add ginger and Thai paste and stir for one minute. Add pumpkin and broth, bring to a boil, then simmer over low heat for 15 minutes until pumpkin is tender.

I use Thai Kitchen Red Curry Paste. 
Really concentrated spiciness. A little goes a long way.

Meanwhile, make the cilantro pesto by processing cilantro, lemon zest, lemon juice and garlic in a food processor. Slowly add 3 Tbsp. of oil to give a sauce consistency, then season.

Cool soup slightly, and blend until smooth. Return to the pot, add the coconut milk and season, then warm through. To serve, ladle soup into individual bowls and swirl with a spoonful of pesto. Garnish with red onions and reserved cilantro.

The mild pumpkin and coconut milk balance each other well. Jazzed up with the bite of red onion and tart, garlicky pesto this nourishing and comforting soup is delicious to boot with a burst of exotic flavours to welcome in fall!

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Filipino Chicken Two Ways- Tangy Asado and Deep-Fried...

Chicken is the most popular eaten meat. There's never ending ways to cook it and I find people are always looking for new recipes to try as they get stuck in the rut of cooking chicken the same way over and over again. Chicken is a great medium to absorb spices and seasoning well and it cooks fairly quickly. I love bone-in pieces for the additional flavour the bones provide and it's cheaper than boneless cuts. As I explore the world of Filipino foods, I find cane vinegar (less acidic than western) and bay leaves are often used imparting the most wonderful tangy and aromatic flavours as a marinade or in the cooking. Well, here are two great Filipino recipes to shake up your poultry routine adapted from The Filipino Cookbook by Miki Garcia. Two contrasting tastes- one that is a saucy tangy Asado Chicken and the other deep-fried crispy Filipino Fried Chicken.

Tangy Asado Chicken and Fried Chicken Drumsticks

Similar to Italian chicken cacciatore, Asado Chicken is a mildly spicy and tangy chicken dish simmered in tomatoes, soy and cane vinegar. Its highlights the crossover of Chinese flavours in Philippine cuisine. To appease to your family tastes, cook up a batch according to recipe and remove half onto a plate before tossing chilies to the remainder for members who like the heat.

Tangy Asado Chicken
Makes 4-6 servings

2 Tbsp. oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 onion, finely sliced (I had some green onion ends and added these too)
2-1/2 to 3 lbs. bone-in chicken pieces (I like using chicken legs as dark meat is juicy and flavourful. I buy them whole, and cut at the joints to separate thigh and drumstick- cheaper)
1 tsp. salt
2 or 3 tomatoes, large diced
1 bay leaf
3 Tbsp. cane vinegar (or white or cider vinegar 3 parts diluted with 1 part water)
1/2 cup water
1 Tbsp. paprika
ground black pepper
1 Tbsp. soy sauce
2 tsp. dark soy sauce
1 to 2 green chilies, chopped (remove seeds if the chilies are especially spicy) *optional

Heat 1 Tbsp. oil in skillet over medium heat and sauté the garlic and onions until fragrant and lightly golden; remove and set aside. Rub the chicken with salt. Add remaining 1 Tbsp. oil in same skillet and cook the chicken on both sides until lightly browned, about ten minutes. Set aside.

Add the tomatoes, bay leaf, vinegar and water to same skillet; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium. Return the chicken, garlic and onion mixture, paprika, pepper and soy sauces; cook for 20 minutes uncovered, or until tender.

If you want to add spiciness to part of the dish, remove part of the chicken mixture onto a plate, then toss the chopped chilies and toss for one or two minutes.

Two dishes- one regular and one slightly spicy to serve at the family table with steamed rice.

My boys loving the flavours, and adding their own favourite pepper sauce anyway!

Create your own fried chicken at home- yes you can do it and you can control your spices and flavourings. Filipino-style fried chicken is crispy on the outside and juicy moist on the inside. You can use all types of bone-in cuts but today I had chicken drumsticks and loved cooking them uniformly as they were all around the same size. What brings out the delicious juicy flavour are the cane vinegar and seasoning that seeps into the chicken when they are simmered together to cook first before breading and frying to lock in the juices inside. I like using 1 part all-purpose flour and 1/2 part potato starch to create a light crispy batter that is associated with Asian deep-fried foods. The classic way to serve Filipino fried chicken is with banana ketchup and some kind of vinegar based sauce.

Filipino Fried Chicken
Makes 4-6 servings

1 tsp. oil
4-5 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup cane vinegar (or white or cider vinegar 3 parts diluted with 1 part water)
3 cups water or enough to just cover chicken
2-1/2 to 3 lbs. bone-in chicken pieces (I like using chicken legs as dark meat is juicy and flavourful. I buy them whole, and cut at the joints to separate thigh and drumstick- cheaper)
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 Tbsp. salt, divided
1 tsp. ground black pepper
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup potato starch
3 cups oil for deep-frying (peanut or canola oil are great choices)
vinegar soy dip and store-bought banana ketchup

NOTE: banana ketchup is made from bananas, tomatoes, sugar, vinegar and spices. It's sweet and sour doesn't taste anything like bananas, and readily available in Asian grocers. Regular ketchup is a perfect substitute.

In a skillet or saucepan, sauté the garlic in oil over medium heat until fragrant, Add vinegar, water, bay leaf, soy sauce, 1/2 Tbsp. salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and then add the chicken. Cook over high heat for ten minutes. Drain and carefully pat chicken dry with paper towels.

If using same skillet/saucepan to fry, make sure you rinse and dry well before adding oil or hot oil will spit and splatter. Add oil and heat on medium-high. Meanwhile, mix the flours and remaining 1/2 Tbsp. salt in a large bowl for breading. Add the chicken and coat the pieces evenly. Place breaded chicken on a tray or baking sheet. TIP: Make sure you bread right before frying otherwise the chicken with get moist and create a messy splattering during deep-frying.

Use a chopstick or wooden skewer to check if oil is hot enough. It is when bubbles form all around the stick when inserted in the centre of oil. A deep-fryer thermometer will register between 350F to 375F when ready. Deep-fry the chicken pieces for about 10 to 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Do not overcrowd the pan or chicken won't cook evenly. NOTE: Better yet, use the burner on your BBQ and leave the cooking and smells outside!!!

Keep a strainer nearby to remove any floating burnt debris to keep oil clean 
to cook chicken nicely. And use a splatter screen to keep oil from flying everywhere.

Place a cooling rack over a paper-towel lined tray or plate to drain the cooked chicken.

Served chicken with a side of deep-fried onion rings (why not go all out with a deep-fried foods affair), lemon wedges, chilies, sliced onions and full sour pickle wedges.

Deep-fried foods goes so well with a side of crunchy cabbage salad served with a drizzle of Japanese kewpie mayo, and banana ketchup, garlic mayonnaise and vinegar soy dip for the chicken.


This chili pepper is not too spicy mom! Yikes!

Crispy and juicy moist! Home-style deep-fried chicken is REALLY finger-lickin' GOOD!

If you like Filipino cuisine or want to discover some new flavours give these a try: Filipino Sautéed Marinated Clams and my Kamayan eating experience post with lots of great BBQ recipes to try with all kinds of meats and seafood.