Carrot-Jicama Lettuce Wraps with Hoisin-Plum Dipping Sauce

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Beautiful plates of food. Gorgeous posts on instagram. Delicious restaurant meals. Inspirational healthy recipes. You’re motivated; you want to cook, and you’re ready to embark on a journey into the culinary world, and then you open the fridge, and you’re missing the key ingredient.

The eggs. The cilantro. The canned tomatoes. The jalapeno. Suddenly your epicurean aspirations fall apart, and you’re back on the couch with a takeout menu in hand. I get it.

Yes, it is difficult getting started cooking. You have to have the recipe laid out; every ingredient has to be present; you have to make sure all your equipment is up to par. It might seem like missing one thing is the end of the world when you’ve got one thing in mind, but one of the most important lessons I’ve learned from cooking (and the TV show Chopped) is improvisation!

For example, today I was so ready to make spring rolls. I had my carrots and jicama sautéed, my vietnamese ham all fried up, sauce ready, herbs washed, and then I realized: I was out of rice paper. Duh! Luckily iceberg lettuce came to my rescue and I made lettuce wraps instead. In the future I think I’ll use this as a lazy spring roll version (as opposed to salad-ifying spring rolls) if I’m in the mood to dip.

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If you’ve never heard of vietnamese ham (or vietnamese baloney), called Cha Lua in Vietnamese, do not be put off by the name! It’s such a sad english translation. It’s basically like a huge cylindrical steamed meatball, like the kind you’d find in asian soups, but wrapped in banana leaf. It’s often available at Vietnamese sandwich shops and grocery stores. Try it in a Vietnamese sandwich first (Banh Mi Cha Lua) and once you’re hooked, you can buy the full ham to slice at home!

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Carrot-Jicama Lettuce Wraps with Hoisin-Plum Dipping Sauce

  • 1 jicama, julienned
  • 3 medium carrots, peeled & julienned OR 1 bag shredded carrots
  • 1 tablespoon fried shallots
  • fish sauce & pepper to taste
  • 1 roll vietnamese ham, julienned
  • 1 cup fresh mint, washed
  • 1/2 head iceberg lettuce, washed
  • 1/4 cup hoisin sauce
  • 1/4 cup plum sauce
  • 1 tsp sriracha

Heat a bit of oil in a large skillet and add the fried shallots over medium heat for 1 minute. Add the julienned jicama, stir. Let cook down a bit, for about 2 minutes, before adding the carrots. Stir fry all together until the carrots and jicama are softened and the jicama is slightly translucent. Season the jicama-carrot mixture with pepper and fish sauce to taste. Set vegetables aside.

In the same skillet, toss julienned vietnamese ham and let brown, stirring every minute or so until the small bits are crispy. Set aside.

In a small bowl, mix hoisin, plum sauce, and sriracha. Thin out a bit with some water if your plum sauce is too thick.

On a cutting board, slice the iceberg lettuce in half down the stem. Carefully remove the leaves so they do not lose shape.

Layer a leaf with jicama carrot mixture, then vietnamese ham, then the mint leaves. Continue making lettuce “rolls” until all ingredients are finished. Enjoy by dipping the rolls in the hoisin-plum sauce.

Green Papaya Salad (Vietnamese Style)

Not my photo! I didn't get one of mine because I ate it too fast ;)

Not my photo! I didn’t get one of mine because I ate it too fast 😉

So I’ve been meaning to post this recipe – I first made it when I got my mandolin slicer for Christmas (!!). But with summer just around the corner, weather in the 90’s forecasted this week, and lots of available, fresh produce, I decided that now would be the perfect time to share such a refreshing recipe.

 

Green papaya (unripened papaya) is shredded, and tossed with a salty-sweet dressing, and topped with fried shallots, beef jerky, and crushed peanuts. This dish comes originally from Laos, but I’ve been familiarized with it through my Vietnamese mother.

 

It’s helpful to have a mandolin to shred the papaya quickly. Also, any beef jerky will work (I prefer spicy), and you can find green papaya at your nearby asian grocer. Most western grocery stores DO carry papaya, but sometimes even though it looks underripe, it’s not. It’s best to go to an asian grocery to eliminate any doubts.

 

in the making...

in the making…

Green Papaya Salad (Vietnamese Style)

  • shredded green papaya
  • 1/4 cup fish sauce
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup vinegar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup white sugar OR agave nectar (or any neutral, dissolvable sweetener)
  • 1/2 cup beef jerky, sliced thinly
  • 1/2 cup thai basil (or regular basil), sliced thinly
  • 1/4 cup crushed peanuts, or more to garnish
  • sliced serrano or jalapeno peppers (optional)

Shred the green papaya with a mandolin or knife into fine strips. Place in a colander and toss with a pinch of salt. Let sit for 30 minutes to remove sliminess and some of the excess water. Rinse, and pat dry. In a seperate bowl, mix the fish sauce, soy sauce, vinegar, water, and sugar until all are dissolved.

Toss the papaya, dressing, basil, half the beef jerky and half the peanuts in a large bowl just before serving. Put onto a large plate, garnish with the remaining peanuts, beef jerky, and optional peppers. Serve immediately!

 

Japanese-style Steamed Fish

Sometimes its nice to just have something simple.

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Clean, crisp, light flavors are like a cleanse for the palate, and after my dad and I had three nights of heavy eating, we were really craving a simple dinner for Sunday evening.

 

With some fresh ginger from the farmers market and beautiful fillets of cod from Whole Foods, what better way to use them than with Japanese steamed fish. Seasoned with only soy sauce, mirin, and ginger, this dish steams conveniently in the oven for those of you who don’t have a nice steamer.

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Japanese-style Steamed Fish

Adapted from Allrecipes

  • 24 oz. true cod, cleaned and cut into palm-sized fillets
  • 1 inch grated fresh ginger
  • 3 tablespoons mirin
  • 4 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1/4 tsp white pepper
  • 1-2 green onions, sliced
  • Handful of sprouts for garnish (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. In a round or square glass baking dish, place fillets of fish in one even layer. Mix the marinade in a seperate bowl. Carefully pour over the fish. Cover the dish with foil and bake for about 30 minutes, until fish is opaque as it will continue to cook in the hot liquid.

Garnish with fresh sprouts and serve with rice or a grain and steamed fresh vegetables for a truly simple meal. Enjoy!

Power Mocha Smoothie

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I used to be a banana hater.

I distinctly remember trips to Jamba Juice gone wrong because there was a banana in my smoothie. Even the slightest detection of the fruit would set me off; it was so stringy and sticky, and smelly, ick.

However, my banana aversion gradually withered away with time, thanks to quite a few loaves of banana bread and my introduction to banana chips. To this day, I’m pretty tolerable. It’s a great fruit, after all, loaded with potassium, super portable, good for muscle cramps, and versatile, too!

Speaking of how useful it is, it’s a truly amazing component in smoothies. It really binds the whole thing together, acts as a natural sweetener and thickener. It pairs well with a myriad of fruits and flavors, and I’ve learned one of my favorite combos with bananas is chocolate!

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So why not put them together in a smoothie? Bananas are great quick sources of energy because they are easily digestible, and paired with a few spoonfuls of cocoa powder, and maybe some coffee beans to really accent that dark, rich flavor, they are truly stars. Smooth and creamy, streaked with little flecks of beautiful coffee beans, this makes a great afternoon snack or morning pick-me-up. And hey, this smoothie is easily vegan, gluten, and refined sugar free! Yay bananas!

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Power Mocha Smoothie

  • 1 medium banana, peeled
  • 1/2 cup soymilk, almond milk, flax milk, or regular milk
  • 1/2 cup ice cubes
  • 1/4 cup whole coffee beans (if blender is not powerful, use ground coffee or sub 1 tsp instant coffee)
  • 1 tsp dutch cocoa powder (regular is ok, too)

Put all the ingredients in a blender and mix, gradually increasing speed, until coffee beans are ground into small specks. Pour into a tall glass and serve. You might need a spoon because of how creamy this is!

Quick-but-healthy popcorn

Hey guys! I’ve been busy lately so I haven’t been able to keep track of all the recipes I’ve been using this week, so I apologize for that! I promise I’ll get my butt back on here ASAP. By the way, check me out on instagram! (Thumbnail on the right-hand sidebar, or @G1_N4)

In the meantime, I wanted to share the perfect quick snack (that’s healthy) that is one of my fallbacks when I don’t have much time. It’s microwave popcorn! I know, some people still think that microwave popcorn is unhealthy, but that’s only if you’re still buying it in the bag. Recent food trends have uncovered a way to make your own preservative-free popcorn – no air popper necessary.
Popcorn is loaded with fiber (it’s the only grain that we eat entirely; no removing husks or anything) and is a great unrefined carb. 1 cup popped = 30 calories. This recipe makes about 3 cups.

IMG_0101Microwave Popcorn

 

  • 2 tablespoons popcorn
  • pinch salt
  • oil, coconut oil, butter of choice

Just put the kernels in a brown paper lunch bag, drizzle some olive oil, coconut oil, or butter, sprinkle on some salt and seasoning, fold the bag over, and microwave for 2-3 minutes, depending on your microwave’s strength. Stop when the popcorn pops greater than every 2 seconds.

Some of my favorite variations:

  • shake on some Furikake (Japanese rice flakes after popping)

  • sweet cinnamon sugar (1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1 tablespoon white sugar before popping)
  • kettle corn style, salty & sweet (1-2 tablespoons white sugar before popping)
  • chocolatey goodness (add 1 teaspoon cocoa powder before popping)
  • spicy snacking (pinch cayenne or replace salt with chili powder before popping)

Get creative, enjoy!

Whole Roasted Cauliflower with Paprika-Yogurt crust

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Cauliflower has quickly become one of my favorite vegetables.

I mean, it’s such a great “blank canvas”. Similar to cabbage (and also a cruciferous vegetable!), it’s a great vegetable that picks up an accent; think bacon, curry paste, lime juice, or cheddar cheese. And so many people have taken to cauliflower as a healthy substitute lately! It’s used to healthify mashed potatoes; to form a pizza crust; to replace buffalo wings; and to even soak up a sauce like good ‘ol white rice would! (hint hint click through for some awesome recipes)

Now think about taking this humble vegetable upscale. Dramatic. An appetizer, or even, a vegetarian entree. Lately I’ve been eyeing a TON of recipes of a whole roasted cauliflower. Not in little florets, nope, this is full-fledged cauliflower amazing.

Based on all the recipes I read, I amalgamated them all into something that would be easy to make but still delicious! Serve this at your next dinner party as an appetizer, or just whenever you feel like some charred, delicious vegetables. I served it alongside some homemade shwarma and flatbreads (I’ll post a recipe at some point, except the bread… that one I just eyeballed).

Whole Roasted Cauliflower with Paprika-Yogurt Crust

  • 1 medium head of cauliflower, washed
  • 1 cup of greek yogurt (I used nonfat)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika OR regular paprika

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees fahrenheit.

Bring a large pot to a rolling boil. Add about a tablespoon of salt. Carefully load the whole head of cauliflower into the pot, and reduce the pot to a simmer for about 10 minutes, until the cauliflower is tender enough to poke with a fork. Carefully take the cauliflower out of the pot with a strainer spoon or tongs. Set onto a tray lined with foil.

In a small bowl, mix the yogurt, salt, pepper, and paprika. With a spoon or rubber spatula, spread the yogurt mixture over the cauliflower (not the leaves) on top of the foil.

Roast the cauliflower for about 40 minutes, until evenly charred throughout. Take the cauliflower out and cut into large wedges with a knife. Serve as a vegetable side or appetizer. Enjoy!

Whole Wheat Chocolate Cake with Coconut Ganache

Screen shot 2014-02-12 at 6.06.57 PMSo this Wednesday, February 12th, was my birthday!

Over the years my tastes for birthday cake have most definitely changed. Ice cream cakes from Cold Stone Creamery; flourless fudge cakes from Cosentino’s Italian Market; dark chocolate cakes garnished with beautiful fresh strawberries from Whole Foods. Chocolate clearly is a recurring theme here. I am and always will be a dark chocolate fan 🙂

However, this year I decided I wanted to make my own birthday cake. I mean, what better time to try out a new recipe? If it gets messed up, or it takes all day, or you lick the spoon, or you burn it, who cares, because it’s your birthday!

I chose to try out a healthy chocolate cake recipe so that I could eat it all week without getting sick of it, or feeling overly indulgent. Sneaky, huh? Therefore, I picked a recipe using whole wheat flour, that’s nearly fat free (in the cake base), and allowed me to try out a new AMAZING ingredient that I just bought, coconut oil, in the ganache! You guys should check out ifoodreal for the whole spiel 🙂

The coconut oil, I will warn you if you’re not a coconut fan, does retain some of the floral-coconutty notes. However, I really like coconut oil’s melting point and how incredibly luxurious it tastes. It melts on your tongue instantly – yet hardens when it cools like a true ganache. Heaven!

Also, it’s crucial for this cake that you have a spring form pan so that the ganache stays on the sides when you pour it on. This eliminates the need to spread on the ganache, because you can just drizzle it over the top; so much easier!

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Using my own creativity (and inspiration from admiring Momofuku’s birthday cake), I made the cake a layered one with a cake “crumb” filling, much like Momofuku’s. I didn’t use any butter in the entire recipe, so it’s definitely not as rich as theirs, but hey, it looks beautiful and I had a lot of ton making it! If you’re not used to low-fat cakes, it’ll take some getting used to. But, as my mom remarked, “you could eat this for breakfast!”

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Whole Wheat Chocolate Cake with Coconut Ganache 

(from ifoodreal)

Ingredients

Cake: 

  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup milk (I used 1%, even nut milks should work, though)
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Crumb Filling/Soak: 

  • Baked cake from small pan
  • 2 Tbs milk (or any liquid, rum would be nice!)
  • 1 cup chocolate chips (I used Guittard 62%)

Ganache: 

  • 1/2 cup coconut oil
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder (I used hershey’s extra dark)

For the cake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and grease or spray either an 8′ or 6′ spring form pan. Also grease a small loaf sized pan or about 3 ramekins to make the cake “crumbs”. The size of pan doesn’t matter too much, but do keep in mind baking times may vary because of this.

Mix the liquid ingredients in one bowl, until well combined. In a separate bowl stir together the dry ingredients. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet, and mix with an electric mixer on medium-low or by hand until just combined.

Pour about a half cup of the batter into the loaf pan or ramekins, and put the rest of the batter into a greased cake/spring form pan and put in the oven for about 20 minutes. Take the small portion of cake “crumbs” out of the oven and set aside. Leave the rest of the cake in the oven for about 20 more minutes. Add additional time if necessary, in five minute increments, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Immediately put the cake (in its pan!) in the freezer for about 1 hour to firm up. Leave the crumbs at room temperature.

For the Ganache: Melt the coconut oil in a measuring cup in the microwave for about 30 seconds, or over the stove for about 1 minute. Stir in the cocoa powder and agave. Chill in the fridge for about 1 hour, until the ganache is the consistency of melted chocolate. Waited too long to chill, and now it’s too hard? Put the ganache in the microwave to soften it up.

For the Filling: Put the cake crumbs in a large bowl and break the cake up into large crumb-size pieces. Mix in the 1 cup of chocolate chips, and milk with a spoon, until it forms a moist crumbly mixture. Set covered in the fridge.

For the assembly: Take the cake out of the freezer and carefully run a knife around the edges to unmold it. Slice the cake into three even rings, ignoring the “dome” topped shape. We’re not going to trim this off – it gives the cake character and height!

Now put one layer on the bottom of the cake mold. Add a quarter of the cake crumbs in an even layer, and drizzle about a quarter cup of ganache. Repeat until their are no more cake disks and the “dome” layer is on top. Press the dome layer down, gently, to secure the other cake layers. Now pour the remainder of the chocolate ganache over the cake, allowing it to drip down the cake INSIDE of the mold.

If you feel the ganache will overflow, press down the layers of the cake firmly so that there is enough edge on the cake mold to not overflow. Sprinkle the remainder of cake crumbs over the cake, cover, and let chill in the fridge for at least 1 hour. When ready to serve, carefully remove the sides of the spring form pan and transfer to a plate. Good Luck!

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