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.

Sneaky Chocolate Crinkles

20131226-145120.jpgWith 2013 near its final days, I thought I’d share a new recipe I tried this Christmas. Traditionally, my sibling, mom, and I make cut out sugar cookies and thumbprints for our cookie lineup, but this year I was enticed by this gorgeous recipe. The cookies are deliciously chocolatey, yet not over-indulgent. They also require no decorating, since they’re rolled in powdered sugar! To change things up a bit (and lighten up the holiday butter-load) I chose a recipe with less butter, and substitute partial whole wheat pastry flour. This IS the superior crinkle!

Chocolate Crinkles (Sneakily better-for-you!)
Inspired by Julievr on Babble.com

  • 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cups whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I used hersheys)
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 2 large eggs

2 tsp. vanilla

Powdered sugar, for rolling

Preheat the oven to 350°F. In a medium bowl cream the butter and sugars until fluffy and light, about 3 minutes. Do not skip this! It is crucial in cookie-making. Add the eggs, vanilla, and stir until well blended, then dry ingredients and mix again.

At first it will seem like there isn’t enough liquid, but it will come together. You may need to get in there with your hands – don’t be afraid to! Form the dough into a ball, slab, whatever and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill in the fridge for at least 1 hour.

Take the dough out of the fridge. Put some icing sugar in a shallow bowl and line a baking tray with parchment. Sprinkle some powdered sugar on the parchment, too. Roll the dough into walnut-sized balls and roll the balls in icing sugar to coat; be sure to cover them well, it makes them look much prettier. Place an inch or two apart on the cookie sheets.

Bake for 12-14 minutes, until set around the edges but still soft in the middle. Be sure not to over bake them! In fact, they are better a bit under, so they say soft and chewy in the center. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Makes about 2 dozen cookies.

Serve warm with a glass of milk or egg nog.

Happy Baking!

Sweet potaters

Sweet potatoes? Yams? So much confusion! I feel like no grocery store will ever have a straight answer to the “is it sweet potato vs is it yam” debate. It turns out sweet potatoes are indeed what you are buying as a yam. That is, unless you think sweet potatoes are starchy tuberous things. Yeah, didn’t think so.

So what do I mean? According to About.com, sweet potatoes are yellow, orange, red, or even purple skinned and fleshed. They are sort of potato shaped, and taste sweet. Yellow ones are creamier, orange ones are softer, purple ones are very sweet – you get the idea, they all very. The important thing, though, is that they look like this: 

(via farm fresh produce)

On the other hand, yams are starchy and tuberous. They’re not really popular in the USA, but rather in the carribean, africa, and central america. Here’s a yam, for drastic comparison:

Yeah, never seen that before.

So,  now that we’ve got that clear, onto a quick and easy method to cook SWEET POTATOES without worrying! This is an extremely simple method that leaves the sweet potatoes by themselves, so you can enjoy their creaminess in nature form! No sugar, no salt, no pepper, nope. Just delicious sweet potatoes. All you need is your oven or grill on above 300 degrees, some foil, and sweet potatoes, of course.

Here’s the process in pictures, first.

washed & clean wrapped up! looks a bit like a flying saucer, haha on the grill under some zucchini fully roasted! look at the wrinkly, caramelized skin and creamy, sweet interior. Yum! The perfect workout snack/breakfast/side dish/dessert/whatever!

Simple Roasted Sweet Potatoes
Ingredients:

Sweet Potatoes (any kind you want, keep in mind this will determine the cooking time)

 

Directions:

1. Wash the sweet potatoes really good, because you’re going to leave the skin on. YES, you can eat the skin, it’s very nutritious, full of fiber and vitamin A! I love the skin, actually, it’s fun to peel off and eat 🙂 You don’t need to cut them either, unless you want them to cook faster.

2. Wrap the sweet potatoes tightly in Aluminum foil. No tears or gaps!

3. Place the sweet potatoes in the oven/on your grill. You can throw these in any time you have the oven on, regardless of what else is in there!

4. Check the potatoes every 20 minutes for done-ness. If they are soft enough to be pierced easily with a fork, they’re typically done! I like to leave mine in a bit extra so they get caramelized on one side on the skin 🙂

5. Take the packet out of the grill/oven, careful to avoid steam burns.

6. Cut it open and fill it with chili, coconut flakes, peanuts, peanut butter, I don’t know, people have weird sweet potato pairings. Or, just enjoy it plain! Bon Appetit!