Arugula, Spinach, Strawberry, Prosciutto, and Fresh Mozzarella Salad with Balsamic-Mustard Vinaigrette

While starting to work full-time, I also began doing PiYo (a combination of pilates and yoga) six days a week. My goal is to incorporate more fruits, vegetables, and proteins in my meals. Don’t get me wrong, I have a deep and undying passion for carbs (I can’t go without pasta for a week or else I get cranky). However, I want to start making healthy, innovative salads that can act as a hearty meal.

A few days ago I came home from work determined to experiment with what I had in my fridge.

Greens: Arugula and Spinach (GREAT combination)

Fruit: Strawberries

Dairy: Fresh Mozzarella

Protein: Prosciutto

Now, what to pair with these ingredients for a dressing. I sifted through my vinegars. Ah ha! Balsamic makes the perfect tangy vinaigrette with a dash of dijon mustard.

The finished product?

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

At first bite you feel the heartiness of the spinach with a little punch from the peppery arugula. The sweetness of the strawberry complements the tang of the balsamic vinaigrette. The fresh mozzarella is a welcome repose with its creamy texture. The prosciutto adds some protein, provides a necessary bit of saltiness, and takes to balsamic vinaigrette like a fish to water. A beautiful salad all around.

Arugula, Spinach, Strawberry, Prosciutto, and Fresh Mozzarella Salad with Balsamic-Mustard Vinaigrette

Salad (serves 2)

  • 1/2 bag fresh baby spinach, washed
  • 2 large handfuls of fresh arugula, washed
  • 1/2 ball fresh mozzarella, diced into 1 inch cubes
  • 5 strawberries, washed and chopped
  • 3 slices of prosciutto, ripped into pieces (you can substitute with another protein, like baked chicken)

Vinaigrette (adapted from a recipe in America’s Test Kitchen’s Complete Vegetarian Cookbook)

  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon light mayonnaise
  • salt and pepper to taste

1. Wash the spinach and arugula and dry using a salad spinner. Add the spinach and arugula to a large bowl.

2. Cut a ball of fresh mozzarella in half, and then cut that half into one-inch cubes, or into whatever size cubes you wish. Add this to the bowl.

3. Wash and cut the strawberries. Add to the bowl.

4. Take three pieces of prosciutto and rip into pieces with your fingers. The pieces can be as large or as small as you’d like. Add to the bowl.

5. To make the vinaigrette, add the balsamic vinegar, mustard, mayonnaise, salt and pepper to a smaller bowl. Whisk it until smooth. Then, while whisking with one hand, drizzle in the three tablespoons of olive oil until completely incorporated. If you struggle with this multi-tasking as I certainly have, you can add the olive oil and then whisk. It will turn out just fine!

6. Add the vinaigrette to the salad and mix the salad with tongs until the vinaigrette fully coats all the goodness.

This salad comes together in just minutes, and the flavors do not disappoint.

Have a wonderful Father’s Day weekend, everyone!

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Best Authentic Wontons

The month of May brought several blessings to celebrate.

1. I graduated with my Master’s in Publishing and Writing from Emerson College!

2. I accepted a job offer with America’s Test Kitchen! I’ll be their new Email Marketing Specialist. I start on June 8th, and I can’t wait to return!

3. On the last day of May, I made wontons.

Do you remember my post on Lessons in Chinese Cooking? Well, I finally got around to making wontons, and they came out exceptionally well thanks to Mrs. Chang’s detailed instructions and infinite kitchen wisdom.

When I made wontons with her, we folded them like this:

Folded Wontons
Folded Wontons

Aren’t these beautiful?!

My boyfriend helped catch me in action and take step-by-step photos for how to fold wontons. I shall now impart my wisdom unto you so that you can make the most glorious wontons at home.

Best Authentic Wontons

Filling (same as for steamed pork buns, fyi)

  • 3/4 pound ground pork
  • 1 egg
  • 3 scallions, chopped
  • 1 box of frozen spinach, thawed and chopped (or 1/2 bag fresh spinach, sautéed, cooled, and chopped)
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons sherry
  • 2 teaspoons fresh ginger (chopped or grated)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • optional ingredient: 1/8 teaspoon of Hondashi (a seasoning of sorts that can be made into a fish stock – adding a little of this brings out the flavor of everything else very well)

Wrapper 

To Make the Filling…

1. Take your ground pork and put it in a medium-large mixing bowl.

2. Chop the scallions, defrosted spinach (or sautéed and cooled spinach), and fresh ginger. Add that to the mixing bowl.

4. Add the sherry, sesame oil, egg, and spices (salt, pepper, and Hondashi if you have it). In this step, add as much liquid as you need in order to make the mixture sticky. You don’t want it too thin (too much liquid/oil) or too dry (not enough).

5. Take your hands (or chopsticks or a fork) and mix the filling together, making sure all ingredients are evenly incorporated. Wash your hands and set aside.

How to Fold Wontons

Step 1 for Making Wontons
Step 1

1. Add a small amount of filling to the middle of the wonton wrapper. Fill a small dish with water and set that beside you. Dip your finger into the water and wet the top edge of the wonton wrapper.

Step 2 for Making Wontons
Step 2

2. Fold the bottom edge of the wrapper up to meet the wet top edge. Press down to create a seal.

Step 3 in Making Wontons
Step 3

3. Take the now sealed top edge and make a small fold towards you. The fold should hit the top of the meat filling. this ensures a tight seal.

Step 4 in Making Wontons
Step 4

4. Now, grab the left and right side of the wonton wrapper and fold it down so that the two ends meet in the middle. The motion is curved so that by the time your two hands meet, your hands have moved in a half circle meeting at the bottom-most point. Does that make sense? In other words, the wonton should look like your typical tortellini.

Step 5 in Making Wontons
Step 5

5. To create the seal, dip your finger into the water bowl and wet the bottom left inner edge of the wonton.

Step 6 in Making Wontons
Step 6

6. Finally, take the right side and bring it over to the left, creating a seal with the wet left edge. The two ends will not completely overlap, just those inner edges.

The final product should look like this:

My folded wontons
My folded wontons

Don’t worry if it takes a few tries to get the perfect fold. As long as you have a good seal, your filling won’t come out!

To Cook the Wontons

1. Bring a large pot filled with water to a boil.

2. Put as many wontons as you would like into the pot to cook. You can refrigerate the wontons for a day or so, or you can freeze them to use again later.

3. Once the wontons begin to float, let them cook for another minute or so. If there are many wontons crowded into the pot, add an additional minute just to be sure. Then they are ready to eat!

You can simply take a slotted spoon and place the wontons on a plate. Have some soy sauce, sriracha, and sesame oil on the ready for dipping sauces.

OR…and this is my favorite…make the easiest wonton soup ever.

Wonton Soup

1. As the wontons are boiling, grab a clean soup bowl and add your seasonings and fixings. I usually like to chop up one fresh scallion, mince a small amount of fresh ginger, 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of sesame oil, 1/2 teaspoon of sriracha, and a little salt and pepper. You can add almost anything that makes sense. Mrs. Chang had special pickled radishes you can find in an asian foods market, and she also had these little baby shrimps you can find in the asian foods market. This is your chance to get creative!

Ingredients for Wonton Soup
Ingredients for Wonton Soup

2. When the wontons are done, take a slotted spoon and add your wontons. Then, take a ladle and add some of the wonton water into the bowl. Mix it all around, and there you have it! Those seasonings will flavor that water so that it doesn’t just taste like boiled water, trust me.

Easiest Wonton Soup
Easiest Wonton Soup

Have fun with this! Please comment with any questions, concerns, or success stories. Have a wonderful week!

Braised Kale and Parmesan Whole Grain Rice Bowl

Is it just me, or was kale not really around in the 90s? I’m sure it was, but as a child I was too fixated on Dunkaroos, those fake cheese snacks with the bread sticks or pretzel sticks for dipping, and Little Debbie oatmeal pies. My family ate healthfully for the most part, but hearty leafy veggies like kale were not exactly on our radar.

I ate kale for the first time when I moved to Boston in August 2013. When I hosted a dinner party with new friends, one of them brought sautéed kale with cumin. This same friend brought a kale salad with wheat berries, apples, and a smoked paprika vinaigrette to another dinner party. Kale began to intrigue me. The hearty, earthy flavors mix so well with fresh fruit and smokier spices. The one thing I could not get over was the texture of raw kale. Treated incorrectly, raw kale feels like rubber in my mouth.

When I interned at America’s Test Kitchen, I discovered this quick video tip about how to handle raw kale:

While raw kale is totally edible, I prefer this nutritious veg braised.

What is braising, you ask? Braising means cooking something in a small amount of liquid that will evaporate and allow the main ingredient to caramelize without getting burnt. It’s magic.

I love mixing whole grains with salad greens. Sweet Green got me hooked. I feel full, but I don’t experience that food coma you get when you eat too much of that homemade mac and cheese.

America’s Test Kitchen’s The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook has a recipe for Braised Kale that’s amazing (I urge you to check out this cookbook, even if you eat meat). I adapted that recipe for the amount of kale I had, and then I added brown rice (I used Trader Joe’s Brown Rice Medley with long grain brown rice, black barley, and daikon radish seeds). Adding grated pecorino romano cheese at the end was the slam-dunk perfect finishing touch.

Braised Kale and Parmesan Whole Grain Rice Bowl
Braised Kale and Parmesan Whole Grain Rice Bowl

Braised Kale and Parmesan Whole Grain Rice Bowl

For braised kale

  • 1 10 oz. bag of tuscan kale, or 10 oz. fresh kale rinsed, stemmed, and chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 cup vegetable or chicken broth (if you don’t have broth on hand, you can use 1 cup of water and 1 bouillon cube)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1/8 cup parmesan

For brown rice 

  • 1/2 cup rice
  • 1 1/4 cups water

1. Heat olive oil in a 4-Quart pot or Dutch oven on medium heat. Add the chopped onion and sauté until translucent, about 7–8 minutes.

2. Add the garlic and cayenne pepper, cooking for about 1–2 minutes. Just make sure the garlic doesn’t brown.

3. Add in half the kale and cook it so it wilts down. This is a fabulous ATK tip I learned, and this will allow you to fit all the kale in the pot.

4. Put the rest of the kale in the pot along with the broth and some salt and pepper to taste. Cover the pot and reduce the heat to medium-low. Stir every once and awhile until the greens are tender. This will take roughly 20 minutes.

6. While the kale is cooking, grab another pot and cook your brown rice. Follow your package’s instructions. If you have a rice cooker, even better. My parents just got an Aroma rice cooker and love it.

5. Now, remove the lid of the pot with the kale and increase the heat to medium-high. Cook the kale until the liquid has pretty much evaporated. This will take about 10 minutes.

6. Turn off the heat and add the lemon juice and any additional salt and pepper you may need to the kale.

7. Take your now cooked brown rice and add that to the pot of braised kale. Mix together. Then add the pecorino romano cheese and mix until combined.

There’s nothing better than food that is super healthy and super easy to make. If you are just getting introduced to this leafy vegetable, I guarantee you’ll love this dish.

Egg Noodles with Ricotta, Lemon, Mint, and Peas

Yesterday was the first day of spring, and it’s now…let me check my phone…26 degrees Fahrenheit here in Boston. We’ve all been craving the sunshine, the green grass, the blossoms, and the spring harvest. Winter brings us squash and citrus, but gosh do I miss those colorful farmers markets, those bright, fresh flavors. I needed a boost after being plunged into the cold for months, so I went to the grocery store and found fresh mint. One whiff of this beautiful herb brings images of summer to my mind’s eye.

Right before I traveled to England in 2011 to study abroad in Oxford, I watched Jamie at Home every day. Jamie Oliver is one of my favorite chefs of all time for several reasons. He has a knack for pairing flavors together in the most beautifully simple way. The one flavor trio that stood out most was his use of lemon, mint, and chili. Look to his courgette salad recipe for an example of this. Mint and citrus are made for each other, and that extra kick at the end from the chili adds an unexpected warmth. Amazing.

This past weekend my boyfriend and I ate dinner at The Haven, a Scottish pub in Jamaica Plain, MA. One of their signature sides is minty mushed peas. Oh my heavens. Chopped mint made those creamy peas the most refreshing mashed vegetable in the world.

So, with these inspirations in mind, I wanted to create a dish that put lemon, mint, peas, and chili together. Behold:

Egg Noodles with Ricotta, Lemon, Mint, and Peas
Egg Noodles with Ricotta, Lemon, Mint, and Peas

 Egg Noodles with Ricotta, Lemon, Mint, and Peas

Serves 2

  • 1 pound egg noodles (I recommend Pennsylvania Dutch Extra Wide)
  • 1/2 cup whole milk ricotta cheese (about 1/4 cup per person)
  • 3/4 cup frozen peas
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 9 mint leaves, chopped
  • a pinch to 1/8 teaspoon of cayenne pepper (you can use fresh red chili if you wish)
  • salt and pepper to taste

1. Put the frozen peas in a pan. Take a garlic press and crush one clove of garlic, adding that garlic to the pan.

2. Add olive oil to the pan and turn the heat up to medium. Season the peas with salt and pepper to your taste. Let the peas sizzle in the pan until fully thawed. Turn off the heat and set aside.

3. Fill a large pot with water and heat until boiling.

4. As the pasta water heats up, wash the mint leaves and either chop them with a sharp knife or rip them into pieces with your fingers for less bruising. Add these mint leaves to a bowl along with the lemon zest and lemon juice. If you do not have a mortar and pestle (I don’t!), take the back of a spoon and press or “muddle” the mint and lemon against the side of the bowl. This allows the juices in the mint to come out and mix more readily with the lemon juice.

5. Add the ricotta cheese to the mint and lemon and mix until fully incorporated. Add the cayenne pepper (or fresh red chili) and salt; mix until combined. Set aside.

6. When the water begins to boil, add the egg noodles and cook until al dente.

7. Add drained pasta back into the pot and mix with the sauteed peas and garlic.

8. Spoon the pasta into bowls and top with the lemon mint ricotta cheese mixture. Mix it all together.

And there you have it! A pasta dish so creamy yet so refreshing. Spring is here—celebrate with good food. Happy cooking!

 

Chinese Cooking Experiment #2: Steamed Pork Buns

Steamed Pork Buns
Steamed Pork Buns

To start, my boyfriend Bailey wanted to say a few words about what steamed pork buns, or shengjian bao, mean to him:

Shengjian bao is a variant of its cousin, the “xiaolong bao,” or (little basket bun), which is basically a lump of dough filled with pork and vegetables, a favourite foodstuff in my parents’ hometown of Shanghai.  Only the steamed pork buns are lightly fried under water instead of steamed in bamboo baskets.  During my time in Shanghai as a young man, my parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles would break our nonstop video game marathons by advising us we would be having these buns for lunch.  Dilapidated metal bowls of these steamed pork buns, gravid with tasty broth generated by the action of the steam, would issue from the little café down the street, giving us the energy needed to continue playing on into the night.”

The process to perfect these beauties took much longer than expected. One day I will get them to look picture perfect, but the taste is sure there.

To review, the dough for steamed pork buns is the same I used for the scallion pancakes: frozen bread dough. Can you believe that? Sometimes the things that seem complicated on the outside are, in reality, quite simple when you delve into the process.

In my first experiment, I cut one loaf of frozen bread dough into small pieces and used flour to roll those pieces into balls to then flatten them out into medallions. Unfortunately, the flour made the dough less adhesive, and the pork buns opened up while cooking in the steam. Water got into some of them. It was kind of ugly. Nevertheless, some of them survived, and the filling was juicy with the right flavors.

First Experiment: Pork buns on cutting board unnecessarily floured.
First Experiment = Unnecessary Floured Dough

I cut out flour in my second experiment, letting the dough be pliable and sticky so that the folds stuck together and wouldn’t open in the steam. This post is proof that success was had!

Steamed Pork Buns

Dough

  • 1 loaf frozen bread dough (white or wheat)

Filling

  • 3/4 pound ground pork
  • 1 egg
  • 3 scallions, chopped
  • 1 box of frozen spinach, thawed and chopped (or 1/2 bag fresh spinach, sautéed, cooled, and chopped)
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons sherry
  • 2 teaspoons fresh ginger (chopped or grated)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • optional ingredient: 1/8 teaspoon of Hondashi (a seasoning of sorts that can be made into a fish stock – adding a little of this brings out the flavor of everything else very well)

1. Start by making the filling. Take your ground pork and put it in a medium-large mixing bowl.

2. Chop the scallions, defrosted spinach (or sautéed and cooled spinach), and fresh ginger. Add that to the mixing bowl.

4. Add the sherry, sesame oil, egg, and spices (salt, pepper, and Hondashi if you have it). In this step, add as much liquid as you need in order to make the mixture sticky. You don’t want it too thin (too much liquid/oil) or too dry (not enough).

5. Take your hands (or a fork if it grosses you out, but using your hands is so much fun!) and mix the filling together, making sure all ingredients are evenly incorporated. Wash your hands and set aside.

6. Thaw loaf of frozen bread dough according to package instructions.

7. With a serrated knife, cut the bread dough into small strips about 1 inch wide.

8. Roll each strip of bread dough into a ball. Set each ball of dough on your cutting board. It’s going to be sticky, but that’s what you want so the bun folds well!

9. Take one ball of bread dough and roll it out into a medallion a little over a quarter-inch thick. If you don’t have a rolling pin, you can flatten it with your hands.

10. Place a small portion of your filling in the center.

Filling the Pork Bun
Filling the Pork Bun

11. Now, to fold the pork buns, lift up one edge of the medallion with your thumb and pointer finger towards the center. With your other hand, take the edge to the right and have that meet the first. It’s hard to explain in writing, but think about the crimping process for pie crust. Keep taking small portions of the edge and folding them up to meet in the center.

Folding the Pork Bun
Folding the Pork Bun

12. Once all the edges are folded into the center, twist the dough on top so there is no chance of it opening in the steam.

Pork Buns Ready for Steaming
Pork Buns Ready for Steaming

13. You will need a large pan with a lid to cook the steam buns. The process is the same as making scallion pancakes. Turn the heat up to medium-high. Coat the bottom of the pan with olive oil and place the pork buns into the pan.

14. Pour water into the pan so that the buns are about halfway submerged.

15. Cover the pan and allow the pork buns to steam in the boiling water. The pork buns will grow in size, don’t be alarmed!

16. Once you see that the water is about evaporated, turn the heat down to low and let the pork buns brown on the bottom. Some may have already browned before you turn the heat down. Just check each bun using a pair of tongs and cook accordingly.

17. When the pork buns are browned on the bottom, they are ready to eat. A crispy bottom with a little char is perfect.

You can dip the pork buns in soy sauce or in a Chinese vinegar. Bailey’s family uses Zhenjiang vinegar. Another fact that is good to know – this filling can be used in wontons to make wonton soup. Genius.

Please let me know if you have any questions about the process of making these, especially when it comes to folding them!

Black Beans and Rice

Black Beans and Rice
Black Beans and Rice

My middle school back in Ohio only offered two languages: French and Spanish. Since Spanish was the closest sounding language to Italian, I chose that one to study. Talented, patient, and positive teachers made a difference in my language learning experience, so much so that Spanish became one of my majors in college. Food parties were a staple in my middle and high school years, but the stakes became higher in 11th grade. I don’t remember why, exactly, but I do remember coming home to my Mom in a fit of stress, “What am I going to cook for Spanish IV? I have no idea what to do!”

We brainstormed for awhile. After a few hours of vigorous web-surfing, we found a recipe that looked manageable and delicious: black beans and rice. Beans and rice are two essential ingredients in Spanish and Latin American cooking, and though I worried about being too “cliché,” I realized there was validity in trying to perfect such an authentic, traditional dish. My Mom and I made the recipe together, and it came out better than expected. We were tempted to eat the whole pot of rice after our first spoonful, but I had a class to feed, alas.

Over the years, my family has tweaked the recipe and we’ve made it our own. On a day when I want to eat something filling yet healthy, this is an easy dish towards which to turn. I am going to provide the written recipe for you all, though I will note that in the batch I pictured, I used brown rice and carrots instead of celery.

Black Beans and Rice

  • 1 tbsp olive  oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 stick celery, chopped
  • 1 red pepper, chopped
  • 1 cup uncooked rice (white or brown)
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 tsp curry
  • 1 can chicken broth
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 tsp chili powder

Note: Measurements for seasonings are approximate. Add more or less of each to your taste.

1. Heat olive oil in a skillet and add the chopped onion, pepper, and celery (or any other vegetable you decide to add) and sauté for about 5 minutes.

2. Add the uncooked rice and continue sautéing for 2-3 minutes until the veg softens and the rice toasts.

3. Add the chicken broth, cumin, curry, oregano, salt, and chili powder. Note: In my most recent batch I added some smoked paprika (highly recommended). 

4. Mix well. Cover the pan and let simmer on low for 15 minutes or until the liquid absorbs. Test the rice at this point. If your rice still needs too cook, just add a little more chicken broth and let that cook down.

5. Once the liquid absorbs and the rice is cooked to your liking, add the black beans once you have drained them and given them a rinse under cold water. Mix until the beans are incorporated into the rice.

6. Heat the mixture through until steaming.

You can easily add chicken, crumbled chorizo sausage, or sliced kielbasa to this dish if you’d like more protein. ¡Qué aproveche! (Enjoy your meal!)