Tempura Squash Blossoms with Ricotta, Chile, Mint, and Lemon Zest

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From Memorial Day to Labor Day, my company offers us “summer Fridays” where I get to leave work at 1pm every single Friday. These half days are such a gift. In past years, I would take advantage of this early start to the weekend by making as many plans as possible. Take a trip one weekend, go on a jam-packed adventure with friends another week. If I didn’t have something to do, I felt uncool, almost as if I were less worthy as a person.

Why does society perpetuate the stigma of being alone? There’s a general pressure, especially for women, to avoid being alone. Loneliness isn’t “becoming.” Blah, blah, blah. This negative view towards being alone and spending time by yourself, with yourself, does nothing but increase feelings of shame and cause an obsession with being busy, occupied.

This year has taught me many lessons. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is that it is not only okay, but necessary to spend time with yourself. This is an act of self care. The act of being with yourself, taking yourself out on a date, puts into practice the idea that you can be alone and also be okay.

I’ve been listening to the Dear Sugars podcast lately, and I listened to an episode about loneliness and women who worry they will never find “the one.” They spoke with writer Kate Bolick, who referenced this beautiful line from Edith Wharton:

“I believe I know the only cure, which is to make one’s center of life inside of one’s self, not selfishly or excludingly, but with a kind of unassailable serenity—to decorate one’s inner house so richly that one is content there, glad to welcome anyone who wants to come and stay, but happy all the same when one is inevitably alone.”

YAS, Edith Wharton!

Spending time alone is not an easy task for me, so I challenged myself this year to use my summer Fridays as my “me” time. The farmers market is open down the street on Friday afternoons, so I like to take my time, walk around to all the booths, and compare the quality and pricing of the produce offered. Then, I start to plan potential meal options in my head for the weekend based on the fruits and vegetables that look best. I’ll have conversations with the farmers, who give me their recommendations. It’s really quite thrilling for me to do this! The produce is so incredibly, achingly beautiful to me. I’m passionate about home grown fruits and veggies, okay?!

A few weeks ago I spotted a gorgeous pint of baby heirloom tomatoes from Atlas Farms. I knew that baby tomatoes were the way to go because this year larger heirloom tomatoes are late (we’ve had a colder August here in New England). I then grabbed a luscious bunch of basil from MacArthur Farm, and I had the makings of the most bomb caprese salad:

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I made garlic toast with whole wheat sourdough bread I bought from the Iggy’s stand, and I enjoyed this dinner by myself, for myself. My heart felt happy and free.

I also stopped by the Siena Farms stand in hopes that I would find squash blossoms. At first, I didn’t see any. Then, in a moment of pure serendipity, one of the farmers pulled out a bucket of them. I had my squee moment, then eagerly went up to him and asked for six.

squash blossoms
Aren’t they gorgeous?

He asked me how I like to cook them. I told him, the whole reason why I knew you could eat squash blooms is because I watched an episode of Jamie at Home one day, and he was making Crispy Courgette Flowers Stuffed with Ricotta and Mint. The light crispiness of the tempura batter and the warm, bright, yet rich filling within the delicate flower seemed like heaven to me. I wanted to learn how to adapt this recipe and make it for myself. Here’s what I’ve come up with:

Tempura Squash Blossoms with Ricotta, Chile, Mint, and Lemon Zest

  • 6 squash (or zucchini) blossoms

Filling

  • 2/3 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper OR 1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh red chile pepper
  • 6 mint leaves, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste (I would start with 1/4 teaspoon each)

Tempura Batter

  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup seltzer water (if you don’t have seltzer water on hand, you can use beer or white wine, something with fizz!)
  • a pinch of salt
  1. First, you’ll need to remove the pistil from the blossom (this is the part of the flower that gathers all the pollen). Gently open the blossom with you fingers and, with a pair of slender scissors or kitchen shears, snip off the pistil.
  2. Squash blossoms are delicate, so do not run them under the faucet! My suggestion is to fill a bowl with water and then place the squash blossoms in the bowl. This process gently washes them and helps get rid of excess pollen and dirt. Once washed, place the blossoms on a paper towel to dry.
  3. For the filling, place the ricotta, lemon zest, mint, and chili in a bowl. Mix together, then add salt and pepper to your taste.
  4. Fill a plastic bag with the ricotta filling. With kitchen shears, snip off a corner of the plastic bag. This will serve as your piping bag to fill the squash blossoms.
  5. Gently open your squash blooms and pipe the filling in. Don’t worry if filling overflows, it will get covered with tempura batter anyways!
  6. Then, in a separate bowl, add your flour, salt, and seltzer water. Mix together so the batter is thick (it should stick to your spoon). If the batter is too thin, add more flour. If too thick, add more seltzer. It’s quite simple!
  7. Before you do anything else, add canola oil (or the oil of your choosing, coconut oil/flaxseed oil/grapeseed oil will work, too) to your skillet and turn on the heat to medium high. You want the blossoms to sizzle when they hit the oil.
  8. Dip your squash blossoms into the tempura batter, coating all surfaces (but not too thickly).
  9. Once your oil is heated, place your squash blossoms in the oil. You’ll need to turn the blossoms a few times so that all sides are properly fried.
  10. Once the blossoms turn golden brown, take them out of the pan and place them onto a plate with a paper towel so any excess oil can drain.

I encourage you to take time for yourself each day, and even schedule full days just for yourself. Recharge, honor yourself with a good meal sourced from the farmers market, read your favorite book, write, spend time outdoors. You’ll come to find that kind of solitude will leave you more open to the world, and the world will open itself up to you in return.

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Fall Apple Bake and Bourbon Apple Oatmeal

Have you gone apple picking yet? If not, go now and embrace the season!

I went apple picking a few weeks ago. Here in New England we had a drought, so I had to prepare myself for a different sort of crop. Less water means smaller, less abundant apples. However, when we got to the orchard, the apples were still beautiful and delicious.

apple-orchard

Nature shows us that life does not always happen the way we plan it, and that is okay. Beauty still comes from the unexpected events. This was an imperfect year for apples in New England, but that doesn’t mean these apples were useless. Ohh no. I made two fabulous recipes from them. We, too, can create beautiful things in times of uncertainty, when we are in our own “droughts.” I’ve come to find that expectations can easily disappoint, for they hardly ever represent reality. The true measure of resilience is making the most of your present circumstances, rather than discrediting them for not living up to what you thought was perfect.

On to the APPLES!

My Momma made this apple bake for my sisters and I every year. I unabashedly have it for breakfast, lunch, or dessert with vanilla ice cream.

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Fall Apple Bake

  • 8 medium size tart apples; peeled, cored, and sliced (McIntosh and Cortland are best)
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons orange juice
  • 1 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoons grated orange zest

Topping

  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 6 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 2 1/2 quart soufflé dish, deep casserole dish, or 12-inch cast iron skillet.
  2. Mix sliced apples, brown sugar, flour (2 tbs), and cinnamon in a large mixing bowl.
  3. Add orange juice, lemon juice, and orange zest to the apple mixture and transfer to your baking dish.

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  1. For the topping, mix flour (3/4 cup), salt, and brown sugar in a mixing bowl. Add the butter and break down with either a fork and knife or your fingers until the mixture resembles coarse meal.
  2. Add the chopped pecans or walnuts to the topping and spread this over the apples.

20160925_144619Bake at 375 degrees for 40-50 minutes. You’ll want the top to be golden brown and the filling to be bubbly!


But wait…there’s more!

Below is the most beautiful breakfast on earth. Make this topping for your oatmeal, and you will start your day off like the champion you are.

Bourbon Apple Oatmeal

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  • 1 Mcintosh Apple, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1.5 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • Cinnamon and Nutmeg to your liking (I like a lot of spice!)
  • 2 tablespoons bourbon
  1. Melt butter in a skillet.
  2. Add apple slices, water, brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Sauté for about 5-7 minutes.
  3. Add bourbon. Sauté for another 3-4 minutes.

Add topping to a serving of steel cut oatmeal. Happiness will ensue.

 

Heirloom Tomato Gazpacho

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Heirloom Tomato Gazpacho

Whether we like it or not, our lives are made up of seasons.

Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter.

Baby, Child, Teen, Young Adult, Adult, Senior.

Those seasons contain seasons within them. Take fall, for instance. September marks the end of tomato season, giving way to apple season. Squash flourish in October, the orange color of their insides reflecting the color of the outside world, the ever-changing leaves on the trees. The season is not stagnant. There are ebbs and flows within it, peaks and valleys. We may miss the tomatoes, but we have apples and pears and squash and beets to look forward to.

Each season in our lives has similarly functioning peaks and valleys. For example, young adults tend to move many different times. I moved from Columbus, Ohio to Boston for graduate school. I found love. I graduated. I obtained a job in my field. I lost love. I went back to the drawing board of life. I set new goals.

What do we know about seasons? A few things (at the very least):

  1. Each phase of a season is beautiful and necessary. The beginning brings joy. The end brings a despair that only lasts until the hope of a new season emerges—and it always does.
  2. If we try to bring back a season that has already passed, it does not taste as sweet. Eating tomatoes in December is not as pleasant as eating them in August. The fruit won’t be as fresh, flavorful, and bright.

We must enjoy each present season for what it brings to us. What can the joy teach us? What, conversely, can the sadness teach us?

Embrace the now—it is beautiful and necessary in a very particular way.

This past weekend, I embraced the tomato.

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Heirloom tomato magic
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My weekend farmer’s market trip. Success!

It is the beginning of September, and while tomato season is on the cusp of leaving us, they are still available in all their glory. Let’s have one last hurrah, shall we?

While caprese salads are my jam through and through, nothing celebrates fresh, sweet tomato flavor more than cold, smooth gazpacho.

This recipe comes from a summer when I worked in Spain. In my last three weeks there I stayed with my coworker’s family. Her husband was from Asturias, a region in northern Spain, and he was the most hospitable, heartwarming man. The kitchen was his domain, and he created new dishes every evening. When I first arrived at their house, he greeted me with a massive pan of paella. I knew I was in good hands.

Gazpacho was his kitchen staple. While I was used to very chunky renditions of this soup in the U.S., his version was a fresh garden of veg turned creamy.

Heirloom Tomato Gazpacho

  • 9–10 medium heirloom tomatoes (or 3-4 large heirloom tomatoes)
  • 2/3 cup chopped shallots
  • 2/3 cup chopped green pepper
  • 1/4 cup bread broken into pieces
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 11 ice cubes
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 clove garlic, minced (optional)
  • 1/4 cup cucumber, chopped (optional)
  1. Wash and chop the tomatoes, onion, and pepper. If you choose to add the garlic and cucumber, you can wash and chop those too.
  2. Add ingredients to a blender and blend for 2 minutes.
  3. Break apart about 1/4 cup of bread (2-3 small baguette slices). I suggest using a crustier bread. Stale, dry french bread is the best, but you can also use ciabatta. Add to the blender along with salt and pepper.
  4. Blend for 30 seconds.
  5. Turn on the blender and pour balsamic vinegar and olive oil while the gazpacho blends. This ensures the gazpacho is creamy! Blend for 30 seconds.
  6. Add the ice cubes to the blender right as you are about to serve the soup. Blend until ice is fully incorporated.

If the gazpacho is too grainy or seedy for you, you can pass the ingredients through a fine mesh strainer. This recipe serves about five people, so if your blender is not very large, you may need to make this recipe in batches. I’ll usually cut the recipe in half and make two batches in my blender.

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?

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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!

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!

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!