Zucchini blossoms stuffed with shrimp and garlic

The first time I heard about zucchini blossoms was on an episode of Bobby Flay’s Boy Meets Grill, where he fried these yellow squash blossoms that were stuffed with pork and cheese. I have never seen them in markets here, but finally came across these beautiful blossoms at the Steveston’s Farmer’s Market this Sunday. (More posts about the Market later! Stay tuned!)

 

Since I’ve never tried them before, I only bought a few flowers. I got about 1/2 a dozen for 50 cents! I’m going back to get more for sure. I didn’t cook them like most people do, ie. batter, deep fry in oil, because, heck, I am always looking for the healthier way out. Since I happened to have bought over a pound of fresh shrimp from one of the boats parked at the Steveston Pier that day, I decided to stuff these blossoms with a few of the smaller shrimp I had. And nothing else accents shrimp like garlic. So it was a whole clove of garlic too. It was great! 

 

 

Zucchini Blossoms Stuffed With Shrimp and Garlic:

1. Cut the stems off the blossoms and soak the blossoms in water/ rinse very well but very gently. Rip out the stamen/ style/stigma inside. Pat them dry on a piece of paper towel.

2. Carefully place a small shrimp (cooked, I used fresh, but can be from frozen) inside the blossom, then place a clove of garlic on top of the shrimp. If one clove is too much for you, just mince some up and throw a bit in instead.

3. Twist the top of the blossom to close. 

4. Grill on high for about 5 minutes, turning once (again, careful, because it’s easy to un-twist the blossom and have everything fall out.)

5. Eat! Just stuff the whole blossom into your mouth!

Green Tea Halibut with Edamame and Okra

The inspiration for this dish came actually from a batch of beautiful fresh okra, and a curiosity about cooking with tea.

Okra

I’ve always wanted to try the various ways you can use tea to cook fish (poaching, crusting, smoking). So my first attempt was to marinate halibut with green tea. The marinade also had a bit of miso, wine, and fresh ginger. The fish was then baked, along with edamame beans and whole okra pods. I liked it (and I didn’t expect you can just bake edamame straight and have it kinda crunchy like that and still edible without pre-cooking it first). The tea wasn’t as strong as I thought it would be, there is only a slight hint of it, so next time I will try some stronger stuff- maybe that expensive container of Dragon Well black tea.

Green Tea Halibut

 

Recipe follows…

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Broccoflower

I love cauliflower. And broccoli.  I prefer them raw and crunchy, though I also like them cooked, or pureed into a soup. If I had to choose, though, cauilflower edges out broccoli for me. They are crunchier, sturdier, and doesn’t have as strong a smell. You also don’t get little green flowers stuck in your teeth after. I always have cauliflower in my fridge, it’s my vegetable staple.

I’ve often seen the purple, orange, green varieties of cauliflower, but I have never actually tried them. Not because I am not curious (though it’s not like I expect them to taste all that different), but because they’re usually more expensive, so you seem to be paying more for aesthetics than for a different taste. Eventually I knew I would give into my curiousity. This week the broccoflower was on sale at IGA, so I got a head:

Broccoflower

The broccoflower is a cross between the cauliflower and broccoli. Selective breeding. On the other hand, the orange and purple varieties arose from natural mutations. (An interesting note – the orange cauliflower is actually Canadian in origin – it was born in Ontario’s Bradford Marsh, in 1970!) So, I guess for those wary of even the very slightest genetic modification in your foods – uh, you can chew on that. (I will not go into GMOs here. But let’s just say – I am a geneticist. I KNOW very intimately what genetic modification means.)

Due to the way they flower, the broccoflower is considered to be more closely related to the cauliflower, and is put in the same Botrytis group of Brassica oleracea (whereas the broccoli belongs in the Italica group of B. oleracea.) In fact, the texture is definitely cauliflower, and taste is more cauliflower than broccoli. Although, I would definitely say that there is a slight broccoli “sweetness” (some would say stench perhaps) and aftertaste, especially in the trunk parts.

I’d buy the orange ones, but right now I am suffering from carotemia because I’ve been eating too much squash lately, so I’m staying away from beta-carotene rich foods. Hahaha 😀

媽媽的冬菇瑤柱節瓜 revisited: Fuzzy Melon STEAK?!

Should you happen to come across fuzzy melon that is short and small, you can cook them whole. Your grandfather loved to stuff them with shredded fresh crab meat.“-Mom

This is usually how my mother makes my favorite fuzzy melon with shitake and conpoy. Typically the melons are large and long, like a very fat, long cucumber, so you cut them up into little rounds before braising them. But you can eat them like a melon steak, if you can find some little ones that are short and small – shorter than a typical zucchini. (According to Mother, even if you had a giant pot that is large enough, you cannot do this with the big melons, it will not absorb the flavors.)

They look rather funny whole like that, do they not? I have never eaten them this way, but they turned out great – kind of “meaty” for a vegetable, and retained all the juices inside. Definitely delish, and a whole new eating experience with one of my favorite classic dishes from home.

Fuzzy Melon

Spelt Crackers (Whole Grain! All Natural!)

Spelt Crackers

I used to be addicted to Wheat Thins. I snacked on them pretty much morning day and night. That was back when I was more naive and took “0g Trans Fat” literally as no trans fat, and actually believed they were a healthy snack. When I saw “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil” on the ingredients list, I stopped eating them completely. And a whole lot of other crackery things. I used to love Breton crackers too. It’s not just the hydrogenated vegetable oil, it’s a whole slew of other chemicals I didn’t want to be stocking up on.

Take this ingredients list of vegetable Breton crackers, for example. It is made from 14 ingredients, which include nasties such as: vegetable shortening, high fructose corn syrup, and preservatives. As well as autolyzed yeast, hydrolyzed soy protein, protease, all of which are just another way to say MSG, without actually saying MSG.

Wheat Flour, Coconut Oil, Vegetable Shortening (Palm oil and Canola Oil), Dehydrated Vegetable Blend of Carrot, Onion, Celery, Tomato, Red Pepper and Green Pepper, Sugar, Seasoning (Contains Dextrose, Salt, Cornstarch, Hydrolyzed Soy Protein, Onion Powder, Autolyzed Yeast, Spices, Natural Flavor, Citric Acid), Salt, Wheat Germ, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Hydrolyzed Soy Protein (Caramel Color, Natural Flavor), Leavening (Ammonium and Sodium Bicarbonate), Protease, Sodium Metabisulphite (as a Preservative), Skim Milk Powder.

Then take a look at some of your gourmet crackers, or certain allergen-free crackers, and you will realize that a cracker can exist without 14 ingredients. Maybe you add your favorite spice or some seeds. Perhaps a bit of vegetable oil. But really, all you need is 3 things: flour, water and salt. (Hence “water crackers”.)

So I set out to make my first ever batch of crackers. I made them with Spelt flour, since I figured for simple crackers Spelt might have a nicer flavor than just wheat. It was really fun and took very little time to make. I made well over 100 crackers and they were totally gone the next day! The crackers were thin (but probably could be a tad thinner) and very crunchy. Since they were very lightly salted, they were pretty good to snack on as is. And the Spelt does give them a nuttier, sweeter flavor. They were great dip vehicles (I had some roasted red pepper dip that went very well with them). Definitely worth making again with some minor tweaking, experimenting with different flours and spices.

Recipe follows…

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Good morning banana crepes

Banana Crepes

Good morning banana crepes

Icky and grey autumn weekend means waking up and craving a warm, hearty breakfast – of the special, prepared variety. In other words, not your typical slice of toast with cream cheese, instant oatmeal from a bag, or cereal from a box, work-week fare. The problem with having to prepare any fancier a breakfast is that you are too famished, too groggy to realize where you are (much less where that non-stick skillet is), and were out too late the night before to foresee that you might need some … eggs the next morning. Thus, your low blood sugar levels signal your very robotic reach towards that very tempting box of cereal and…

No! Close the box shut!

So I’ve been making pancakes the past few weekends – I find their warm, tender fluffiness comforting on crisp autumn mornings. This weekend I decided to do crepes. I’ve never made crepes before, but figured they’re just really thin pancakes. They are actually pretty simple to make, and took less time than pancakes. I just stuffed these with sliced bananas (too bad – no Nutella lying around… but this is breakfast, not dessert, shouldn’t be that decadent … yet). Probably could have rolled them up prettier, but considering hunger levels and all, they tasted nice, had good thin-ness, and henceforth forever eliminated the need for getting my crepe-fill at a restaurant (Cafe Crepe sucks anyway). They also filled the kitchen with that sweet, eggy, nothing-else-says-good-morning-better-aroma. Mmmmm.

And of course I had to use a spatula to flip them.

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The Bagel: A complex, boiled, holed-bun. (“過水麵包圈”)

Ever wondered how bagels are made? Call me ignorant but I never did. (I knew how donuts are made, but not bagels. That’s probably because I’ve never been fond of bagels – Too firm. Too chewy. Too doughy.) But when, through my bread baking adventures, I found out that bagels aren’t just simple buns with holes in the middle, I just had to make some. Who knew you had to boil these things before baking them?

Why? asked the Cooking Nerd. Apparently, the boiling step gelatinizes the flour, forming a seal and giving it that tough, thick crust and the chewy interior. Aha! That’s why I didn’t like bagels! (And now the nerd in me really wants to throw an entire loaf of bread into boiling water before baking it and see what happens.)

Anyway, enough nerdiness. Here is my first bagel experiment:

Bagel Cut

I used some Spelt flour (1 part Spelt: 3 parts AP) in these bagels, not really for nutritional value, but because I thought it would give the bagels a slight flavor boost. They did taste nutty and sweet, but I think Spelt made the dough even more chewy. Perhaps less Spelt and other additions for flavor in the dough the next time. Again, the first rise took a while and the dough wasn’t quite doubled in size before I punched it down. (The next time I use Spelt I think I’ll need more yeast.)

I made 12 little rings using the punch a whole in the middle with a floured thumb method (instead of the rope method). This was interesting as I realized that making smooth looking, symmetrical rings is not a simple task. For the ones with raisins I rolled the raisins into the dough at this point. I made sure the holes are slightly bigger to accomodate for the additional rising/boiling. Here they are just after shaping:

Bagels1  

They got a little poofier and only slightly bigger after sitting for another hour on some parchment paper. Then came the funnest part – I took half and boiled them in a pot of simmering water with a pinch of salt added.

Boiling Bagels

They floated immediately after being dropped into the water (I think good bagels are supposed to sink initially for a few seconds and then rise up). They also swelled and grew right before my eyes. I boiled them on one side for about 3 minutes, then flipped them over gently and boiled for 2 more minutes. (I think this was too long. There is no consensus as to how long bagels should be boiled – I’ve found a range between 45 seconds to 7 minutes. Supposedly the longer they boil the chewier they get. Considering these are mini bagels and turned out rather chewy, I will go for a much shorter boil next time.) I took them out and dried them with a clean towel – they now looked like little wrinkled balls who have been in the bath too long. I then brushed over top an egg white wash, and sprinkled over some assorted toppings (I only had cheese, garlic, and cinnamon on hand, no sesame seeds, unfortunately.)

Baked them in the oven for 25-30 minutes at 350F, until tops were brown. (I also turned them over the last 10 minutes or so to brown the bottom.) I would have liked them a darker, more golden brown…I probably should have used a whole egg instead of just the white for my wash. Oh well.

Took them out, cooled briefly on a wire rack, sliced in half, slapped on cream cheese, and enjoyed fresh. The crust was tough and the inside chewy. Pretty decent fresh, even for somebody who doesn’t love bagels. Still too chewy for me. About half a day later they got quite hard. The day after, even harder. After that, inedible rocks. OK for a first attempt. I would, however, make the aforementioned modifications to the protocol the next time I make bagels. 

 Little bagels

Recipe follows…

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