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Archive for the ‘Latin American Cuisine’ Category

It’s so sad for me to say but the past few months I’ve put aside my love for food to focus on the wedding. In my attempt to shape up for the big day I’ve had to put all my favorites to the side and just try to forget them all together.. I’ve done well and have managed to find healthy dishes to eat. But I’m so busy working full time, planning my wedding and helping with my sister’s wedding too! So busy in fact I’m getting quite bored of the ‘healthy’ dishes I’ve been consuming..

Some of my healthy favorites lately have been:

  • My go-to-snack that is perfect for taking the edge off : avocado on wheat toast with a drizzle of olive oil and habanero garlic pepper
  • Orzo with spinach, sundried tomatoes, ricotta, black olives and feta
  • Rotisserie chicken with anything
  • Turkey wraps with Laughing Cow Cheese Lite and sprouts and maybe Dijon mustard
  • Cous cous with raisins, grilled chicken, chickpeas, grilled veggies and curry powder
  • And of course fish tacos!

My mom got very creative last weekend and made up a whole new method/recipe – fish taco ‘cups’. She’ll probably be mad at me for sharing this secret but it’s pretty darn cool. I’m bummed I didn’t get a photo of the cooking process. Of course I was trying to eat these while I was getting my wedding hair trial done at home!

Fish Taco Cups!

 

To make these she bought square won ton wrappers. She lightly brushed a muffin tray with oil and gently pushed a wrapper into each hole. She baked until lightly golden and just let cool on a baking tray. I can’t remember which fish she used but she loves tilapia for fish tacos. Cod would be great too. Underneath is a spicy mango and avocado salsa (with cilantro and red onion of course) and lettuce. It’s topped with her ‘super secret sauce’! :-) I have a feeling it contains some sour cream, some cumin, salt, pepper, lemon juice and maybe some Cajun spice. It was so light and delicious! A great way to re-invent one of our favorites and perfect for a party too.

The wedding is nearly here and then I’ll have some free time – so hopefully lots of blogging to come soon!

xoxo

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Hi All. As I don’t have class today, I’m finally taking the time to catch up with my backlog of recipes and dishes I need to share! Before school started a couple weeks ago, I was keeping myself busy with making new healthy dishes. I also had to work my way through our cupboards and all the various pastas, grains and seeds/nuts I’ve accumulated. So here are a couple dishes but many more to come! Links to recipes are below but you can also go direct to the recipe pages.

Chesham High Street Market

First up is Scallops with Sauce Vierge. So for a couple of weeks, I was passing by the fish monger in the Chesham high street market, looking but never buying anything. But I finally gave in and bought some of the beautiful, fresh, giant scallops which is really one of my favorite seafood dishes. I wanted to be a little different though as scallops are very often wrapped in bacon.  I also had seen sauce vierge come up in many cookbooks/sites recently. It’s such an easy thing to make and is so versatile. The key though is to have a really nice extra virgin olive oil. If extra virgin is too strong for you, then use a milder olive oil. I didn’t use red wine vinegar, but some recipes call for it instead of the coriander seeds. Since scallops aren’t exactly the most affordable seafood, I made this dish as a starter with three scallops each. We mopped up the rest of the sauce with some fresh bread. But you could easily turn this into a main dish by serving on a bed of angel hair pasta. The sweetness of the scallops and tomato together are so nice. If you want contrast, some red chili flakes would actually be quite nice. And if you can’t get scallops or don’t like them, you can always serve with some large grilled shrimp or chicken. Hope you like it!

Scallops with Sauce Vierge

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I am now back in the UK waiting for school to start, and I must confess I am missing a few things about home. However, for the past six months I’ve also been missing certain British foods but I’ll save that for another day. 

First and foremost, the food I have a really difficult time accessing here in the UK is Vietnamese food. According to Wikipedia, the largest Vietnamese community is in Lewisham which is more south-east of London and I’m more north-west. Fortunately there is one Vietnamese restaurant (2 locations) in London that I can access pretty easily that’s pretty decent – Pho Cafe. Nonetheless, nothing beats homemade Vietnamese food. I just look at the photo below and I can smell the cha gio (egg rolls) fresh from the fryer… traditionally made with rice paper and filled with ground pork, glass noodles, shrimp, carrots and more. They take longer to cook, but when my Mom takes the time you are in for a treat. The proper way to eat them is with lots of fresh herbs. Take a piece of lettuce (Romaine is fine), add some cilantro/coriander and maybe some mint, place the egg roll in the middle, wrap it all up and dip in some nuoc cham (a salty-sweet dipping sauce made with fish sauce, vinegar, sugar, lemon/lime juice and chilli). In that bite, you’ll get an explosion of flavors and textures. First the refreshing lettuce and herbs, then the crisp of the fried rice paper, the warm meat filling and the salty/sweet/spiciness of the sauce. For some additional crunch or freshness, you might have a slice of cucumber on the side. These are seriously addicting. I went a little overboard last Vietnamese New Year and ate at least a dozen or more :-) 

Cha Gio (Vietnamese egg rolls)

 

Another cuisine that isn’t that popular over here (but a bit more accessible) is Mexican food. Being a California girl, I really loooove Mexican food. Also having studied in Venezuela and having Colombian friends, I just really love all Latin food period! Excluding central London, everyday Latin food isn’t the easiest thing to get in the UK. There is the odd Mexican restaurant, but it just doesn’t seem to be as main stream as it is in the US. What IS popular though is making Mexican food at home. And by that I mean buying a fajita or taco kit (usually the Old El Paso brand) which comes with taco shells or tortillas, seasoning for the meat and packaged salsa. Basically the view of Mexican food is pretty commercial here, at least that’s been my experience. But that’s not to say that other dishes like tamales, mole or chilaquiles wouldn’t be popular here. Even less well known are empanadas, arepas or even the idea of a breakfast burrito (which I find a little funny since even McDonald’s sells a breakfast burrito in the US). 

Anywho, the good news is that you can find pretty much all the spices you need to make Latin food. So I do my best to make what I know which isn’t really rocket science. I just do the basics – various salsas (pico de gallo, corn, bean or mango), guac, fajitas/tacos, etc. I do have to share a funny story about my first experience at a British supermarket a couple years ago. I was in the chip aisle (known as “crisps” here) and a lady who works there was showing a man where the tor-TILL-lah crisps were (meaning she did not pronounce it tor-tee-ya). Haha oh I nearly died… 

Yas, Ana and I in '08 @ El Compadre

 

Right so the point is, I can make some basic stuff to feed my Mexican/Latin food cravings, but nothings beats properly made rice and beans (or chicharron, or empanadas, or cachapas, or arepas, or pan de yuca, or sancocho….sigh). A couple weeks ago, I flew out of LA for London and before I left I made sure to make a visit to one of THE best Mexican places in Hollywood – El Compadre. Well, correction, my Colombian friend Ana made me go :-) She came to visit me when I was living in LA two years ago, and it’s right around the corner from my old place. Needless to say we ate there three times in a few days. So a return trip was a must. And, as always, El Compadre did not disappoint. The place is one of those hole-in-the-wall restaurants that’s really dark inside. It has these great, old-Hollywood style brown leather booths. And occasionally there’s an actual mariachi band playing. They come around with their famous flaming margaritas too. It’s definitely a strange setting, but you know it’s good Mexican when the tortilla chips are warm and fresh. Even though it was dinner time, I had to get my favorite dish since it’d be our only chance to go there – huevos rancheros with carne asada. This may not look like the sexiest plate of food in the world, but I tell you – if only you could smell it! It’s the combination of earthy, creamy beans, moist rice, ranchero sauce, corn tortillas, fresh salsa, cool sour cream.. Mmmm.. I’m getting very hungry remembering this dish… Sigh, it’s too sad to reminisce any longer. Must try to re-create some day, but feel like it’s impossible without a Mexican grandmother or aunt to teach me secret family recipes. 

Huevos Rancheros with Carne Asada

 

Now that I’ve made myself properly hungry, it’s time to go and cook dinner! But more to come soon about my British favorites and my a Michelin-starred lunch!

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This time around I decided to stop being redundant and put up my recipes first. This way on my posts you can look at the more important thing – the pictures :-)

Next up in my cooking for one was a spinach salad. Spinach just happen to be on sale the other day, so I bought two huge tubs of it and it lasted me more than a week. Basically I’ve been super loaded up with iron these days. But I never get tired of it somehow. I love it in a salad, or sandwich or sauteed. And I might just stop using frozen spinach if I can help it. The flavor just isn’t the same. Anywho – you can find the recipe here.

This time I tried something a little different and made my super basic balsamic vinaigrette with white wine vinegar instead. As you can see I’m not super creative when it comes to salad dressings. I stick with my basics because normally when I feel like a salad, it’s a last minute thing and I want it to be simple. I also used some of the leftover chicken I bought on sale (and used in the last post). Because I didn’t want to mess up my Dad’s grill, I decided to just quickly pan “grill” it. I pounded it thin since I find it cooks faster and I like to take little bites. Seasoned it with garlic salt, black pepper and chili flakes. After cooking, I sliced into strips, used some in my salad and saved the rest for another day.

Healthy chicken fajitas

Chris arrived the next day and because I had so much darn chicken I decided we were going to have fajitas! In the spirit of being healthy, I decided I would make my own seasoning since it’s pretty easy to look up online and allowed one less ‘store-bought’ thing in our meal. I didn’t really measure and kind of just threw in an assortment of ingredients I found in various recipes online (the basics really). Find the recipe here.

For veggies, I decided to go a slightly different route since I’ve been reading lots about how bell peppers give you heart burn (aka make you gassy, not exactly romantic). Even though it is a summer squash, I’ve recently read about the benefits of eating zucchini (or known in the UK as courgette). It’s low in calories and a good source of vitamin A.

Healthy, homemade chicken fajitas

I also used mushrooms since (1) Chris and I both love them, (2) they also have great health benefits like being low in calories and a good source of potassium, and (3) we were at Costco and decided to get a huge box of them.

As you can see, we had a corn salsa with our fajitas. I decided to omit the black beans and bell pepper this time to make it a little lighter.

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While I’m not a crazy football fan, as a foodie the superbowl is always a great excuse to pig out. However, in the past few months I’ve been trying to eat a healthier diet while allowing myself to still splurge a little. So last minute eats on the big game day included:

Don’t get me wrong – I was dying for some buffalo wings and potato skins! However, our snacks were equally satisfying. Click on the links above for the recipes. Unfortunately I haven’t asked Bac Oanh for her recipe of Cuban pork, but the other recipes are very simple and just something I threw together. You can eat the salsa with fajitas, tacos or burritos or even on top of some grilled chicken. My recipe doesn’t include avocado, but if you have some around throw it in! The orzo can be made with many variations. It can also be made with whole wheat penne too. Maybe add some spinach in as well. A good trick for using spinach (frozen or fresh) with pasta is to put it in the bottom of your colander and drain your cooked pasta over it. This way your spinach is defrosted or wilted and you can mix it all together easily. Add some toasted pine nuts for crunch!

Hope all of you who splurged on barbeque and creamy dips had some for me!

Ingredients for the salsa

Corn and black bean salsa - usually made with cherry tomatoes but didnt have any that day

Orzo with feta, olives, sundried tomatoes, zucchini, yellow bell pepper and spicy smoked sausage with jalapenos!

My aunt's Cuban-style pork!

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Between 2007 and 2008, I worked in the Burbank area for that ‘well-paying’ finance job I’ve mentioned. One of the benefits of working in the team there was that long hours meant ordering food. And over the years, these guys had built up a list of great restaurants in the area. One of the best places that I was introduced to was Porto’s Bakery (http://www.portosbakery.com/).

Porto’s is one of those places that you go to once and the next time you’ll fly across the country just to go again. It’s a Cuban bakery that started out small and was forced to grow into larger facilities. When you walk into this place, the line is often to the door. But it moves fast because most people know what they want when they come in. The smell is just heavenly as you get a wiff of the freshly baked bread and pastries or the empanadas and croquettes.

Below are a few pictures for your enjoyment. And may I suggest that you make the trek up to Burbank the next time you’re in the LA area because you will not be disappointed. In fact, schedule your flight so you leave from Burbank airport!

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A view of the beautiful sweet treats that tease you as you wait in line. Thank goodness I do not have a sweet tooth (at least not a bad one), although I’m not sure that eating three croquettes is better than having a couple cupcakes!

 

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