Holy Crab! … and Avocado Soup

First of all, SO SORRY for my laziness over the past 9 months. Rest assured I have been cooking and feeding my now hubby, but wedding planning over the past few months really took a toll.  Hopefully, I will get to write about that journey one day, but now that the wedding is over… let’s get cookin again!

After 2 weeks of the summer’s delicious sweet corn and grilled chicken, the law of diminishing returns has set in.  To rescue us from the summer food doldrums, I browsed through the list of saved recipes I’d intended to try over the years but ended up collecting cyber dust.

The Crab & Avocado soup (easier than it sounds) is exactly what I needed to maintain my “good wife” status! This DELICIOUS cold summer soup packed with all the goodness from avocados and sweet crab meat served with some sourdough bread is the perfect light summer dinner.

Crab & Avocado Soup

Crab & Avocado Soup

I modified this Epicurious recipe to make it a bit soupier and doubled the amount of crab (hey, why not) so I can serve this as a main.  Also, if you don’t already have an immersion blender, get it, it’s da bomb!!

Yields 2 Main Servings

Ingredients

  • 1 cup lump crab meat (I used back fin crab meat due to cost)
  • 1 celery stalk, finely diced
  • 1/2 tablespoon dried parsley
  • 2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
  • 2 avocados
  • 1 1/2 to 2 cups vegetable stock
  • 2 tablespoons crème fraîche
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

Preparation

- Mix crabmeat, celery, dried parsley, and lemon zest in a bowl.  Cover and chill crab salad.

- Cube and pit avocados; scoop flesh into a large mixing bowl. Add vegetable stock, crème fraîche, lime juice, kosher salt, and 1 1/4 cups water. Purée with immersion blender until smooth. Season soup to taste with salt and pepper; chill.

- Divide soup amongst 2 bowls.  Spoon crab salad into center of each bowl.

Pumpkin Gingerbread Mini Loaves – Yay Fall!!!

Ready or not, the weather’s gettin’ nippy. But it also means the arrival of pumpkin and apple season – and it’s the best!!!  What better way to welcome the fall than some Pumpkin Ginger Bread?

This Buzzfeed post led me to this delicious Good Thymes & Good Food recipe.  To make it super irresistible and easy for gifting, I used these Paper Mini Loaf Molds from Sur la Table and added some personal touches to it (the unfortunate consequence of late night baking is my mis-spelling of the word Pumpkin, oops!).

Pumpkin Ginger Bread

Pumpkin Ginger Bread

The added bonus about these paper loaf molds is that they are oven-safe (up to 450F) and lined with parchment paper.  You do not have to pre-grease them and the loaf also slides right off!  Here’s the recipe with my modifications and notes (the original recipe was a tad sweet for my taste).

Ingredients (Yielded 7 1/2 mini loaves for my batter)
– 2 1/12 cups granulated sugar
– ½ cup vegetable oil
– ½ cup unsweetened applesauce
– 4 eggs
– ⅔ cup water
– 1 (15 oz.) can pumpkin puree
– 2 tsp. ground ginger
– 1 tsp. ground allspice
– 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
– 1 tsp. ground cloves
– 3½ cups all-purpose flour
– 2 tsp. baking soda
– 1½ tsp. salt
– ½ tsp. baking powder

Directions
– Preheat oven to 350°F

- In a large mixing bowl, combine sugar, oil, applesauce, and eggs.  Use an electric beater and beat until smooth, then add water and beat until well blended.

- Stir in pumpkin, ginger, allspice, and cinnamon. Make sure to get any “lumps” out to make for a smooth batter!

- In a medium bowl, combine flour, soda, salt, and baking powder. Add dry ingredients to pumpkin mixture 1/3 at a time and blend just until all ingredients are mixed. Do not over-mix.

- Divide batter between the loaf molds, leave a good 1/4″ between the batter and the top of the mold to avoid overflowing of batter (as the cake does expand in the oven).

- Bake in preheated oven until toothpick comes out clean, about 40-50 minutes for mini loaf pans (begin checking around 30 minutes for mini pans).

Pumpkin Ginger Bread

Pumpkin Ginger Bread

Wednesday Quickie: Chicken Stir fry with Zucchini & Mushrooms

As quickly as summer arrived, it’s slowly slipping away!! Well, hold on to your zucchinis before they go out of season, we’re going to make some summer stir-fry!

Chicken Stirfry with Zucchini and Mushrooms

Chicken Stirfry with Zucchini and Mushrooms

This is my latest quick dinner favorite, especially after a long day at work and a swim at the pool.  Including prep and cook time, this can be in your tummy in just about 30 minutes. Celebration!

Ingredients (4 servings)

- 2 organic chicken breasts

- 3/4 pound organic crimini mushrooms

- 2 medium – large organic zucchinis

- 1 stalk organic scallions

- 1/2 tsp ginger powder

- Dash of white pepper

- Dash of garlic powder

- 2 tbs soy sauce

- 1 tbs balsamic vinegar

- 1/2 tbs roasted / salted sesame seeds (Optional)

- Drizzle of sesame oil (Optional)

Preparation

- Cube Chicken, Zucchini, Mushrooms into bite-size pieces. The smaller the pieces, the shorter the cook time.

- In a medium saucepan, add olive oil, sauté cubed chicken for 8-10 min on medium heat until cooked through.  Set aside.

- In the same saucepan, (add oil if needed) add in zucchini and mushrooms, season with ginger powder, white pepper, garlic powder, stir to coat. Sauté for 8-10 min until wilted but not mushy.

- Once mushrooms / zucchinis cook down, add chicken, sesame, soy sauce, vinegar and combine well.

- Serve on a bed of rice, top with scallions and sesame oil

Wednesday Quickie: Hot Steamy Catch – Fish Edition

Another heat wave in NYC, we can probably sear a fish on a rock.  In the mean time, let’s leave the stone ages behind and experiment with another great way of cooking fish, steaming!  Quick, easy, and healthy, this cooking method retains the fresh taste of any protein and maximizes the juiciness – wowzers.

Steamed Salmon with Roasted Potatoes and Greens

Steamed Salmon with Roasted Potatoes and Greens

The best “steamer” I found is in fact this stove top smoker. It is well built and doubles as a smoker (bonus!), but most importantly, the length gives you the flexibility to steam a whole fish or chicken. Serve a filet-o-fish with a fresh salad on the side and some oven-baked taters, you’re all set with a complete summer meal!

Ingredients (Serves 2 – time to table <30 minutes):

- 2 Pieces of ½ Pound Fish Filet (Salmon, Cod, Branzino are all great choices)

- Salt and Pepper to Taste

- 2 Wedges of Lemon to Serve

Directions:

- Fill the steamer baby up with water just below the rack; lightly grease the tray.

- Place steamer (lid off) on medium heat.

- In the mean time, salt and pepper the filet to taste.  Place fish on tray in steamer once water begins to boil <— IMPORTANT!!!!

- Close lid and steam for about 10 – 12 minutes until flesh is opaque and cooked through (Quick Tip: Steam time per pound of fish is 10 – 12 minutes, so adjust accordingly).

- Serve each filet with a wedge of lemon, garnish with fresh dill as desired.

Wednesday Quickie – Chicken Noodle Soup with Fennel & Scallions

Dear Josie’s,

I love your delicious Chicken Noodle soup when I don’t feel right, the fennel and scallions you have really brings it home. But why does it have to cost me $1,000 / oz?! I don’t feel the love!

So, I figured out the next best thing – a quickie version of your soup. Hope you don’t mind.

xoxo,

Branching Owl

Quick & Easy Chicken Noodle Soup

Quick & Easy Chicken Noodle Soup

Who wants to be chopping up stuff with a runny nose?! To save even more time, buy pre-chopped organic vegetables – Whole Foods NYC has some in their Produce section.

Ingredients (4 Servings)

- 3 Stalks Celery Chopped

- 2 Carrots Sliced (or Chopped if carrots are large)

- 1 Onion Chopped

- 1 Fennel – White Part Only, Sliced in Thin Wedges

- 1 lbs Chicken Breast Tenderloin cubed

- 1 32 oz box of Organic Chicken Stock

- 4 Stalks Scallions – Green and White Parts, Sliced

- Salt and Pepper to taste

- Macaroni Noodles

Directions

- In a large stock pot, bring chicken stock to a boil on med to high heat.

- Throw in sliced fennel, celery, carrots, & onions in boiling stock. Lower to medium heat and cook for 15 minutes, or until vegetables are tender.

- Once vegetables are tender, place cubed chicken tenderloin in soup stock. Continue to cook for about 30 minutes or so until chicken is cooked through but not overdone. Stir occasionally.

- While the soup is cooking, bring a small pot of salted water to a boil and cook your noodles until al dente – about 8 minutes

- Few minutes before serving, stir in the sliced scallions and macaroni. Salt and pepper to taste. Voila!

Storage

- I would store soup and macaroni separately (toss macaroni in some olive oil to prevent clumping)

Wednesday Quickie: Roasted Brussel Sprouts w/Fuji Apples & Pistachios

I fell in love with this dish when I had it at Alta a few years ago.  I’ve made close replicas of this overtime, but came up with this quickie for when I’m in a pinch.  The adapted recipe has its own wonderful flavor profile that makes it a tad lighter and refreshing for the warmer weather.

Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Fuji Apples and Pistachios

Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Fuji Apples and Pistachios

I think this is a perfect vegetable side for any main course – with the lemon adding a nice sparkle and a tad of sweetness from the honey to bring out other flavors. We had it with a simple grilled Halibut the other night and I’ve also served it with Pork Chops before. For my friends who are in love with bacon, I’m sure this would taste amazing with some chopped, pan fried bacon bits too!

Ingredients (4 Side Servings)

- 10 oz Brussel Sprouts: Trim stem and cut into halves

- ½ Fuji Apple: Thinly sliced, julienne or cut into bite size

- ½ Cup Roasted / Shelled Pistachios: Roughly chopped.  (Bake at 300F for 5 minutes if you can’t find roasted)

- Drizzle of Honey to taste; Splash of Lemon Juice to taste (or ½ teaspoon of Lemon Zest)

- Dollop of Sour Cream for Garnish

- Salt / Pepper to taste; Olive oil to toss sprouts

Directions

- Pre-heat oven to 400F; Toss halved brussel sprouts with some olive oil, salt and paper

- Bake brussel sprouts for approximately 12 – 15 minutes, until sprouts are tender and have a nice golden crisp

- Once sprouts are ready, toss with sliced apples and chopped pistachios in a large mixing bowl

- Drizzle the mixture with some honey and a splash of lemon juice to taste

- Garnish each portion with a dollop of sour cream

Storage / Leftovers

If you would like to re-heat the brussel sprouts the next day for leftovers, I suggest tossing / storing the apples separately as you don’t want the apples to wilt during the re-heating process.  If all is tossed already, eating leftovers at room temperature is still quite tasty!

The FroYo-volution! (Updated)

Hey friend, do you love Froyo but you don’t love all the gunk these popular chains put in their “frozen yogurt”? Maybe you just want a giant thing of Froyo for yourself but refuse to overpay for it. Well I am you!

After failing to find a readily available, organic, plain frozen yogurt treat on the marketplace, I set out on my personal odyssey to find the best home-made recipe out there. Below, you’ll find a eat-right-out-of-the-ice-cream-maker good Fro-yo recipe.

Homemade Frozen Yogurt

Homemade Frozen Yogurt

I have experimented with using natural sweeteners + all sorts of yogurts:  full fat, non fat, regular, Greek, you name it.  While the taste was genuinely yogurt-ish, it wasn’t tangy enough and the consistency was sometimes icy or hard to keep.

The secret ingredients to this simple formula I think, are 1. Full Fat Yogurt 2. Sour Cream 3. Lemon Juice.  Adapted from Just One Cookbook the combination of these ingredients makes for a decadent, tangy, slightly icy but creamy treat!

Recipe (Yields about 2 Quarts)

- 4  cups Organic Full Fat Plain Yogurt (I like Stonyfields brand )

- 1 cup Organic Cane Sugar (adjust according to taste, can also be other natural sweeteners)

- 2 Tbsp. Fresh Lemon Juice (more or less depending on the amount of tang you enjoy)

- 1/4 tsp. Salt

- 1/2 cup Sour Cream (less if you like it icy)

Directions

- In a large bowl, mix in all ingredients until well combined

- Strain mixture through a sieve for a smoother Froyo (you can skip this step for plain frozen yogurt)

- Process mixture in ice-cream maker (this is the one I use) until frozen, about 30 – 35 minutes

- Store in air-tight container and freeze for several hours for a firmer consistency  (or just eat it right out of the maker, no judgement)

I have also made fruit based Froyo using the Just One Cookbook recipe with much success – more on that on my next post! ENJOY & FROYO TO THE PEOPLE!

Spring has (almost) Sprung – Tahini Noodles with Chicken & Cucumber

Mother nature finally blessed us with a warm day in NYC – yippee! While I am not going to fall into another “sunny day trap” (and dry clean my coats for the season), I will however, cook to celebrate this ephemeral yet exciting occasion because I miss the summer oh so much.

Tahini Noodles with Chicken and Cucumber

Tahini Noodles with Chicken and Cucumber

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Tahini, it’s really just a fancy name for grounded sesame paste. This fragrant condiment is common in Middle Eastern dishes (like hummus), but I’ve added a little soy sauce twist to this and created a nice Asian noodle meal.  Served at room temperature, this extremely versatile dish is perfect for cooling down in warm weather.  You can find tahini at your local ethnic food store, Whole Foods, or Amazon!

Recipe (4 Servings)

- 1 lbs Skinless, Boneless Chicken Breast

- 4 Bunches of Dry Round Udon Noodles (or Spaghetti)

- 2 Cucumbers cut into 2 inch strips

- 8 Tbsp Tahini

- 3 Tbsp Soy Sauce (adjust according to your taste)

- 4 Tbsp Water

- Sesame with Sea Salt as desired

Directions

- Fill medium sauce pan with enough room temperature water to cover the chicken breast, you may salt the water if you’d like.  Place chicken breast in sauce pan with room temperature water on low-medium heat for 15-20 minutes, allowing the water to come to a nice simmer (but not boiling).

- While the chicken is cooking, mix tahini, soy sauce, and water together in a large mixing bowl (enough to contain your noodles and ingredients for tossing later on), to create a nice and creamy sauce. Chop up the cucumbers if you haven’t done so already.

- Check the chicken and make sure it’s cooked through in the center, remove from sauce pan, and rinse under cold water.  ‘Tear’ the warm chicken breast into strips.

- In a small sauce pan, place water on boil and cook the noodles according to manufacturer’s instructions.  Rinse noodles under cold water once it’s cooked through and strain.

- Place chicken & cucumber strips and noodles into the large mixing bowl with sauce and toss well. Serve immediately and sprinkle your noodles with some sesame with sea salt for garnish!

Variations and Storage

- For a vegetarian version of this, you can substitute the chicken with strips of extra firm tofu. I would mix in just a dash of soy sauce and sesame oil to give it extra flava!

- If you made too much chicken and cut up extra cucumber, I would recommend storing them in separate containers. Otherwise, your cucumbers will get soggy! And don’t mix in the noodles with sauce either, I would cook up the noodles when you’re ready to serve the leftovers.

Chinese New Year Dinner – Turnip Cake!

Happy New Lunar Year of the Snake!  This is a special new year for Branching Owl, and it’s not because Owls feast on snakes, but because Mommy Owl & Brother Owl are all visiting me in NYC for our traditional new year dinner!

This dinner party menu will be split into several posts as some of the recipes may be quite complex.  That said, practice makes perfect so don’t be discouraged!!  I will post as many photos of ingredients as I can to help you shop at your local Asian supermarket.

Chinese New Year Decorations

Chinese New Year Decorations

Here’s the Menu:

Appetizer

- Turnip Cake

Main Course

- Whole Steamed Fish with Ginger and Scallion

- Chinese Wine Marinated Steamed Chicken

- Pork and Shrimp Stuffed Eggplant and Peppers

Dessert

- Sweet Dumplings with Peanut or Black Sesame Filling

- Purple Glutinous Rice and Barley Sweet Soup

First up on the recipe roster is home-made turnip cake. This savory cake is a family favorite and is a staple item for new year celebrations.  While this item can be found in most dim sum restaurants, I always prefer to make my own as I find store bought cake ingredients to be “watered down”.  As a note, I would reduce the dried ingredients by half if you’re not used to them as they can be quiet pungent (an acquired taste).  The batter is quite thick so this is going to be a great work out for your biceps!

Turnip Cake

Turnip Cake

Yield: 1 turnip cake (8 inch square Aluminum container), can serve as appetizer for 6 – 8 people

 Ingredients:

- 1 turnip: About 2 pounds

- Chinese Sausage: 1 – 2, diced

- Dried Chinese Mushrooms: 7 small ones, diced (Reconstitute dried Chinese mushrooms in water the night before, or hot water for at least an hour the day of cooking)

- Dried scallops: 3 – 4 (2/3 in batter, Reserve 1/3 as topping) (Reconstitute dried scallops in water the night before, or hot water for at least an hour the day of cooking); Tear into small pieces after reconstituted

- Dried shrimp: 1/3 cups, Roughly Chopped (2/3 in batter, Reserve 1/3 as topping) – Rinse dried shrimp before chopping up

- Scallions: 2 stalks with white parts, Chopped (2/3 in batter, Reserve 1/3 as topping)

- Rice flour: 1.5 cups

- Ginger: 3 – 4 Slices

- Chinese Rock Sugar: 2 – 3 cube sugar sized lumps

- White Pepper & Oyster Sauce: A Dash

- Aluminum container: 8 inch Square

Oyster Sauce & Rock Sugar

Oyster Sauce & Rock Sugar

Dried Sausage, Mushrooms, Shrimp, & Rice Flour

Dried Sausage, Mushrooms, Shrimp, & Rice Flour

 Directions:

- With a little heated olive oil in a pan, lightly fry up the diced Chinese sausage, reconstituted dried Mushrooms, dried shrimp and dried scallop (remember to reserve 1/3 for topping the batter!) for 2 – 3 minutes over medium heat.  Place in bowl and set aside.

- In a large bowl, grate the turnip. If you want better texture, grate 70%, the other 30% can be diced. Strain the turnip and save the juice in a separate bowl – my 2 pound turnip yielded just shy of 1 cup of juice.

- Mix rice flour with the turnip juice and make sure there are no lumps. The texture of the mix should be toothpaste like, if it’s too dry (or if your turnip didn’t yield a lot of juice), add water as needed (I added 1/8 cup of water for this batter)

- Again, in a slightly oiled pan, fry up 3-4 slices of ginger. Add turnip and cook until translucent, about 7 – 10 minutes on medium heat. Add 2 – 3 lumps of small Chinese rock sugar, dash of white pepper & oyster sauce, cook with turnip until sugar is melted. Discard ginger.

- Add the flour mixture into the cooked turnip and mix well.  Consistency would be like a thick batter, so add 1 – 2 cups of water if the batter is too dry. Then stir in Chinese sausage, mushroom, scallop, shrimp, and scallion mixture.

- Pour the batter into the aluminum container, top with the reserved topping, and steam for 1 hour. Store in fridge overnight.

To Serve

Option 1: Slice up the cake and pan fry with oyster sauce to dip.

Option 2: Steam and serve individual portions in bowls with some soy sauce and freshly chopped scallions

Option 3: Make the cakes into these super cute hearts for Valentine’s day with a twist!!!

Next up! Steamed Fish with Ginger and Scallions & Wine Marinated Chicken, stay tuned and Gung Xi Fa Cai!

Cure the Brrr! Mushroom and Wild Rice Soup

Just like that, the cold front snapped NY back into the wintry reality!  Soup is the best remedy for this kind of weather, and since we are in the height of Soup Month(s) celebration (Soup Fans: “YAY!!!”), I have created another recipe for us to enjoy! The mushroom and wild rice soup.

Mushroom and Wild Rice Soup

Mushroom and Wild Rice Soup

At first glance, the mix of herbs may seem excessive, but Herbs de Provence, I thought, complimented the amazing fragrance of wild rice and the citrusy notes of coriander balances out the earthy mushrooms very nicely. Try it!

Ingredients (Serves 4 – 6)

- 1/2 cup Wild Rice

- 4 Cloves Garlic, minced

- 1 Medium Sized Onion, Chopped

- 3 Stalks of Celery

- 3 Medium Carrots

- 16 oz Sliced Baby Bella Mushrooms (2 8 oz containers)

- 8 Cups of Chicken or Vegetable Stock

- 1 Tsp Salt, 1/2 Tsp Pepper, 1/4 Tsp Coriander, 1/2 Herbs de Provence (to taste, adjust as necessary)

Directions

- Heat up 1 – 2 tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat in a large stock pot, add chopped onion and minced garlic. Sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes.

- Add carrots, celery, and mushrooms, stir with onions and garlic to coat with oil. About 2 – 3 minutes.

- Add chicken or vegetable stock to cover carrots, celery, mushrooms, garlic, and onions, and bring to boil. Cover and lower to low-medium heat, and let simmer for 30 – 40 minutes until carrots are relatively soft.

- Then, add wild rice and simmer for another 40 minutes or until everything is cook through and tender.

- Season with Salt, Pepper, Coriander, and Herbs de Provence.

Check out last week’s Broccoli and Potato soup for more vegetarian soup options! If you want something even heartier, you can get the Italian Sausage Tortellini soup recipe here.