Lunch and Dinner

The Minimalist Kitchen: One Pot Pasta

hot plate

I’m currently crashing at my sister’s studio apartment. The “kitchen” I’m working with includes a tiny sink, a foot of counter space, and one hot plate. Despite the fact that I will be moving to bigger place soon, I’ve come to terms with the fact that I will probably be dealing with tiny kitchens for the rest of my stay in this city. Hong Kong has so many amazing things to offer but alas, space is not one of them. I’ve decided to start a new series on the blog called The Minimalist Kitchen. I’ll be exploring what you can and can’t get away with in a seriously small kitchen. For those who are in my boat, hopefully I can share what I learn about doing more with much less.

I read about Martha Stewart’s One Pot Pasta on The Londoner. It’s elegantly simple and you need close to zero cooking skills to make it. You end up with a comforting pasta dish that tastes light and fresh, and is full of vegetables. It’s also a flexible recipe–I had some bell pepper I needed to use up so I threw them in as well. Best thing about this one pot pasta? The entire process of making a big batch will not take you more than twenty minutes!

Not only is this a great lazy or time-saving meal for people with normal-sized kitchens, this recipe is a life-saver for people who only have one burner. Sure, I can still make a normal pasta dish with one burner and just switch out pots or pans, but when you have no counter space, a one pot meal is amazingly convenient when it comes to avoiding kitchen accidents! I managed to burn through a plastic curtain with a very hot pot my first week here.

Oh, well. You live and you learn. And you learn that one pot pasta is awesome. Check out Martha Stewart’s Recipe and I’m sure this will become one of your go-to meals.

one pot pasta

Lunch and Dinner

The Ultimate Healthy Fast Food: White Bean Tuna Salad

white bean tuna salad

Even when you’re someone who loves cooking, there are just some days where you don’t have the time or motivation to make yourself a proper meal. Or so you thought. White Bean Tuna Salads have become my go-to back-up plan meal. It’s perfect for those days that I can’t imagine spending even twenty minutes cooking but still don’t want to spend extra money ordering takeout or wasting so many calories on a crappy fast food meal.

I used to hate the idea of salads, probably because before I started cooking, the only salads I ate were those sad ones you buy near your office made with rotting iceberg lettuce, croutons, and a few pieces of tasteless chicken that come with a side of nasty packets of dressing. I’ve since realized that even the simplest salad, made with good ingredients, can be as tasty and satisfying as they are healthy.

Despite how simple it is, this is a pretty nutritious meal. While I don’t think tuna is a fish you should eat every week because of it’s higher mercury content, I think it’s perfectly healthy once in a while and it’s a good trade-off considering how convenient it is. Stock up on a few cans of tuna and white beans. You probably already have olive oil and vinegar. Then on those special days when you need something filling and healthy, and you needed it five minutes ago, you’re only a bag of baby spinach away from a great meal. Bonus points if you prep the day before and cook your own beans, but canned beans are perfectly fine. Just give them a good rinse before you put them in the salad so that you can avoid that gassy feeling we all just LOVE.

White Bean Tuna Salad
Makes 1 serving
About 550 calories per serving

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
2 cups baby spinach
1 cup drained whites beans (rinsed if using canned beans)
3oz drained canned tuna, albacore or skipjack

In a large bowl, pour the balsamic vinegar into the olive oil as you whisk vigorously to make a vinaigrette. Put the spinach in the bowl and toss to coat with the vinaigrette. Top with beans and tuna. Dassit!

tuna white bean salad

Lunch and Dinner

When You’re Too Lazy to Make Thanksgiving Dinner, Make Turkey Burgers

Maybe it’s not that you’re lazy. Maybe you’re only cooking for one or two. Maybe you can’t afford a whole turkey. Maybe you’re not into the gluttony of a huge Thanksgiving dinner. Maybe you’re not American and you have no idea what I’m talking about.

Whatever the reason is that you’re not having your typical American Thanksgiving dinner, here’s a way you can have a little taste of it without too much work. I love this burger with baked sweet potato fries. It’s a reasonable size, it’s clean (especially if you buy farmers market turkey), and you’ve got all the delicious flavors of Thanksgiving without the food coma.

But the very, very best part? I feel like I’m eating Ikea Swedish meatballs, for some reason. I love Ikea. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!



Thanksgiving Burgers
Makes 4 burgers

1/2 small onion, finely diced
1 pound ground turkey, preferably dark meat
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 tablespoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon corn starch
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup chicken or beef stock
4 dinner rolls or your bun of choice
1 handful baby salad greens
4 teaspoons Dijon mustard
Homemade cranberry sauce (recipe below)
Baked sweet potato “fries” (recipe below)

In a large bowl, add the diced onion, salt, and pepper to ground turkey. Mix thoroughly with your hands, then form four equally sized patties. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium high heat. Place the patties in the skillet and cook for about 7 minutes on each side, depending on thickness of your patties, until cooked through. Keep the heat on, but remove patties from skillet and cover (or place in the oven) to keep warm.

You can start toasting your rolls or buns before this next step. To make the gravy, mix the corn starch with 2 tablespoon of water to make a thin paste. Pour paste into the same skillet and start whisking to mix with skillet drippings. As it thickens, pour the milk and stock, while continuing to whisk. After a few minutes, it should reach your desired consistency.

Now you can assemble your burgers. Cut your freshly toasted rolls or buns. Spread a teaspoon of Dijon mustard on the bottom half. Place a few baby salad greens on top of mustard, followed by the turkey patty, a tablespoon of gravy, a tablespoon of homemade cranberry sauce. Top with the other half of your roll and serve with baked sweet potato “fries”.

Homemade Cranberry Sauce
Makes about 1 3/4 cups

3 cups cranberries
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup of orange juice
1 tablespoon of lemon juice
Pinch of ground cinnamon
1/2 tablespoon of vanilla extract

Add cranberries, both sugars, orange juice, lemon juice, and cinnamon to a small saucepan over medium high heat. When mixture starts to bubble, reduce to low heat.

Let mixture simmer uncovered for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. When cranberries are very tender, remove from heat and stir in the vanilla extract.

Baked sweet Potato “Fries”

A few sweet potatoes, peeled
Canola oil
Salt and pepper
Additional seasoning of choice, e.g. I like paprika

Heat the oven to 450°F.

Cut your sweet potatoes into “fry”-shaped 1/4 inch-thick strips. Try to keep them all around the same thickness so they bake evenly. In a large bowl, add canola oil a little splash at a time while tossing the strips, until you just coat them with enough oil. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and your seasoning of choice, and toss until strips are evenly coated.

Like a baking sheet with parchment paper and spread strips in single layer, leaving room between them. You may need more than one baking sheet. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes. Remove and use a spatula to flip all the strips. Return to oven for another 15 minutes, or until “fries” are crispy.

Lunch and Dinner

Saying Goodbye to Summer with Fish Tacos

Oh, fish tacos. You taste like summer vacation. It’s way, way past the first official day of Fall, yet I’ve been clinging. Last week, I was still wearing sandals and not enough layers. I ignored the new fall produce at the market and scooped up a bagful of peaches and tomatoes. By the end of the week I accepted that summer is gone and pulled my tights and coats out from storage. Fall is here! But today, I eat fish tacos. Today I say goodbye to summer.

My favorite fish taco in New York City is at Réunion Surf Bar. It’s one of the few foods I fall in love with over and over again, every single time I have it. I’m too wimpy to ask them how they make it, but last time I was there, I poked around my taco to see what I could identify. These Surf Bar Fish Tacos are not a recreation, but rather my homage to Réunion.

Battered and fried fish is de rigueur for tacos, but you know me. I’m not a big fan of deep frying. Why ruin what would otherwise be a healthy dish? I lightened up the recipe with some crispy panko-crusted baked fish. I’ve also included a stupid easy guacamole recipe if you don’t want to use store-bought stuff but can’t be bothered to make real guac. You’ll appreciate the Last Minute Guacamole when you have an ingredient list this long!

Surf Bar Fish Tacos
Makes 6 tacos

1 12oz fillet of tilapia, or other whitefish
Olive oil or cooking spray
1 egg white
6 tablespoons panko
2 tablespoon flour
Salt and pepper
6 corn tortillas
Block of Monterey Jack cheese
6 tablespoons guacamole (see recipe below)
1 medium tomato, de-seeded and finely diced
1 jalapeño, de-seeded and finely diced
1 scallion, finely diced
Small handful of shredded red cabbage (optional)
1 small carrot, shredded
2 tablespoons of Thousand Island Dressing, or mayonnaise
Hot sauce
Fresh cilantro
2 limes, quartered

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Cut the fish fillet into 6 2oz strips. Grease a baking sheet with the olive oil or cooking spray. Mix the panko and flour in a small bowl and season with salt and pepper. Dip each fish strip into the egg white, then the panko mixture to coat all surfaces. Place the crusted fish strips on the baking sheet and bake the fish on the top rack of the oven for about 5 minutes until cooked through, turning the baking sheet once for even cooking.

While the fish is cooking, start heating up the tortillas one by one in a dry pan over a low flame, until soft and warm. Wrap warm tortillas in a clean cloth.

Mix the diced tomato, jalapeño, scallion, and shredded cabbage together in a small bowl to make salsa mixture. In another small bowl, stir in a couple dashes of hot sauce into the thousand island dressing or mayo. Add the shredded carrot to hot thousand island or mayo, and mix it up.

Now you’re ready to assemble the tacos. First, cut a very, very thin strip of cheese, about an inch wide and about the length of the tortilla. Place it in the middle of a tortilla. Top the strip of cheese with a tablespoon of guacamole. Layer 2 tablespoons of salsa and cabbage mixture, then a strip of baked fish on top. Garnish with a tablespoon of dressed shredded carrot and cilantro leaves. Repeat with the rest of the tacos. Serve each with a wedge of lime.

Last Minute Guacamole
Makes about 1/2 cup

2 ripe avocados
Juice of 1 lime
Salt and pepper

Cut avocados in half and remove pits. Scoop the flesh out of 3 avocado halves and put in a blender. Pour lime juice in. Give it a few pulses until you have a smooth consistency. Cut the flesh of the last avocado half into small cubes and gently mix them into the guacamole. Done!

Lunch and Dinner

Stir-Fried Eggs with Tomatoes for Mid-Autumn Festival

I envy bloggers who are in touch with their culture and its food and traditions, much like the ladies at The Glorified Tomato. Despite being half Chinese and actually growing up for 14 years in Hong Kong, I still can’t say I know much about Chinese food and culture. But this weekend is Mid-Autumn Festival according to the lunar calendar, and I’m feeling inspired to think about my roots.

I celebrated this every year as a kid, and loved it. We would eat mooncake (pictured above), a Chinese pastry filled with a sweet paste, usually lotus seed, and a salted egg yolk in the middle. Don’t let the ingredients fool you–this is not a healthy dessert. An average sized mooncake is about the size of my palm but has about 1000 calories! We would serve them in small slices, washing down the dense, sweet dessert with hot black tea. At night we’d go out with lanterns and admire the full moon. My favorite part was burning candles down in an empty mooncake box until you ended up with a huge cake of wax–thrilling for a child.

I did buy a box of mooncakes this year, but felt compelled to cook some Chinese food for myself, even if the dish had nothing to do with Mid-Autumn Festival. I pulled out my dusty wok and made the very first dish I ever learned how to make: stir-fried eggs with tomatoes. This dish got me through college. It sounds absurdly simple, but try this classic comfort dish served in the homes of many Chinese families. Happy Mid-Autumn Festival!

Stir-Fried Eggs with Tomatoes
Makes 2 servings, or part of a multi-course meal

Note: I’m not an expert in stir-frying, but what I do know is you cook quickly, over high heat. Make sure you have all ingredients measured out and ready to go before you start, and that you use an oil with a high smoke point. If you waste time fumbling for ingredients, you may end up overcooking your food!

4 eggs
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon of salt
2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 scallion, white and green parts chopped and separated
2 medium tomatoes, de-seeded and diced
Pinch of sugar

In a medium bowl, beat the eggs with the sesame oil and salt.

Heat a wok (or large skillet) over high heat. Swirl in the peanut oil, coating the base of the wok. Add the garlic and white part of the scallion. Stir-fry for about 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes, sprinkle sugar over them, and stir-fry for about 1 minute until the tomatoes start to soften. Pour the eggs in and stir-fry for 1 minute until the eggs are set but not overcooked. Transfer to a serving dish and garnish with green part of the scallion. Serve over rice, or part of a multi-course meal.

Lunch and Dinner

The Bloody Mary, Now In Salad Form!

I’m not sure when or how my love affair with Bloody Marys started. But knowing me, having a vegetable as the base of this lovely cocktail probably has a little something to do with it. I share this Bloody Mary passion with my boyfriend. One day he came up with an ingenious idea: how about I make a Bloody Mary salad? What a fantastic plan, an edible version of our favorite drink!

But like most would-be super original ideas, the internet rained on our parade, letting us know that loads of people had already thought of it. I was bummed for about two seconds, but with the knowledge that it has been done and it works, I felt more driven than ever to make a Bloody Mary Salad. I made mine like how my boyfriend makes a Bloody Mary–with olives and bacon. Pair this salad with a stiff Bloody Mary. Awww yeah. Cheers!

Bloody Mary Salad
Makes 1 main course, or 2 appetizers

Adapted from Running with Tweezers

1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon prepared Horseradish
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
Pinch of ground celery seed (optional)
Salt and pepper
2 slices of bacon
2 large handful of your favorite salad greens
4 ounces blue cheese, sliced
1/2 cup sliced, pitted green olives
2 stalks celery, sliced crosswise (save the leaves for garnish)

In a medium bowl, combine the tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, Worcestershire sauce, horseradish, a dash or two of Tabasco,  lemon juice and zest, and optional celery seed. Stir to coat all tomatoes with marinade. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and allow to marinate in the fridge for 30-60 minutes.

Place bacon in a large skillet and heat it up over medium-high heat. When bacon begins to brown and curl, flip over and cook until both sides are done. Transfer bacon to a paper towel covered plate. Set aside.

When ready to serve, start with your salad greens on your plate. Then top with sliced blue cheese, olives, and sliced celery. Crumble the bacon over the salad. Finally, add the tomato mixture and drizzle remaining marinade over the top. Garnish with celery leaves and serve immediately.

Lunch and Dinner

Didn’t Get Your Lobster Roll On This Summer? It’s Cool, Make Your Own

Like many of you, I may not have achieved the elusive Best Summer Ever. But I’m still pretty happy about Summer 2012. I worked hard, played hard, and even found time to slow down to enjoy some me-time. I only regret two things: 1) not eating any ice cream (whaaaat), and 2) not eating more lobster rolls. I foresee a random, inappropriate ice cream craving sometime this winter. But the lobster rolls? I can take care of that craving now.

The one lobster roll I did have this summer was from Red Hook Lobster Pound at Smorgasburg. I got the Connecticut style lobster roll, smothered in warm butter. Good lord, it was divine. But in the real world, i.e. my kitchen and not an amazing market of gluttony, I need at least one thing that resembles a vegetable on my plate. Or else I’ll get a panic attack. So I opted for the Maine style lobster roll at home (mayo, celery, spices), with a few extra greens. Nothing like freshly toasted buttered buns stuffed with homemade mayo and chilled, crunchy lobster filling after a long day. Now go make your own before autumn officially arrives.

Lobster Rolls
Makes 2 rolls

8 oz shell-on lobster tail, thawed
1/2 celery stalk, minced
2 tablespoons homemade mayonnaise (see below for recipe)
2 tablespoons chives, chopped
Squeeze of lemon juice
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons softened butter
2 hot dog buns, preferably top-split buns
Small handful of your favorite salad greens

In a large pot fit with a steamer basket, bring 3 inches of water to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-high. Place lobster tail in steamer basket and cover with lid. Cook for approximately 10 minutes, until shell is red, and meat is pink and firm. You’re better off slightly overcooking this than undercooking. Remove lobster tail and let it cool to room temperature. Using a lobster cracker or just a big chef’s knife, crack open the shell and peel it off. Remove and discard the vein running down the length of the top side of tail with a paring knife, if you see one. Roughly chop lobster meat into small chunks.

In a medium bowl, combine lobster meat with celery, mayonnaise, chives, lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Spread butter inside hot dog buns and toast roll until golden brown. Line buns with salad greens, then stuff with lobster mixture. Serve immediately.

Homemade Mayonnaise
Makes about 1 1/2 cups

Adapted from Stonesoup

1 whole egg at room temperature
2 teaspoons dijon mustard
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 1/2 cups canola oil

Crack egg into a medium bowl. Add mustard, vinegar, lemon juice, and a pinch salt. Whisk to combine.

Keep whisking (with your strong arm!) while you slowly add the oil. Start with a very thin stream and slowly pour more at a time until most of the oil is incorporated. Only then can you stop whisking.

Pour mixture into food processor. Give it a few pulses and it will finally look like mayonnaise. Season to taste. If the mayo is too runny, add a little more oil. If too firm, add a little water.

Lunch and Dinner

Spaghetti with Mushrooms and Pine Nuts

I’ll be the first to admit it. Mushrooms are weird. They grow in the strangest places and conditions. They’re funny looking. And something about eating fungi is just not sexy. Yet they are low in calories, rich in nutrients, and one of the rare foods that are a natural source of Vitamin D. Mushrooms are pretty darn tasty too.

Usually used as a garnish, mushrooms often feel more like an afterthought than the star of a dish. But let’s change that. In an effort to get my ‘shroom on more often, I’m trying to think of more mushroom-based recipes. The easiest option is probably making a nice, clean mushroom burger. Or, The Stonesoup’s Anti-Cancer Mushroom Soup looks good and is on my to-make list. But this week, I made mushroom spaghetti.

I was delighted to find an Open Lasagna of Mushrooms, Pine Nuts and Thyme recipe in The Produce Bible (Amazon affiliate program link) by Leanna Kitchen. Her real last name surely can’t be Kitchen…can it?! Anyhow. I found the idea of an open lasagna too fussy, plus I had spaghetti on hand, so I adapted her recipe to make this lovely dish. With bacon, mushrooms, and pecorino cheese, it’s like an umami bomb in your mouth. Ohhhh yeah.

Spaghetti with Mushrooms and Pine Nuts
Makes 4 servings

Adapted from The Produce Bible by Leanne Kitchen

1/2 pound whole wheat spaghetti
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 cups your favorite assorted mushrooms, cut into bite-sized pieces
3 slices of bacon, cut into pieces of similar size to the mushrooms
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
4 tablespoons pine nuts
3 tablespoons heavy cream
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Pecorino cheese

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Put spaghetti in and boil for about 10-11 minutes uncovered, until al dente. You can start the next steps while spaghetti is boiling, but remember to drain pasta as soon as it is done.

Heat the butter in a large pan or skillet over medium-high heat. Heat up another small, dry skillet over low heat and toss the pine nuts in. Add the mushrooms and bacon to the large pan and cook for about 4-5 minutes or until golden brown, stirring often. Simultaneously, shake the skillet with the pine nuts frequently to ensure even browning.

Add the garlic and thyme into the pan with the mushrooms and cook for a minute. If your pan is looking very watery, carefully pour out some of the liquid. Then take the pine nuts off the heat and add them to the mushrooms along with the heavy cream and extra virgin olive oil. Season to taste, taking into account that you will be topping this with salty pecorino. Stir to combine. Remove from heat.

Divide the spaghetti into 4 servings and evenly distribute the mushroom mixture over the servings of spaghetti. Top each with a generous amount of freshly grated pecorino and serve.

Lunch and Dinner

Jill Dupleix’s Goat Cheese, Beans and Walnuts

I’ve told you that I’m fighting the cookbook extinction by starting to use and buy more cookbooks. I still turn to the internet for most of my recipes but it’s been fun looking at small cookbook collection too. Today’s featured recipe is from the book Good Cooking: The New Basics by Jill Dupleix (my Amazon affiliate program link). She’s an Australian-born food writer that I had never heard of before. It’s quite a random story how I ended up with this book–back when I had no idea how to cook but wanted to get started, I thought I might need some video instruction. So I saw the Good Cooking DVD on Netflix and watched it. The food looked very tasty and doable, so I ordered the book on Amazon. I’ve made quite a few recipes from Good Cooking. I like her approach to basic, healthy, but internationally-inspired recipes. Her recipes seem so simple yet taste complex.

Last week I made her recipe for Goat Cheese, Beans and Walnuts. I found it online here but you’ll have to convert the measurements if you don’t use the metric system. I got some quality produce and artisan chevre from the farmers market to make this. It’s fairly light but tastes so decadent and elegant at the same time. It’s just one of those wonderful mix of flavors that come together so well. Melty goat cheese over string beans and walnuts, drizzled in a wonderful marinade…mmmm. A great idea for Meatless Monday!