Tuesday, July 31, 2012

King of Falafel

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I spend about 3 hours each day watching the Olympics. Is that too much? I almost teared up when I saw Kelci Bryant and Abby Johnston crying on their winning of a silver medal for 3m synchronized diving. I saw a commercial that said the total distance of all the practice dives a diver makes to be in the Olympics is equal to diving from the world's tallest building 180 times. Such physical ability and time commitment to become world's elite athletes, more motivation for my 6-mile run under 88 degrees direct sun.

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It has been a little over a month since Jake and I decided to do meatless days twice a week. The only week we were only able to do meatless one day was because we went camping. Otherwise, we have been successful in keeping our food rules. I used to think that I need to serve meat everyday because that's how we were brought up. My mom thinks a meal is not complete unless there is some meat (while my dad agrees, he also thinks a meal is not a meal without rice). Needless to say, salads were not a meal option at my home.

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Jake and I have made falafels before, but we were always changing the recipe based on what we had at home. Even the kind of sides that goes with falafel is important. Last night we used dill in the falafel dough instead of parsley and cilantro. Then I made cucumber tomato and dill yogurt salad. Yummo! Our dinner fits quite well with the international-feel of Olympics. (Besides from my daily cucumber and cream cheese sandwich. The cucumber supple of my CSA seems endless)

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Recipe from epicurious.com
1 cup dried chickpeas (can substitute with 1 can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed)
1/2 large onion, roughly chopped (about 1 cup)
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon salt
1/2-1 teaspoon dried hot red pepper
4 cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon baking powder
4-6 tablespoons flour
Soybean or vegetable oil for frying
Chopped tomato for garnish
Diced onion for garnish
Diced green bell pepper for garnish
Tahina sauce
Pita bread

1. Put the chickpeas in a large bowl and add enough cold water to cover them by at least 2 inches. Let soak overnight, then drain. Or use canned chickpeas, drained.
2. Place the drained, uncooked chickpeas and the onions in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Add the parsley, cilantro, salt, hot pepper, garlic, and cumin. Process until blended but not pureed.
3. Sprinkle in the baking powder and 4 tablespoons of the flour, and pulse. You want to add enough bulgur or flour so that the dough forms a small ball and no longer sticks to your hands. Turn into a bowl and refrigerate, covered, for several hours.
4. Form the chickpea mixture into balls about the size of walnuts, or use a falafel scoop, available in Middle-Eastern markets.
5. Heat 3 inches of oil to 375 degrees in a deep pot or wok and fry 1 ball to test. If it falls apart, add a little flour. Then fry about 6 balls at once for a few minutes on each side, or until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Stuff half a pita with falafel balls, chopped tomatoes, onion, green pepper, and pickled turnips. Drizzle with tahina thinned with water.

I found that pungent herbs can substitute parsley and/or cilantro. Last night, I used dill.

Cucumber, Tomato, and Dill Yogurt Salad 

1 cup cucumber, diced
1 cup tomato, diced
1/2 cup red onion, diced
2 tablespoons dill, chopped
1/3 cup yogurt
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil

Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Stir to combine.

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Saturday, July 28, 2012

Olympics 2012!

I have been sitting on a blogger's block. I can't seem to come up with recipes or thoughts that I want to share. I blame it on the heat, wedding planning, and the most addictive TV show. That would be the Olympics. I dug up some pre-DSLR photos from my trip to London and Paris in 2008 during my spring break as an undergraduate. 

What I remember about London are: fish n' chips wrapped in newspaper, bad customer service, fantastic tours of London Tower and Westminster Abbey, endless exhibit rooms in British Museum, Notting Hill, and peas and potatoes in every meal.

I love every part about London.

My family moved to Hong Kong when the area was still under British control, so technically I was a Royal Subject of the Queen. Not really. I saved every Hong Kong coins that had the Queen's profiles on, and I was a little sadden during the Handover in 1997.

In many ways London reminded me of home, even though it was the first time I visited the city. Even some of the terms I was saying were very British, such as "I'm going on a holiday" and "Let's take the lift".  

Olympics brings back memories of my trip.

I love watching these elite athletes from around the world competing. It really brings out what it really means to be an athlete, although I may have to disagree with some of the Olympic events (handball, really?). My favorite sport to watch after marathon (duh!) is diving, a combination of the two most watched sports, gymnastics and swimming. Tonight, I will be watching men's swimming along with cucumber cream cheese sandwich and tea. Cheers!

What's your favorite Olympic sports to watch?

Happy Olympics!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Mammoth Cave

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This past weekend Jake and I along with our friends went camping at Mammoth Cave National Park in southwest Kentucky. We spent two nights by campfire and went on two cave tours.

Planning for what to eat while camping is always a challenge, since refrigeration is not available and I don't trust food that have remained in a cooler for more than a day. The past camping trip, I have always gotten just-add-water "food". Apparently, lots of ice packs and a good cooler will keep for for least a few days.

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Saturday night we made hobo meal, which consisted of potato, onion, carrots, red pepper, and minced beef. Along with lots of spices, salt, and pepper, the meals were wrapped in heavy duty foil and "bake" for an hour. There are numerous recipes out there, but the ingredients we used are the most common.

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We went on two cave tours, the Historic Tour was 2 hours long over 2 miles and the Grand Avenue Tour was a "strenuous" 4 mile and 4.5 hours long. Both tours were one of the best adventures I have ever had.

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DSLR cameras don't work in caves, unless with a speedlight. Needless to say, I took lots of blurry and twilight zone-looking pictures. My favorite part of the tours is going through an area called "Fat Man's Misery". The passage was narrow and every step was a turn. Most people would have to walk sideways. It amazes me how people in the late 1800s used to explore the cave, with oil lamps walking into complete darkness unknowing what was before them.

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Our campfire nights included s'mores, s'mores, and more s'mores. Something about fire roasted marshmallows that makes everything better.

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Thursday, July 19, 2012

Summer Vegetable Gratin

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For the past few weeks, my CSA (community shared agriculture) has been giving out lots of juicy red tomatoes. Funny thing is, I love cooked tomato of any kind..tomato sauce, roasted tomato...etc. But I am not a fan of raw tomato, I can tolerate a couple slices appear in my sandwich. How do people eat a tomato like eating an apple?

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Luckily, the endless supply of summer squash and other summer veggie from CSA gave me this great idea to use up some tomatoes.

Anyone getting tired of zucchini and squash yet?

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I love the vibrant colors of the veggies.

This is my first year getting vegetables from CSA, and I love it.
I don't know what I will be getting until the day of, then it's like on Iron Chef when I make dishes based on what ingredients I have. Not only does CSA "makes" me eat lots of veggies, but also try new vegetables. No more boiled broccoli and sautee green beans. The initial cost of going into CSA might seem high, but if it's shared with others the cost is reasonable for the number of weeks with fresh produce. 

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Summer Vegetable Gratin

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups chopped red onion
2 medium squash, cut into 1/4 inch thick slices
1.5 cups chopped red bell pepper
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 cup cooked brown rice (or other grains will do)
1/2 cup thinly sliced fresh basil
1 teaspoon dried thyme 
1/2 cup milk
3 ounces (3/4 cup) Parmesan cheese, shredded
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
2-3 medium tomatoes, cut into 1/4 inch thick slices
1.5 ounces breadcrumbs*
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees
2. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add oil, swirl to coat. Add onion, cook until transparent, about 3 minutes. Add bell pepper, cook for 2 minutes. Add squash and garlic, cook for 5 minutes. Stir in brown rice, 1/4 cup basil, thyme, salt, and black pepper.
3. Combine salt, milk, cheese, and eggs in a medium bowl, mix well. Add milk mixture to vegetables, stirring until combined. Spoon mixture into an 11x7 baking dish.
4. Arrange tomato slices over vegetable mixture, top evenly with breadcrumbs. Bake at 375 for 40 minutes or until topping is browned. Served with remaining basil.

Any other summer vegetable can be substitute

*To make breadcrumb, here's my fool-proof recipe: Toast a slice of bread for 4 minutes (careful not to burn). Tear toast into 1-inch pieces and place in a food processor. Process until coarse crumbs form. Ta-Da!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Fireworks - Take Two

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A year ago, I attempted to take some pictures of Fourth of July fireworks and was not successful in doing so. For fireworks this year, I was prepared. For the last few years, Jake and I usually watch fireworks with his grandparents in Wisconsin. I even remembered to pack my tripod at the last second before we headed out the door.

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I set aperture to f/10 to get longer exposure, so that I get this effect that all the lights blend in. I planned on setting the ISO lower for better picture quality, however my camera would not take pictures since it was so dark outside.

I did everything I wanted to do from the last post, but looks like not much improvement here. I was hoping for those gorgeous Fourth of July fireworks you see on a postcard.

I bought a Groupon last week for an online photography class through flying photo school. I am pretty excited, because there is so much I can research myself and I could use some critic/suggestions on my photography. It's a learning process, and one of these days I'm going to create postcard-like firework pictures.

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Saturday, July 14, 2012

Blackberry and Peach Cobbler

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Being from Wisconsin, peach-picking was a novelty when I moved down here. Who knew peaches, like apples, could have so many varieties. Yesterday Jake and I went peach picking at Reed Valley Orchard on the north side in Paris, Kentucky. I mentioned in an earlier post on blueberry cobbler of how this place is our favorite orchard. There is hardly any commercialization at Reed Valley Orchard,  it's basically a U-pick place with a very cute country store and friendly staff. I measure commercialization by the number of goats for petting, whether there's a bridge for goats to walk on, and the number of haystack slides. Pretty accurate, don't you think?

This is my favorite peach variety, the flat yummy. They sure are yummy.

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 Much of the produce at Reed Valley Orchard is affected due to the early spring and late frost, therefore we were not able to pick peaches and we decided to pick some blackberries instead. There's a trick to picking blackberries. You see, there are millions of june bugs, beetles, occasionally some wasps that also enjoy the sweet and juicy blackberries. One can't pick blackberries without attacks from these buzzers, and I am speaking from experience. The trick is to gently shake the blackberry bush with a stick, duck down, wait for buzzers to fly pass you, then pick the berries.

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About a year ago I made peach cobbler. While I was looking at that post, "yikes!" was all I could think about. What a year of blogging and photographing can make a difference, I sure have came a long way.

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There is a secret ingredient in this blackberry and peach cobbler. Mrs. Reed of Reed Valley Orchard kindly gave me two green apples (I believe the variety is called Earli-Gold) and suggested that I add the apples into the fruit mix. The apples would intensify the fruit flavor without overpowering with its apple taste. She was right, this was the best (and simplest) cobbler I have ever made.

Blackberry and Peach Cobbler

Fruit mix:
2 pounds peach, cut into 1/2 inch thick wedges
5 cups blackberries (4 cups if you add apples)
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoon cornstarch

Whole Wheat Biscuits:
1.5 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 stick cold butter, cut in small pieces
2/3 buttermilk (approx. see #2)
1 egg

1. Preheat oven to 450F. Mix all fruits, sugar, and cornstarch in a large mixing bowl.
2. Pour fruit mix into a 13x9 baking glass pan. Bake for 20 minutes.
3. Meanwhile mix flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar together in a mixing bowl.
4. Beat egg in a one-cup measuring cup. Fill the rest of the cup with buttermilk. Set aside.
5. Add butter into dry ingredients, use a dough blender to mix butter in until pea size.
6. Add egg-milk mixture to dry ingredients. Mix with a few strokes.
7. Roll out dough in a lightly floured surface until 1/4-inch thick. Use a biscuit cutter/ circular cookie cutter.
8. When time is up, remove pan from oven. Carefully lay biscuit dough over fruit mix, until all surface is covered evenly with biscuit. Bake for another 20 minutes, or until biscuits are slightly browned.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Land of Lincoln

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Every place wants a piece of Linconl claim, whether its Lincoln's birthplace or his childhood home. During my road trip, I visited Springfield, Illinois, the land of Lincoln. Lucky for me, my Lincoln day was 106 degrees outside.

I started off the Lincoln tour with a visit to his tomb since it was across the street from where I was staying. What a magnificent monument, the statues were made of cannons from the Civil War. In front of the tomb, there is a giant Lincoln bust. Rumor has it that touching the nose of giant Lincoln face will bring luck.

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The Lincoln tour restarted next morning in a 4 block National Historic Site of Lincoln's Home in the middle of Springfield downtown. It was very neat to see that this small neighborhood was preserved to what it would have been like during Lincoln's residency in Springfield. This house is the only house ever owned by Lincoln. I toured Mary Todd Lincoln's here in Lexington, there was quite a resemblance in decoration between the two houses.

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More importantly, what did Lincoln eat?

This garden was maintained using the methods from 1800s. There were the usual (but heirloom!) garden crops like squash, tomato, onion, garlic, and etc...but one thing I would love to try was salsify, also known as poor man's oyster. Of course, I was busy imaging what Mary Todd Lincoln would make for dinner on this hot summer day.

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Salsify would probably not make an appearance in the White House Correspondences' Dinner.
Even President Ronald Regan would agree.

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Sunday, July 8, 2012

Road Trip - Part II

After almost week of travel and 1200 miles layer, I'm finally on my way home. Jake and I started our trip to the great dairyland state of Wisconsin, where beer with lunch is a must. I enjoyed a lovely Fourth of July on the beach of Lake Michigan. I had delicious stuffed pizza with spinach and tomato with a Spotted Cow (a microbrewery of New Glarus, Wisconsin).

Later the week we drove down to the Land of Lincoln, passing the Town of Paw Paw to Springfield. We visited Honest Abe's tombstone and his home. We ate at Taste of Downtown in Springfield when it was 106 degrees outside. Eating yummy green chile beef tacos in what it felt like living with a giant hair dryer on all the time is almost worth it. Chicken salads have became my go-to meal when there is a only a handful of fast food restaurants available.

We finished our trip with our good friends' wedding at a rustic winery. It was a beautiful and sweet event that brought smiles and a little of tears. I love traveling on the road, especially with my beat friend. But I miss Lola and being able to cook for myself. I can be sure there be no chicken salad on my menu for a while.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Road trip!

This week Jake and I are visiting the great dairyland of Wisconsin. An audio book, 480 miles later, and 8 hours later, we made it. Along the way we passed by beautiful landscape. Yes, even cornfields can be pretty.

Though it is always interesting to see the food options offered in gas stations and rest stops. It makes me wonder how has our eating habits evolved to to thinking $1 soft drinks. For now, lots of cheese and beer.

Happy 4th of July!
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