RECIPE: Wafu Kabocha Soup (Japanese Pumpkin Soup with Toasted Seaweed)

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RRRRRR…It’s only mid-November yet it feels like we are already “deep” into the winter season; it might be chilly but I am not complaining as we have enjoyed some fine sunny days, which is quite unusual here in Vancouver…

So out come the Dutch oven and my Blender as Hearty Soup season is in full swing!

We don’t have kabocha very often in our household as it is not Andy’s favorite, I cooked it only once in a while for my own enjoyment, prepared either in Japanese (simmered in dashi and soy) or Chinese way (stewed with pork and soy).

I was so inspired by my friend Haruko’s creation; she made the most delicious and elegant version by keeping things simple, using fresh in-season ingredients (kabocha, onion, homemade chicken stock, milk)  and let them shine; I feel this is always the best way to cook.

I decided to incorporate my favourite “Wafu” style (yes again) into this recipe; the idea of the toasted nori came from Canadian food blogger “The First Mess”; she adapted the kabocha + chestnut soup recipe from Amy Chaplin’s cookbook ” At Home In the Whole Food Kitchen”, this cookbook is on my Christmas wishlist…any takers?? (OO)

Ingredients: (serves 2 – 4)

1 medium size kabocha, seeded, peeled, chopped into small cubes, 1 large yellow onion (thinly sliced), 2 garlic cloves (thinly sliced), 1 Tablespoon sake kasu (optional), 2 Tablespoon olive oil, 3 1/2 cups Japanese dashi broth*, 1 to 1 1/2 cups regular almond milk, 2 teaspoons Japanese mirin, 1-2 Tablespoons organic soy sauce, sea salt and freshly ground pepper for seasoning to taste, nori seaweed (**optional, toasted for garnish). 

Preparation:

– Prepare the kabocha squash: sliced it open into two halves. Remove the seeds, then cut into thin wedges; remove the skin then cut them into small even pieces

– Prepare the onion: peel and slice thinly

– In a 4 quart pot reheat the dashi broth, bring to a boil, lower heat and keep it simmering (if you are using pre-packaged dashi powder, prepare the stock according to instructions on package)

– Using a different heavy pot, heat the olive oil using medium high heat.  Add the onions and saute until they become soft and golden (6-8 minutes), add the sliced garlic and saute until it becomes fragrant.

– Add the kabocha to the same pot, add 1 teaspoon mirin and gently mix all ingredients; add reheated dashi broth, 1 Tablespoon of sake kasu and bring mixture to a boil. Once boiling, lower the heat (medium low) and simmer until kabocha is tender (you can use a fork to test the texture), approximately 20 minutes.  Using a slotted spoon, skim off any scums.

– While soup is simmering, prepare the nori – remove from package, lightly brush them with olive oil/mirin (1:1 ratio) mixture. Using medium low heat, place seaweed on small fry pan and toast them lightly using dry heat. The seaweed should be toasted on both sides, be very careful not to overheat and burn them.  Set aside.

– Using an upright blender, working in small batches, process and puree the soup until smooth (be mindful to fill blender jar less than half way). To prevent the liquid from splattering, remember to allow heat to escape by removing the blender’s lid centre insert (cap), hold a kitchen towel over the top when blending.

– Return puree soup to stock pot, over low heat, stir in the almond milk slowly till mixture is combined, do not let the soup boil.

– Season with sea salt and pepper to taste.

–  To serve: ladle soup in bowls and garnish with toasted nori.

*Notes:

Dashi is a fundamental ingredient to many Japanese dishes; it is used in miso soups, noodle soup, stews (oden) and sauces.

For your convenience, you can purchase the instant bonito stock packages which are readily available at Japanese food stores, and follow the instructions.

I choose to make my own awase dashi (basic stock) on a regular basis as I used it quite often as a substitute in many recipes. It is a combination of kombu (kelp) and katsuobushi (bonito flakes) and I have been using the recipe from Practical Japanese Cooking (by Shizuo Tsuji and Koichiro Hata) ; you can also find recipes available online.

You can substitute dashi broth with either vegetable stock or kombu stock (without the bonito flakes) to make the soup a completely vegetarian dish, or use chicken stock.

Sake kasu is optional, it adds lots of flavour to soups and stocks.  In Vancouver you can purchase at Fujiya Japanese Food Store or Artisan Sake Maker (Osake) in Granville Island.  

Always taste and change the ingredients according to your liking and dietary needs.

Here are links to other versions of kabocha soup:

http://www.thefirstmess.com/2014/10/29/vegan-kabocha-squash-chestnut-soup-kale-sesame-leaves-recipe/

http://www.justonecookbook.com/recipes/kabocha-squash-soup/

RECIPE: Triple C Chowder: Cauliflower, Chicken and Corn Chowder

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Late in October I was really thrilled when JJ and TT (many thanks again!) brought me some Hungarian paprika as souvenir from their European trip; I admit this is not the spice I use very often in my cooking, I had to give it some serious thought…

Rewind back to early October when I went for my haircut at Fab’s; my hair colouring session is the time when I catch up on my magazine reading; we are mostly digitized (twitter, Facebook, instagram) these days, so I rarely buy hard copies of any magazines unless it’s some special edition which I would like to keep. I was flipping through the October issue of Canadian Living magazine and came across their wonderful cauliflower corn chowder recipe; I love the idea of using cauliflower or potato in soups to add the texture without the need for whipping cream.  As usual, I took a snapshot and “tuck” it away in my cookery files…

So here you go; here’s my own version – the end result? It’s a lighter and healthier chowder, and certainly makes a hearty weeknight meal.  Please feel free to change things up anyway you like to suit your own taste and dietary needs.

There’s still paprika left in the pantry, so what’s next? Perhaps a Hungarian goulash for my dear friends? (OO)

Ingredients: (Serves 4-6, parts of the recipe adapted from Canadian Living’s Cauliflower Corn Chowder)

2 Tablespoon olive oil, 1 large yellow onion (diced), 4 cloves of garlic finely minced, 2 Tablespoon chopped fresh thyme, 1 1/2 Tablespoon smoked sweet paprika, 4 corn cobs (husked, kernels removed, save the cobs), 1 small head cauliflower (cut into bite size), 2 boneless chicken breast (skinned and cut into bite size), 3 cups low sodium chicken broth*, 1 to 1 1/2 cups unsweetened almond milk*, 1 large sweet pepper (seeded and cut to bite size), 2 Tablespoons lemon juice, sea salt for seasoning to taste and sliced green scallions (or chives) for garnish (optional).

*almond milk and using mostly organic produce is my own preference; I’ve used homemade chicken stock as the soup base.  To add some heat – add 1 chili pepper to soup mixture or just use hot sauce in the end when ready to serve.

Preparation:

– In small bowl, prepare marinade for chicken; whisk together 1 Tablespoon olive oil, 1 Tablespoon lemon juice, 1/2 Tablespoon paprika and pinch of sea salt.  Add chicken breast cubes to mixture and marinate for at least 20 minutes.

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 In a small pot using medium low heat, add the cobs to the chicken stock, let mixture simmer for approximately 15 to 20 minutes.  Turn off heat and set aside.

– In Dutch oven or large heavy pot, using medium high heat, saute the chicken breast until the meat is slightly browned and half-cooked, about 2 to 3  minutes.  Remove chicken meat from pot.

– Using the same pot, heat remaining olive oil, add onion, garlic, chopped fresh thyme and remaining paprika; saute until onion is softened, this takes approximately 3 minutes.  Stir in 1/2 the corn kernels, cauliflower, pre-heated chicken stock, sea salt and 1/2 cup water, bring mixture to boil.  Reduce heat, cover and simmer until cauliflower is tender, approximately 10 minutes.

– Using an upright blender, working in small batches, process and puree the soup until smooth (be mindful to fill blender jar less than half way). To prevent the hot liquid from splattering: remember to allow heat to escape by removing the blender’s lid centre insert (cap), hold a kitchen towel over the top when blending.

– Return puree soup to pot, add remaining corn kernels, red pepper and half-cooked chicken breast cubes, bring soup to boil.  Reduce to low heat, stir in almond milk, let it simmer and stir occasionally until red pepper is tender and chicken cubes are cooked through.  Season with sea salt to taste. Turn off heat, stir in lemon juice.

– When ready to serve, ladle soup into bowls, add hot sauce (optional) and garnish with chopped green scallions or chives (optional).

 

 

RECIPE: Corn Potage (Japanese Corn Soup)

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Over the weekend I hosted a bridal shower for my dear friend Virginia (Congrats!) and she specifically requested to have corn soup on the menu! I choose to make my favourite recipe, adapted from Jane Lawson’s Yoshoku – Japanese food western style with slight modifications (added chicken stock, omitted sesame oil). This is very easy to make; it’s great as a starter or a meal on its own, Enjoy (OO).

Ingredients: (Serves 2 – 4 (as small starter)

4 cups kombu stock, 1 cup organic low sodium chicken stock (optional), 4 cobs fresh sweet corn (peaches and cream); 1 oz organic unsalted butter, 1 teaspoon grape seed oil, 1 medium leek (white portion only, thinly sliced), 1 celery stalk (finely chopped), 1 to 2 garlic clove (crushed), 1 teaspoon finely grated ginger, 1/4 (60 ml) cup mirin, 1/2 cup (125 ml) cream, salt and pepper to taste, nori flakes and thinly slice green scallions (optional for garnish).

Preparation:

– Cut the kernels from the corn cobs, set kernels and cobs aside.

– Prepare the kombu stock; in a separate saucepan, bring chicken broth to boil, turn off heat and set aside.

Kombu stock: (1 piece of kombu (around 20 g – gently cleaned and wiped with damp cloth), 4 cups of cold water

– Put the kombu and 4 cups of cold water in a large saucepan.  Heat up the water slowly on medium low heat; just before it starts boiling, remove the kombu.

– When kombu stock is ready, add corn cobs and hot chicken stock to the pan and return to the boil. Reduce to simmer and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, remove from the heat, discard the corn cobs and set aside.

– In a separate 8 quart stock pot, add butter and grape seed oil, melt over medium heat.

– Add leek, stirring regularly, cook for approximately 5 minutes or until lightly golden.  Add celery, garlic and ginger, cook until fragrant (approximately 1 minute); stir in corn kernels, mix well with other ingredients and cook another 1 to 2 minutes.

– Add stock and mirin to corn and leek mixture, and bring to boil over high heat, then reduce to simmer and cook for 20 minutes.

– Using an upright blender, process and puree the soup in small batches (be mindful to fill blender jar less than half way).To prevent the liquid from splattering, remember to allow heat to escape; remove the blender’s lid centre insert (cap), hold a kitchen towel over the top when blending.

– Return puree soup to stock pot, stir in the cream and heat gently over low heat, do not bring to boil.

– Season to taste with salt and pepper; to serve, sprinkle with nori flakes and green scallions (optional).

Notes:

– I added the organic chicken broth (optional) for more flavour; the original recipe calls for 4 cups of kombu stock only, because I’ve added the additional cup of chicken broth, the soup is not as thick. If you want a thinner soup, add more cream.

– For a smoother and more refined texture, push the puree soup mixture through a fine sieve before stirring in the cream.

– I opted to use a light cream and seasoned the soup with sea salt from Okinawa (a precious gift from my friend “FanFan”, thank you very much!!).

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Corn Soup in “Pink Striped” Icecream paper bowls for the bridal shower

– For the bridal shower, I served them in little “ice-cream” cups:)

RECIPE: Poached Sea Bass with Tomato and Saffron Broth

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I love the combination of tomatoes and saffron; this recipe is adapted from the January 2014 issue of Bon Appetit Magazine which emphasized on healthy eating and offered many new fish recipes. I have made slight modifications: I used sea bass instead of cod, added organic chicken broth and onions for more flavour, and increased the quantity of the poaching liquid.  The fish was served with wild rice blend which was so flavourful when eaten together with the sauce; for a moment, it felt as if I was having a “fish only – deconstructed” paella…Enjoy (OO)!

Ingredients: (Serves 4)

1 to 2 Tablespoon olive oil, 3 to 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced; 1 medium onion, sliced, 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, 1 28 oz can organic whole peeled tomatoes, drained; 1/2 cup dry white wine, 1/2 cup low sodium organic chicken stock (store-bought or homemade), 2-3 bay leaves, pinch of saffron threads, 4  4 to 5 ounce sea bass (fish size approximate), white pepper, kosher salt and black pepper to taste, chopped parsley as garnish (optional)

Preparation:

– Heat oil in dutch oven (or pot with lid) over medium heat.  Add onion, garlic and crushed pepper flakes and cook, stirring often, until fragrant (garlic should not take on any colour), about 3 minutes.  Do not burn!

– Add tomatoes, crushing with your hands as you add them, wine, bay leaves, saffron and chicken stock (or water).

– Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until flavors meld, 25 – 30 minutes, season with kosher salt and pepper.

– Reduce heat to medium low, pat dry the sea bass with paper towel, season with salt and white pepper; place in poaching liquid.  Cover and cook at a bare simmer until sea bass is opaque throughout and begin to flake, 8 – 10 minutes (*Note – thicker pieces will take longer to cook).

– Gently transfer sea bass to shallow bowl and spoon poaching liquid over, serve on bed of wild rice.

Notes:

– The original recipe uses cod; other suggestions – black bass or flounder fillets.

– Saffron can be overpowering; adjust accordingly.  For Non-meat eaters (pescatarians), omit the low-sodium chicken broth and use water instead. As always, adjust the seasoning according to your dietary needs and taste.

– I cooked the wild rice separately, we prefer either Nuworld Wholesome Wild Rice Blend (Costco or Price Smart) or Lundberg Wild Blend (Choices, East West Market (on Main Street) in Vancouver, BC or Whole Foods (various locations)).