Pestos galore

I am by no means trained in Italian cooking nor do I watch many Italian cooking shows. My love for the carbacious (wait, is that even a word?) pastas and pizzas keep me constantly trying something new. It all began when I bumped into a video on Jamie Oliver’s Youtube Channel featuring the Chiappa Sisters for making a delicious Sage Walnut Pesto. Sage and walnut? What about Basil and Pine nuts? These were the questions running through my mind. Through the simplest of recipes, the Chiappa sisters taught me to let my imagination run wild when it comes to making pesto.

Pesto is one of those incredibly easy sauces to put together. With a good blender and a few fresh staples, you always have access to amazing pesto-type sauces. It wouldn’t be fair to call it pesto. But pesto style is more like it.

During the last couple of weeks, I made two incredibly easy pestos unlike the traditional basil variety. They are just as beautiful and make great weeknight pesto dinners or even for a Sunday brunch.

That's right. We want the creaminess!
This is the Cilantro Cashew Pistachio pasta. That’s right! We want the creaminess! 

Avocado pistachio pesto (one of those recipes that is great for using up old avocados)

1 hass avocado or any buttery variety you may have on hand

Juice of 1 lime (Since this is an avocado pesto, I had to marry the avocado with the lime)

A clove of garlic

Handful of Pistachios

Salt

Olive oil 1/4 cup

Water (as required)

Parmesan (optional)

Blend the above ingredients except salt in a blender to anything from a coarse to a smooth consistency. Just blend it the way you like it. Add salt once blended and mix. Mix this sauce with hot pasta and garnish with cilantro!

Cilantro Cashew pistachio pesto

Bunch of cilantro leaves

Half a handful of cashewnuts

Half a handful of pistachios

Juice of one lemon

A clove of garlic

Handful of Pistachios

Salt

Olive oil 1/4 cup

Water (as required)

Parmesan (optional)

Blend these and mix with hot pasta. Garnish with Chipotle pepper.

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Beauty masks, Rabboki and Jimjilbang???

For those of you who already know what Jimjilbang is, I am still undecided and wondering if it is not as creepy as it sounds. If you do not, well then, read on to find out.

I have a new favourite coffee place here in S.Korea. What already?! Yes, that’s right. Bad coffee provided by my hotel has pushed me desperately to find the perfect cup of caffeine to ingest into my body. Thank you very much!

I don’t know if it’s just me or do all tourists feel like they can’t get good coffee here in South Korea?

Right across the street from our hotel is a coffee place called “Coffeesmith”. They are indeed smiths who know their craft to the very end. So it was super surprising when the coffee I got yesterday was very good. And it’s even more surprising that they serve their coffees (I’m talking about the smallest size here) in gigantic cups like in the TV show “Friends”.

After some good coffee this morning at Coffeesmith, K and I walked back to our hotel’s cafe to have some expensive breakfast. Why? Apparently, breakfast is not really the “ingest all the grease and carbs you can find” kind of deal here in Korea. It’s usually a humble bowl of soup and there are not too many restaurants especially where I am at to get some cold cereal or eggs! K left for work after scrambling in how much ever he could eat and I finished a plate loaded with half a veggie omelet, some potatoes, a humble cup of vegetable congee (a rice gruel common to many Asian countries including India), some fine German style muesli and a regular sized cup of cappucino. Ok do not judge me. It was an expensive buffet!

Coffee in big cups
Coffee in big cups

After that athletic breakfast, I decided to get some laundry done as we had only packed enough clothing to last 4-5 days. I worked for a bit and made use of Korea’s uberfast internet to watch a bunch of Youtube videos on what to do and not to do in Korea while the washer and dryer did their heavenly work that God sent them to do here on Earth.

*Interesting fact: It is considered highly rude to talk loudly or hush all the way in buses or the subway in Korea.

A few days before we left for Korea, K was telling me how beauty regimes are very popular in Korea and how many Koreans to this day flock to get one particular treatment in a place called “Jimjilbang”. Jimjilbang is nothing but a public bathhouse where you get your body scrubbed off dead skin cells using an abrasive cloth. You can either do this yourself with all the materials they provide you or get yourself an ajumma, a woman who performs the service of scrubbing you down. It seems quite normal… except everyone is soaking in a variety of pools inside the Jimjilbang butt naked. Obviously, being an Asian country, it wasn’t surprising for me to hear that they have separate bathing areas for both men and women. While to an outsider who isn’t particularly accustomed to this cultural regime can find it utterly disturbing and strange, it is a weekly ritual for most Korean men, women and children to this day.

As I read up more about it, I understand that it is more of a “fear of the unknown” that crowds me when going to the Jimjilbang is maybe like going to the salon to get your legs waxed to many Korean women.  As I’m so confused on my what my thoughts are about this weird Korean cultural thing, I asked myself why not do this myself in my hotel room and make today a spa sort of day to take care of all that jet lag. So after doing my laundry, I had a quick chat with the guy at the front desk who helps me with restaurants. He asked me to try a restaurant right opposite the hotel after I told him I wanted to try Rabboki, another Korean comfort food. I took a short walk to Homeplus (soon becoming my favoritest* store) to get in on some of the Korean beauty trends.

*favoritest – not a word in the English dictionary 🙂

Firstly, if you ever speak to any Korean or anyone who has visited/lived in Korea a while, they will tell you how obsessed Korea is with beauty regimes. Secondly, they will also tell you just how popular mask sheets are in Korea. I have seen face masks come in tubes or in packets where you squeeze the goo out and apply them on your face and wait until the end of one tv episode before you wipe it off. But this was the first time I saw mask sheets which are wipes cut out to fit your face with holes to see, breathe and chomp down a bag of chips.

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Sheets of beauty…one before interview day, one before dates, one before sleep…and the list goes on

I got myself the tea tree mask sheet and a pack of the scrub towels they use in the bathhouses (also known as the “italy towel”). The best part is tons of free stuff. I thought India was obsessed with free goodies and the “buy one get one frees”.  Korea takes the cake. They gave me so many cool mask sheets, body wash and body lotion samples. I was feeling pampered already.

On the walk back to my hotel, I stopped at the restaurant right opposite my hotel that sells “gimbap/kimbap” which is a korean sushi roll stuffed with steaming sticky rice, veggies like carrots and pickled radishes, sliced omelet strips and meat. A fellow blogger this morning told me that Rabboki, pronounced labboki, is another spicy korean dish and that most places that sold gimbap would sell Rabboki. This definitely had to go on my list of foods to try in Korea. Rabboki is basically a thick soupy stew made by boiling ramen noodles, veggies, rice cakes, strips of fish cakes (which you can swap with omelet strips or tofu if you are vegan or vegetarian) along with gochujang paste (a korean red pepper paste) and topped with a hard boiled egg to soak in all the spiciness. It was delicious and I can imagine why rabboki is another food popular among college kids. It’s easy and quick to make. Rabboki tastes like ramen noodles cooked with veggies in a spicy marinara sauce mixed in with soy sauce. It sounds gross but makes you wonder why you never thought of this before.

Oodles of spicy noodles
Oodles of spicy noodles

Another astounding find in my exploration of delicious Korean foods is the cheese soondubu jigae last night for dinner. It is processed cheese mixed in with the traditional kimchi soondubu at the very end of the cooking process. I don’t know why Korea hasn’t gotten on the fancy/real cheese wagon yet but processed cheese is all you get in Korea. Plus it doesn’t taste as gross as it sounds. The processed cheese gives the soondubu a very unique flavor. Yet another weird combination that goes completely wrong in my mind but so right in my mouth.

So after all that delicious goodness, I got back to my hotel and relaxed for a while with the mask sheet on. I don’t know if it’s the mask sheet but something about beauty regimes calms me down completely and sweeps me off to another world. It felt so good doing all this after so many years. After that quick ritual and using the scrub towel in the bath, I was thoroughly relaxed and my muscles had loosened up enough to let me drown in the calm

While I was down at the laundry room earlier this morning, one of the things I did was download a book on how to speak korean for beginners. I am so fascinated by the language and the familiarity of the sounds with my own mother tongue. The language is nearly not as intimidating as the script itself. In fact, I am finding it easier by the day to communicate with the shop help, waiters and cashiers at restaurants and supermarkets. I spent the afternoon picking up a few essential korean phrases to help during my trip here.

*Question: Has anyone ever been to Rolling Pin bakery in Korea? These guys have some ginormous looking breads I’ve ever seen.

Now onto some humble dinner (which is a chunk of bread because it is too late to get dinner and I’m so stuffed from all that heavy breakfast and lunch) and a nice cup of hot tea to give a calming finale to my spa day.

Blueberry Peach Kefir Smoothie

For those of you who have no idea what kefir is (pronounced kee fur) … it is a probiotic drink (that tastes very similar to thick and runny yoghurt) made from kefir grains (grains made of bacteria and yeast … resembles crumbled cheese/cauliflower). Long story short, Kefir has amazing health benefits. It is rich in calcium, protein, phosphorus and aids in digestion. What’s even better… it makes great smoothies.

Here is a recipe for a delicious blueberry peach kefir smoothie. You can use fresh or frozen fruit for this recipe. Put about 1/4 cup plain unsweetened kefir in a blender. Add about a handful of blueberries and 4 to 5 pieces of sliced peach. Then go ahead and pour in about 1 cup of milk (I use 2%). By all means, you can skip this step and substitute 2% milk with water or fat free milk. Add your favourite sweetener to taste. I added about a tsp of honey. Blend this baby up and what you’re left with is this gorgeous looking smoothie that is the best start for your day!

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Freekin’ Deelish!

For quite sometime now, Americans have been on about this new superfood “Freekeh” pronounced Freak Uh. Correct me if I’m wrong… Freekeh is a middle eastern/Egyptian/Palestinian wheat grain that is harvested when the wheat is young. It has at least 4 times more fiber than other grains — even than Quinoa! And what’s amazing about Freekeh is that it’s freeekin’ deelicious! This tastes way better than brown rice, quinoa and even couscous. It’s great for people trying to lose weight or even diabetic as it has tons of fiber.

I tried a freekeh salad a while ago at a random cafe and I didn’t like it. The salad was bland and lacked flavour. And yet, I found hundreds and hundreds of recipes and blog posts that went on and on about how awesome it is. So on a recent grocery trip, I picked up some Freekeh from dear ol’ Costco. I made some Freekeh and sweet potato soup for lunch. It was beautiful!

Freekeh –

I cooked Freekeh like I would cook pasta instead of rice. And drained the freekeh off all water. It tasted just fine. 

To a pot, I added oil, some chopped up garlic, ginger, a little campari tomato, a handful of spinach (optional: throw in peppers for a spicy kick). Saute them until garlic/ginger is soft, tomato cooked and spinach wilted. Add some chopped up cilantro. Stir and add in the cooked Freekeh. Season with salt and pepper. Garnish with lemon. 

Thoughts: I wanted to add a little goat cheese towards the end to make a saucy dish and thanks to weight loss forever, I decided to skip the goat cheese and wound up the dish with a lemony kick. The result was spectacular. The focus was all on the freekeh and none of the other ingredients took over. 

Sweet potato soup – 

Throw in some dried herbs (more specifically, I added crushed mint, rosemary, lots of basil, bay leaves, oregano and thyme), chopped celery and sliced garlic in some EVOO in a stock pot. Saute and close with lid. Let it cook until celery and garlic are soft. Add sweet potato cubes and some water. Approx measure: to 1 cup of sweet potato, I added 2 glasses of water. Close the lid and let it come to a boil. Open the lid after 5-10 mins and let it continue to boil and wait for the water to come to about 1-2 inch above the sweet potato mixture. Take out that indispensable hand blender and puree to desired consistency. It came out pretty creamy so I didn’t add any milk or cream substitutes to it. Season with salt and pepper. Serve hot or cold. 

 

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Shall we say comfort dessert?

Is there any such thing as comfort dessert? if there is, this is definitely one. Put together a forgotten box of strawberries (any fruit actually) with some crumbled up flour/sugar/butter mixture and you have yourself the most delicious dessert. Take it to the next level by adding a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side and your dessert is screaming pure decadence. 

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That’s my strawberry crumble with a huge chunk missing 😛

You can get better recipes on the internet. I literally eyeballed the ingredients.  So if you have any fruit that’s dying to be eaten, place them on a baking tray depending on how much fruit you have. Mix in some caster/light brown sugar (for 400g of strawberries, I put around 1/2 cup of sugar). Throw in some real vanilla seeds from a pod if you have one. I didn’t so I just used a tbsp of vanilla extract. Tossed it up gently with my fingers. 

In a mixing bowl, I took about a little more than a cup of flour, around 3/4ths cup of sugar (caster or light brown), a dash of freshly grated cinnamon and around 3/4ths of a stick of butter (chilled) chopped into small cubes. Mix them up with a hand mixer until they look all crumbly. Do not over mix into a paste. Sprinkle some ice cold water. Toss until it looks all crumbly like tiny marbles in sand (I know… weird description!) Place this mixture over the fruit mixture. 

Preheat oven to 350 F. Place the oven safe dish and bake for 50 mins or until it achieves your preferred color of brown and crispness. 

Serve with cold vanilla ice cream or eat as is 🙂

My Precious

I don’t think there is a single person in the world who has ever hated an immersion blender after owning one. There can never be. Immersion blenders are my favouritest kitchen gadgets of all time. These magical sticks can literally transform a lifeless kitchen into an able and lively one. You can say that’s funny but I feel like I can accomplish anything when I use my Cuisinart hand blender.

And what caused this sudden flood of excitement?

I ran out of mayo. I am lazier than ever to go to the grocery store. So I decided I would make mayo. I have seen it done and figured it shouldn’t be that hard a recipe. I looked into my barren fridge again and realized I had just one egg.

Mayo Experiment no.1: So maybe I let the whole “I can accomplish anything with my stick blender” get to my head. I chucked in all the ingredients without measures and started the emulsification process. To my dismay, it was one smooth drink and never turned into the gloppy mess that we want. There goes my mayo down the drain!

After the failure of my 1st experiment, I forced myself to look into the internet for an “eggless mayonnaise” recipe. I swear I was laughing when I was searching for an eggless version. I am totally against eggless anything and find eggless recipes an excuse to cook the real thing. Nevertheless, I found one that had ingredients I could manage to procure immediately.

Mayo Experiment no.2: Bumped into The David Blagh and found this beauty of recipes. I made the very first one and this time I tried the stream-your-oil-in version to make the mayo. Delish! Seasoned the mayo with some pepper at the end of it. Just so delicious it is as good as the real thing. On second thoughts, even better than the real thing. Why? Have you ever had a look at the label of a store-bought mayo bottle? They add so many other ingredients besides eggs, oils, vinegar, lemons. I read the label off my old bottle and the first ingredient was enough to put me off -“Modified potato starch”.

That said, do try the eggless version or the regular egg version. Making mayo at home is so simple and far more cost effective and tastier and safer than store bought ones. Bon Appetit!

Experiments with Whole Wheat

My experiments with pasta continues. As I discover new flavors and basking in the thorough joy of making homemade pasta, I can’t help but feel guilty every time I look in  my pantry for that white flour. Why does something that tastes so good have to be high in calories? Why isn’t there a single thing that can be eaten in large portions much like we drink water and still not tip off the scale? In my frustration, I decided to pick up some organic whole wheat pasta during the next grocery visit. When I walked down the pasta aisle to pick up the box, my mind immediately started doing its magic of figuring out what would go with whole wheat. After reading dozens of forums that claim whole wheat pasta a sin committed by health freaks, I was skeptical for sure. But I wasn’t going to give up. I had to make this to see for myself.

Content with myself for not getting swayed by the Internet, I went to the veggies aisle and picked up whatever I could find that would go with this pasta. I grabbed some zucchini, mushrooms, basil, a bottle of tomato and basil sauce that was on sale and a bag of locally grown garlic. After a few days of eating junk food over the weekend and with K away at work, I decided today had to be the perfect day to experiment with whole wheat pasta knowing K’s aversion to anything healthy. Try it, test it and then serve it. Before I started to cook, I was watching some random youtube videos on boiling whole wheat pasta. This chef ( I don’t remember the name) explained how when you salt the water you boil the pasta in (any kind ) must taste like the ocean. Interesting. I have never thought of that before. All I ever did was throw the pasta in some boiling water with a pinch of salt and a spoon of oil.  Immediately after watching the video, I headed into the kitchen and started to cook. Here’s my recipe for the whole wheat pasta…. Let’s call it “Nutty Brown” (brown for the wheat and nutty for the nutty flavor it gives)

Nutty Brown (Serves 2 – 3 people)

Ingredients:

Whole wheat spaghetti (Half a box of store bought whole wheat)

Salt (until the water does taste like the ocean)

A spoon of oil

Ingredients for sauce:

3/4ths of a bottle of tomato and basil sauce (any store bought brand or home made)

Half a larrrrrge red onion or 1 medium sized red onion (I like red because it adds to the sweetness and looks great in a red wine sauce)

A knob of garlic

1 zucchini

A couple of pinches of salt

Some pepper

Chilli flakes (optional)

2-3 gratings of parmigiano reggiano

2 tbsp olive oil

1 cup of red wine ( I used Zinfandel. I’m sure any regular table red would work)

Method:

1. Chop up the veggies. I roughly chopped the mushrooms.

2. Saute the onions and garlic in 1 tbsp of olive oil until onions start to brown. At this point, add chili flakes if you like some heat or skip.

3. Add one more spoon of oil and add the mushrooms and zucchini. Cook for 2 minutes.

4. Add a cup of red wine and let it reduce until the veggies start to look thick and saucy.

5. Add 3/4th of a bottle of tomato and basil sauce and combine until thoroughly cooked. Usually takes about 2 minutes.

6. Turn off heat and serve on a plate of spaghetti. Don’t forget to sprinkle some parmesan! Enjoy!