Archives for category: Appetizer

The term en Papillote literally means “In Parchment” in French. Food is wrapped tightly in a parcel made out of parchment paper and baked in the oven, the steam from the package will cook the food. This is a very fool proof way of preparing fish without worrying about over cooking it. You can substitute brown paper or aluminum foil for parchment paper, but brown paper is not water proof and aluminium foil may add a metallic taste to the food. There is a lot of similarity between this cooking style and the Spanish and Asian version, where the parchment paper is replaced with banana leaves or bamboo leaves, and the leaves themselves act as a flavoring agent. Read the rest of this entry »


One of the recipes I picked for my Afro-middle eastern inspired menu is by Marcus Sammuelsson, a Swedish chef of Ethiopian heritage. Marcus won the title of Top Chef Masters a few years ago, and while I was rooting for a different chef to win, I’ve been intrigued about his heritage and cooking style. I found a brown lentil dip recipe from him that would be a great appetizer for our dinner, and i thought it would also give me a chance to learn about his cooking.

This lentil dip is made with brown lentils and loads of middle eastern spices. Beware of the recipe portions because although I made only half the recipe, it was still too much for our dinner. It did, however, made a great little snack for the rest of the week.

To cook the lentils, they are simmered with carrots and sliced red onions in water for about 35 minutes, until very tender and almost all of the liquid has evaporated.


The lentils and vegetables are then puréed in a food processor.


The spice mix used in this recipe consists of cumin, coriander, ginger, cayenne, nutmeg, and allspice.


The spices are cooked in a couple of tablespoons of butter over low heat in a medium sauce pan until fragrant, about 3 minutes. To make this recipe vegan, substitute vegetable oil for the butter instead.


The puréed lentils are added to the pan and stirred into the spice mixture, for about 5 minutes.


The dip is finished of with some lemon juice and seasoned to taste. Before serving, I topped the dip with some chopped cilantro leaves, and served it with some baked pita chips.

African Spiced Lentil Dip


One of our favorite restaurants in Dallas was Tei Tei’s Robata, a Japanese sushi and Robata grill restaurant. Since moving to Austin, we have not found a comparable restaurant. Robata, translated as “around the fire place”, is a style of grilling where food is cooked on a charcoal hearth available in the traditional Japanese home. Today, the hearth is replaced by small hibachi grills. In the US, “hibachi style” is often confused with what is actually teppanyaki cooking, where 1 chef cooks on a large hot plate with lots of theatrical flair.

For Sunday dinner, I wanted to make Udon noodle soup, and I thought that some grilled baby octopus and shrimp would be a good addition to the meal. After purchasing my Webber charcoal grill, I also bought charcoal tray inserts so I can easily create heating zones. I thought that using 1 tray would be a good substitute for a smaller hibachi. In effect, only 1/3 of the grill surface will be utilized.

To prepare the baby octopus, you need cleaned, whole, patted dry baby octopuses, which should be available at Asian supermarkets, and water soaked bamboo skewers. When cleaning the octopus, make sure you check for the beak like mouth of the octopus, which is located in the center of the octopus where all the tentacles meet. The beak is a little brown, fish scale like thing that comes apart in two pieces, so be sure to get both pieces. It’s probably edible, but who likes eating fish scales?

The octopus is carefully threaded on the skewers, so that the tentacles won’t fall through the grill grates.


I think I will invest in some metal grilling skewers after this experience because it took some effort to get the octopus on the bamboo skewers.


To prep the shrimp, I made a yukukosho pesto. Yuzukosho literally means ” yuzu pepper” in Japanese. It’s made from pounding together yuzu zest, salt, and hot chile peppers. Since I didn’t have access to yuzu citrus, I substituted limes and lime zest.


To make the Yuzukosho pesto, I added lemongrass, cilantro, garlic, and ginger to the Yuzukosho and pounded them together in a mortar.


I used head on shrimp because the head and shell are great at retaining moisture and adding flavor. To marinate the shrimp, I butterflied the shrimp from the leg side, leaving the shell and head on, then rubbed the Yuzukosho pesto on the inside and outside of the shell.


The shrimp should be marinated for 10 minutes before grilling.

I prepped the fire using a chimney starter, and used real wood charcoals. After about 20 minutes of burning, the coals where ashed over and ready to be used in the grill. Since the shrimp and octopus will cook quickly, the heat should be high, and direct.

The shrimp is added to the grill, directly over the coals, with the lid on, turning after 2 minutes.


The shrimp will be ready in 4 minutes total, to avoid over cooking. The shrimp should be slightly charred on the outside and juicy in the middle.


The baby octopus also takes about 2 minutes per side, but I decided to cook it after the shrimp because of the Tare glaze I used at the end of the cooking process. Tare is a Japanese dipping sauce used on grilled dishes made out of sake, sugar, and light soy sauce. The Tare is usually used as a finishing sauce , and brushed on the grilled food when it has almost completed cooking, then grilled over high heat for the sauce to caramelize.


This process may sometimes leave a sugary residue on the grill grates, and since the shrimp had a different marinade, I didn’t want to mix the favors, so I grilled the octopus second.

Overall it was a great learning experience. Next time I think I will use both charcoal trays to increase the heat.


Grilled shrimp with Yuzukosho pesto

For the appetizers for the vegetarian dinner, I made a herbed zucchini feta fritter, and Brussels sprouts toasts. The zucchini fritters were light, fluffy, and fried. I love fried things, and the feta in these fritters added a salty and creamy angle to the flavour profile. These fritters were incredibly easy to make, and I served them with a yogurt dill dipping sauce that unfortunately I don’t have a photo of.

To make the fritters, 3 or 4 medium sized zucchinis are grated, and tossed with some salt. The zucchini mixture is placed in a colander and set aside over a bowl for about 5 minutes. The salt will draw out the water from the zucchinis so that when you fry them, they won’t become a watery mess.

Squeeze out as much water as possible from the shredded zucchinis, and add them to chopped mint, parsley, and dill.

Then eggs, feta, and flour is added to the zucchini and herbs, and mixed thoroughly.

Oil is heated in a deep fryer to 350F, and table spoonful of the batter is dropped in to the oil.

The fritters takes about 2 minutes to cook, they should be fried until brown. They should be drained on some paper towels.

The fritters can be kept warm in a 350 degree oven for a few minutes until you are ready to serve, and they are really damn good with the dipping sauce.

I also made a Brussels sprouts toasts by caramelizing some onions with smoked hungarian paprika, and mixing it with blanched, sliced brussels sprouts.

The vegetable mix is spread over toast with melted cheddar.

Herbed Zucchini Feta Fritters Recipe:
Brussels Sprouts and Smoky Onions on Cheddar toast:

To offset all the vegan and vegetarian dishes, I made one of my favourite dishes from Momofuku restaurant in NYC, a braised pork belly bun with pickled cucumber and scallions. The meat can be prepared a few days ahead of time, and reheated and assembled right before serving. Left over pork belly can also be used for the Momofuku ramen noodles.

For the pork, it’s important to get a piece of pork belly that has a thick layer of fat on top of the meat. I tried to find skinned pork belly at central market, but when they de-skin the meat, they also took off all the fat. You need to fat because that’s what the meat is going to slow braise in. I was able to find some skin-on pork belly at the local asian supermarket, which I skinned myself.

The pork is rubbed all over with a even mixture of salt and sugar, wrapped in plastic wrap, and set in the fridge for 8 to 24 hours.

When the pork is ready to cook, it’s taken out of the fridge and rested in room temp for approx 1 hour, then placed in a baking dish, and baked at 275 for about 1.5 hours, then the heat is turned up to 400 degrees, and the meat is cooked for another 1 hour.

The cook book actually tells you to cook the meat at high heat for 1 hour first, then lower the heat, but I think too much fat is rendered out that way, and the meat tend to end up pretty dry. This way, the pork is braised in low heat in it’s own fat, then the high heat basically just helps crisp up the out side.

The meat should be set aside and cooled completely. It’s easier to slice when the fat congeals, otherwise, the meat might fall apart when slicing. If you are cooking the pork in advance, you should store it in the fridge in a whole piece, and not slice it until you are ready to serve. You can warm the belly in a 200 degree oven until warm, and proceed with the rest of the instructions.

You can give the slices a quick sear on the stove top, and to assemble, I used some store bought rice buns (available at Asian super markets) that has been halved, I smeared a little bit of hoisin sauce on both sides, placed a few slices of pork belly, and a few slices of Asian pickled cucumbers, topped them with a few sprigs of scallions. The cook book does provide a recipe for the buns themselves, but because I had a lot of other dishes to deal with, I just took the easy way out and bought the buns.

To make the pickled cucumbers, you slice up some baby cucumbers into 1/16 inch thick slices, then mix it with 1 teaspoon of salt, and 1 tablespoon of sugar, and set aside at room temp for about 10 or 15 minutes. They are not the traditional american pickled cucumbers.

You can add a squeeze of Sriracha hot sauce to taste if you like your buns a little spicy.

Momofuku Pork Bun Recipe:

While at the grocery store getting ingredients for my Caribbean food dinner, I found these Okinawa sweet potatoes for sale at my local central market. Okinawa sweet potatoes, also known as purple sweet potatoes, are supposedly an Asian variety of sweet potato (Supposedly because I’ve also heard they are not Asian at all). They are different from Ube, which is a Philippino, or southeast Asian yam of very brightly colored purple. I’ve had Ube and Ube icecream while in the Philippines and they are fairly hard to find in Texas. Yams and sweet potatoes aren’t the same thing!

Anyway, I saw these cute little sweet potatoes and wanted to make this boiled cassava like dish I had in Dominica, but decided against it because I was already making rice and beans. I looked online for recipes with Okinawa sweet potatoes, and there weren’t many, however, an ingenious blogger said that they made oven fried sweet potato chips with Okinawas using a Emril Lagasse recipe from When I first started cooking back in college I used almost exclusively, becuase I didn’t know any better, and honestly it was a good start for beginner cooks. There are great recipes from, but there are also many bad ones, and the hit or miss inconsistency of their recipes made me look else where. I have to say that I do really vouch for this recipe, if you have the right tools.

The Okinawa sweet potatoes are actually fairly light skinned on the outside, and vibrantly purple with some splashes of cream in the center. I sliced these by hand using a “Shun” knife my boyfriend bought for me two Christmas’ ago. I would suggest buying and using a mandolin if you don’t have the proper knife skills to slice these thinly. If the slices are too thick, the baking time will increase, and if you slice some slices thick and some slices thin, you will have to constantly check to make sure that the thin slices don’t burn, and the thick slices keep cooking.

The slices are brushed with olive oil and baked in a 400F oven for 10 minutes or thereabouts, depending on the thickness of your slices.

Meanwhile, I worked on the spice mixture you toss the baked chips in, which consists of a little bit of sugar, cinnamon, orange zest, nutmeg, and ground ginger.

These chips are very flavourful, and especially pretty in their purple color. I’ve since made them twice, and it’s a great little appetizer or a light side item. I served them with my Jamaican Jerk chicken and red beans and rice.

Oven Fried Sweet Potato Chips:

After visiting Dominica, the West Indies Island, last year, I’ve been craving some good Caribbean food. Caribbean food is cool because it has a mix of African, Hispanic, European, and Asian influences. There are lots of stews, curries, rice and beans, and fried breads, all made with super fresh local/organic ingredients. Read the rest of this entry »

This is my attempt in making “trendy” food. Coming up with new recipes is not my strength. I like having the safe guard of a set of instructions to follow when I’m doing something that I’m not familiar with. However, once I’m fully comfortable with something, I do like to experiment. My boyfriend suggested that I make Nachos for dinner, but putting my spin to it. I thought about the composition of a Nacho: some protein, some veggies, some sort of mashed legumes, tied together with a crunchy shell. For whatever reason, the thought of doing different ethnic style nachos came into my head. I thought how pitas are very much like tortillas, and how hummus is a lot like refried beans. I wanted to do a Gyro Nacho with ground lamb.

A few weeks ago, I made these lamb meatballs for a pizza, so I repeated the recipe. I also made a relish of onions, cucumber, tomatoes and Italian parsley.

I baked some pita bread until they became crispy, spread some store-bought hummus on the pita, topped it off with some relish and lamb meatball. I also put a little dollop of store-bought Tzatziki sauce on top of the lamb meatball.

It makes for a great little appetizer.

I also thought that it might be fun to try to do an Asian themed Nachos, so I bought some sushi grade salmon, and decided to make Salmon Sushi “Nachos”.

For the little carrier, I baked up some store-bought wonton skins in muffin pans.

I also sprayed both sides of the wonton skin with oil spray before tucking them in the muffin pans. It doesn’t take long for the shells to brown, so watch these carefully.

I first layered some cut up Nori in these little cups, then spread some prepared sushi rice on top of the Nori.

Then I cut up the salmon into 1/4 inch dice, and spooned them on top of the rice. I finished these off by sprinkling a little bit of toasted sesame seeds and pickled Thai Chilies to give it some heat.

I would definitely serve these at my next dinner party as appetizers.

After two intensely busy days at work, I wanted to have something comforting and relaxing for dinner. Not like soup, but in the sense that after you finish it, you think…”that was a real meal”.So I decided to make my version of Surf and Turf, with some steak, shrimp and oysters.

I’ve only started shucking my own oysters at home since Aug. 2011, and since then, I’ve gotten a lot of practice. I’ve learned that un-shucked oysters can survive for a few days in your fridge; that in opening the oyster, the technique should be quick and gentle, putting force when it’s needed, not brute-forcing it; that the oyster may carry little tiny crabs (usually dead) that lives in them, but they are quite harmless (just don’t eat them!)

I’ve posted before about opening a oyster, and there are a lot of good instructional videos on how to open oysters, so I’m not going to go into details here. All you really need is a good oyster knife, a clean towel, and a steady grip.

You always want to buy a few more than you are planning to serve, since some might be dead (although I’ve only run into this once), and others may take longer to open, if you are short on time. To tell if the Oyster is dead, you should look to see if it’s flesh is dry. Live oysters should have a lot of liquid in them, and dead ones will be very dry. Just because the shell is tight doesn’t always mean that the oyster is alive. Also if the oyster smells bad, it’s probably dead, but don’t confuse the smell of the sea to being bad though.

I shucked the oysters last, while my steak was resting. For the steak, I chose a nice piece of rib eye that was a little over 1LB. Rib eyes are tasty because they are a fattier cut of steak, and I like them because they are a lot more affordable than Filet Mignons. I simply seasoned my rib eye with some salt and pepper.

And tossed it on a hot pan. I would’ve liked to grilled the steak, but it had been raining in Austin none stop for two days, and no signs of stopping. Also pan roasting a steak does cut down on the setting up and cleaning up time for if you were to use a charcoal grill.

My problem with cooking steak before is I always jump the gun before the steak is done, because of the nice browning I see on each side. Steaks cooking times that you see online are actually quite accurate, so no matter how done a steak you think it looks, most of the time you want to follow the instructions. Keep in mind a cast iron pan conducts heat a lot better, and that a gas stove produces hotter heat than an electric stove, so you may have to adjust your heat accordingly.

I followed the cooking instructions very closely for this steak, which is approximately 6 minutes on first side, 4 on second side (I accidentally went over the 5 minute per side time, so I evened it out), for 10 minutes total, but I was still nervous about if the steak would be cooked right for medium rare.

I let the steak rest for 5 minutes, so the juice can reconstitute.

When it was ready for carving, I cut into it and it looked perfect.

To go with the steak, I made pan roasted baby Yukon potatoes, which can be left at room temp for 4 hours, and warmed in the oven before serving. The potatoes are boiled until tender, about 8 minutes, then roasted on a hot pan with some onions and rosemary until golden.

Finally, to finish off the “Surf” part of the meal, I made a Grilled shrimp dish, again pan roasting instead of grilling.

First some green scallions are blanched in a pot of boiling water for 30 seconds, until bright green. I did this at the same time that I was boiling the potatoes to save water. Then the green scallions are rubbed with olive oil, salt, and pepper, then grilled on a hot pan.

The onions are removed after about a minute or so, after the stalks are nicely browned, and then cut into 2 inch lengths.

Next I julienned half of a Granny Smith apple, and tossed it with a dressing made out of smoked spanish paprika, olive oil, sherry vinegar, and Dijon mustard.

Then I “Grilled” the shrimp on the hot pan that I cooked the steak and the green scallions in, about 1 minute per side.

Finally, I mixed the green scallions and the seasoned apple together, spread them out on a plate, topped with the cooked shrimp, drizzled some additional dressing on top, and sprinkled the dish with some toasted sesame seeds.

We paired the dinner with a bottle of red Cotes Du Rhone, and had left over cake from Tuesday’s dinner party for dessert.

It felt like a restaurant dinner at my home.

Grilled Shrimp with Apple and Charred Scallions:
Pan-roasted fingerling potatoes (I left out the Pancetta):

At a dinner party recently, a guest mentioned that their date was someone who was a non-dairy vegan… I got this message 1 hour before the start of the dinner party, and I was scrambling to figure out a plan, until I realized that two dishes that I had planned were already Vegan. This does changes my perception of vegan cooking since I’ve always thought that it would be super hard to eat and make vegan dishes. It was then that I was conscious of the fact that a lot of my favourite dishes are already vegan.

One of the two vegan dishes that I unknowingly made is one of my favourite salads. I found this recipe about a year ago, I had thought that the flavor combination sounded interesting, and when I actually made the dish I absolutely loved it. When I was planning this dinner party, I decided to make it again, and after finding out about the vegan guest, I was very relieved with that decision.

The dish is a salad composed of sliced celery and bibb lettuce tossed in a celery seed based salad dressing, and the greens are topped with a pan roasted grapes and oyster mushroom salad, which are tossed in a almond and parsley pesto.

The recipe calls for actual grilled grapes and mushrooms, but I just pan roasted both the grapes and the mushrooms because it’s easier.

The best part of the salad is the savory roasted almond, parsley, and celery leaf pesto. When you buy a head of celery, sometimes there are some left over leaves on the outer stalks, and most of the times there are a lot of younger, almost light yellow leaves at the center of the head. These leaves adds an additional level of celery flavor to go with the celery seed dressing for the greens.

The grapes and the mushrooms are tossed in the pesto.

The salad is tossed in the dressing, laid over a large plate, and the roasted vegetables in their pesto are spread over the greens.

The roasted grapes lends an unexpected burst of sweetness that really elevates the flavors in the salad.

The other “accidental” vegan dish is a tomato, zucchini, squash, and eggplant bread gratin. This dish is simple, delicious, and so pretty!

The recipe called for zucchinis only, but I decided to add another color to the dish by adding squash. Also instead of regular eggplant, I used Japanese eggplant, which has about the same circumference as the squash and the zucchini. To make the gratin, the eggplant, zucchini and squash are sliced to 1/4 inch thick, tossed in salt, and set aside for 10-20 minutes. This step is important because the salt draws out excess liquid from these vegetables, and because you will be baking this gratin, if the vegetables are baked as is, it will make the dish too soggy.

After about 20 minutes, you’ll notice that the vegetables, especially the eggplant, will have lost a lot of their moisture, and have become more pliable. At this point you want to drain the vegetables and pat them dry with paper towels, and they will be ready for use.

To assemble, some bread pieces are torn and spread on the bottom of a baking dish. Then some olive oil is drizzled on top and torn pieces of basil leaves are sprinkled on top of the bread.

Next the vegetables, along with sliced tomatoes, are placed, over lapping each other, on top of the bread. You can be as creative as you want with the patterning.

The vegetables are drizzled with olive oil, seasoned with some salt and pepper, and sprinkled with crushed garlic and fresh oregano. The dish is baked in the oven until the bread is brown on the bottom.

The finished product is crispy on the bottom and tender on the top. The vegetables are given a chance to show case their natural flavors, with a little enhancement from the olive oil, salt and pepper.

Crisp Tomato, Zucchini and Eggplant Bread Gratin:

Celery, Grilled Grape and Mushroom Salad: