Monday, September 29, 2014

Rustic Nectarine Tart

I am not gonna lie, the sheer thought of working pastry dough makes me soil my pants. Ensuring the right temperature of butter and water; the process of cutting pastry (I've tried the processor option - it was a royal bitch to clean); chilling the dough - and, finally clearing space in a tiny kitchen to roll out the dough - regardless of what they say, making pastry registers as rocket science and it intimates the hell out of me.

I had once made a pastry crust from scratch for an old-fashioned apple pie one distant Christmas. It totally rocked our Christmas stockings (forgive the gag) off. Was it worth the effort? Maybe. Will I make it again? Perhaps. But only for very special occasions.

And thus I turn to store-bought puff pastry. Though hardly the same thing, for years I have always gawked at these rolls of wonder at the frozen sections at supermarkets. They are expensive imports, no less daunting, but at least they save labor, time, and effort should all else fail. More importantly, puff pastry is an easy step into the world of pastry.

So when I came across a roll of puff pastry (unfrozen) priced at 0,99 Euro at an Italian grocery, I had no excuse but to finally face my fear head-on. Back at home, my crate of fragrant, late-summer nectarines were ripening all at once, beckoning to be briskly turned into a dessert.
Nectarine Tart, thou shalt be.

There were many personal firsts in making this tart - my first time handling puff pastry; first time slicing stone fruits - as basic as that may sound. I had every reason to be nervous. What if the pastry doesn't puff properly? What if the center becomes a soggy mush? I pored over a ton of recipes, and reminded myself that trial and error makes perfect.

Below includes some extra steps that I believe ensures to properly cook the pastry while keeping it from getting soggy in the center. Please do share with me your kitchen tips on this! No jam or preserves in this recipe (I do not like the taste of jammy tarts) - just the pure freshness of summer fruits, ever so slightly accented by honey and lemon.

To prepare... (the tart pictured above uses half of the below portion)
1 puff pastry sheet
4-5 ripe but firm nectarines, halved, pitted, and sliced 1/4 inch thick*
3 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon lemon juice
lemon zest of one lemon
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 handful of blueberries (optional)

*Nectarine tips: After running the knife along the pit in full circle, gently twist the two sides in opposite direction until they separate. I learned the hard way...

1. Preheat oven to 180C/350F. Place baking sheet in oven to heat up.

2. Place pastry on parchment paper. Roll edge of pastry inwards to create a half inch border. Using a fork, prick dough inside the border every 1/2 inch then brush with egg wash. Transfer puff pastry onto baking sheet and bake until puffed and golden brown, 10 to 15 minutes.

3. Toss nectarine, honey, lemon zest and lemon juice in a bowl. Retrieve puff pastry from oven. With a fork, press the dough center to make level. Arrange nectarine in neat rows on top. Too lazy? Simply pour and spread evenly.
Optional: sprinkle raw sugar on border.

4. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until puff pastry is golden brown. Five minutes before done, sprinkle on optional blueberries. Serve with premium vanilla ice-cream or creme fraiche and forget the rest!

Indulging in a little fruity porn: my perfectly imperfect rustic nectarine tart!
[Any thoughts or comments? I want to hear from you! Also check out my Facebook Fan Page]

Friday, September 26, 2014

No-Mayo Chicken Avocado Salad

As high summer continues to drag on here in Hong Kong, for what seems to be a longer duration each year, I am on some kind of roll cranking out dish after dish inspired by the season of fun in the sun. Here is a little twist on the traditional American-style Chicken Salad - a favorite sandwich filler that brings back memories of college days - that is equally yummy without a pang of guilt.

Traditionally that creamy stuff is smothered in mayonnaise, jam-packed with calories and artery-clogging saturated fats. But today we are happily trading all that and more in for some heart-healthy fats and a boost of nutrients from the avocado and plain Greek yoghurt.

Packing my leftovers for lunch with corn tortillas!
Serve it in a wrap, a pita, a sandwich, on crackers, atop a salad, or straight up from the tub, this super easy chicken avocado salad is a crowd pleaser and makes for a great pack lunch on the go. The recipe is highly adaptable. Want more flavors, more crunch, more veggies? Toss in some celery, spring onion, parsley, cilantro, even radish for some vibrant colors. Use red onion at your discretion (not so much for me).

To prepare...
2 cups diced cooked chicken (I grilled mine with a ton of herbs)
1 ripe avocado, diced
1 cup shredded carrots
1/2 teaspoon celery seeds
1 clove of garlic, finely minced (for a less prominent garlicky punch, use 1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder)
1/4 cup plain yoghurt
A dash of Tobasco (optional)
Salt and pepper

1. In a large bowl, mash together diced avocado, yoghurt, garlic and seasoning.

2. Add chicken, carrots, and other veggies if using, stir to combine. Season the mixture to taste. A dash of Tobasco, as I discover, helps bring all the flavors together. Try it out!

3. Roll the chicken avocado salad up in a wrap; add additional toppings like lettuce and tomatoes. Stuff it in a pita pocket; spread it on a hoagie roll; dip it with tortilla chips... the possibilities are endless. Enjoy! 

[Any thoughts or comments? I want to hear from you! Also check out my Facebook Fan Page]

Friday, September 19, 2014

Summer Peach and Muesli Yoghurt Parfait

If you ask me what I look forward to most about summer, I would answer without a second thought - the arrival of stone fruits. Take peach as an example. These fuzzy, fragrant, fragile (alliteration!) blushing beauties are as dainty as they are sweet and juicy, so much so that I would relish every bite, every last drop of its nectar, every time.

The seasonality of these precious fruits no doubt adds to their exclusivity. As the peach season draws to a close in North America, I was resolute in carrying home a crate of peaches and nectarines from New York. With summer still blasting at its peak in Hong Kong in spite of last week's Mid-Autumn Festival, it is only fitting to celebrate the delicious fruit with a refreshing, cooling, and guilt-free dessert.

Unlike traditional parfaits using ice-cream and granola that is high in sugar and fat, I use yoghurt and Australian wholegrain rolled oats and bran muesli that comes with a medley of nutritious seeds and dried fruits. I also sprinkled in fresh ground flaxseeds and chia seeds for good measure. Call this "parfait goes healthy". Who says desserts are always bad for you?

To prepare...
1-2 peaches, sliced or cubed
Peach yoghurt, or plain yoghurt
Muesli, with any mixture of nuts and dried fruits
Ground flaxseeds
Chia seeds

Making a parfait is so simple there really is no need for a recipe. Pile on the juicy peach, muesli, seeds, and yoghurt in alternating layers. The result is a work of wonder that is simply irresistable on hot summer days... and perfect for breakfast (it will keep you full and kicking till lunch time)!

[Any thoughts or comments? I want to hear from you! Also check out my Facebook Fan Page]

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Roasted Summer Vegetables and Goat Cheese Frittata

I am never really a big fan of eggy breakfasts, but a lazy, sunny Saturday morning somehow sets the right mood for one. The other night I roasted some eggplant and zucchini I brought back from Italy and had some leftovers. Come the next morning, these leftovers made their way into a popular brunch dish - the Frittata. Paired with a glass of milk, orange juice or a Bloody Mary, this dish promises a bright start to your weekend.

This recipe utilizes 4-inch ramekins to serve individual-sized frittatas, which is a sensible way to go unless you have one of those ovenproof nonstick skillets and a huge oven to match - a luxury that many could only dream of ever having. Almost anything goes in a frittata. Omit or throw in other vegetables and leftovers as you like, such as roasted bell peppers, asparagus, potatoes, and sausages.

To prepare...
Zucchini, cubed
Eggplant, cubed
Onion, sliced into half moons
Olive oil
Mushrooms, halved
Cherry tomatoes, sliced
Pancetta, or bacon, diced
Garlic, minced
Thyme, fresh or dried
Eggs (one for each ramekin)
Goat cheese

 1. Roasted zucchini and eggplant: preheat oven to 210°C. Toss cubed zucchini, eggplant, and onions in olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast on a rimmed baking sheet until tender, 10-15 mins.

2. In a small pan and on medium heat, brown pancetta, remove and set aside, keeping the grease. In the same pan, saute garlic with mushrooms and thyme. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Mix together with roasted zucchini, eggplant, onions, and sliced tomatoes. Divide vegetables into greased ramekins.

3. Crack eggs into a mixing bowl and add a dash of milk and a pinch of salt and pepper, whisk together. Pour egg mixture into the ramekins until just barely covering the veggies. Top with a chunk of goat cheese.

4. Transfer the ramekins to the oven and bake for 30-40 min or until the egg mixture is set and the top is golden. Baking time varies oven to oven; test the center by inserting a skewer and check if egg is runny. When set, remove ramekins and let rest for 5 min.

5. To serve, gently run a sharp knife along the edges of the frittata. Invert the ramekin over a plate and give the ramekin a shake or a tap. Once released, invert the frittata onto another plate for serving. Enjoy alongside a green salad and/or some breakfast sausages. Have a good one!

[Any thoughts or comments? I want to hear from you! Also check out my Facebook Fan Page]

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Prosciutto e Melone

Salty and Sweet; like ice and fire. One simply cannot deny a certain inherent sex appeal that oozes from the timeless pairing of these two elementary binary opposites in our sense of taste. Prosciutto e melone - the classic Italian antipasto - is a case in point. The saltiness of dry-cured ham accentuates the sweetness from a perfectly ripe, juicy cantaloupe. It's like taking a dip in a hot spring followed by a plunge into an icy pool. Sexy, simple, and self-explanatory.

(Above) Cured meat galore at a Milanese deli
While a Prada handbag or a Bottega Veneta wallet may top many people's wish list when visiting Milan, peculiar items such as handmade ravioli, buffalo mozzarella and marinated olives somehow creep shamelessly onto my agenda. And with no less passion than those who score a Prada at a bargain, I'd rave about my parmesan cheese. Retail therapy does not discriminate, does it?

I was in Milan recently, it is a requisite to stop by the deli for some freshly shaved prosciutto. After poring over the cured ham and salame galore, I'd say to the deli man - perfecting my Italiano accent - "cento grammi di prosciutto di Parma, per favore". Acknowledging, the man picks up the ham, heads to the slicer and shortly after produces a packet of neatly arranged prosciutto.

Depositing a ripe melon in my grocery bag, grabbing a freshly baked foccacia and a cappucino (so inexpensive in Italy) on my way out (and perhaps a scoop or two of gelato), and I am the happiest boy on earth.

[Any thoughts or comments? I want to hear from you! Also check out my Facebook Fan Page]