Butternut Pumpkin Soup

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BUTTERNUT SMOOTHNESS | A silky textured soup bursting with vibrant colours and nutrition to brighten up your day or evening – all without the extra addition of cream or butter. 

Okay, so this was my first time making butternut pumpkin soup and boy was it delicious (not to mention the extreme ease at which it was achieved thanks to my hefty investment in my first Vitamix blender).

For those who tend to get confused between butternut squash and pumpkin, here are the facts: all pumpkins are squash, but not all squash are pumpkin. Squash is a botanic term, while pumpkin is a culinary term. The name ‘pumpkin’ is a derivative of the French ‘pampion,’ meaning sun-baked squash, from the Greek word ‘pepon’, meaning large melon. The English modified ‘pampion’ to ‘pompkin,’ which was changed to ‘pumpkin’ by the American colonists.

Pumpkins are one of the most nutritious of vegetables, being very high in fiber, vitamins A (over 2,500 units), B and C, beta-carotene, and minerals phosphorus, potassium, calcium, and iron. Smaller “pie pumpkins” are of smoother texture.

So seeing it was my dear friend’s birthday I decided to whip out a healthy birthday lunch for him and some of his close friends (after all, we are all trying to lose weight). I have always wanted to experiment making soup with my new Vitamix so here I was experimenting first time with whipping out a dairy-free pumpkin soup (saving the calories from the much un-needed cream and butter).

To brighten the orange color, I added a carrot or two which gave the soup more vibrancy (plus an extra dosage of Vitamin A and beta-carotene). Simply chuck all the ingredients into your Vitamix and turn the setting on the ‘soup’ function. I was simply amazed that within 5 minutes, all the ingredients have combined together miraculously to produce a soup that was steaming hot (due to the fast friction of the blades churning).

Butternut Squash Soup (11 of 14)

Butternut Pumpkin Soup

INGREDIENTS:

  • 250g butternut pumpkin peeled and cut into small chunks
  • 1/2 green apple
  • 1 stick of celery
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 1/2 cups of water or vegetable stock
  • pinch of cinnamon, to taste
  • pinch of sea salt, to taste

Butternut Squash Soup (3 of 14)

METHOD:

1. Place all ingredients into the Vitamix container in the order listed and secure lid.Butternut Squash Soup (5 of 14).jpg

2. Select soup function if using a Pro 750 model. Otherwise select variable 1. Turn machine on and slowly increase to variable 10.Butternut Squash Soup (7 of 14).jpg

3. Blend for 6 minutes, or until hot. Serve immediately. Garnish with mint sprigs or croutons if desired.

Butternut Squash Soup (10 of 14)

 

Refreshing Watermelon and Mint Salad

Watermelon Mint Salad (8 of 8)REFRESHING SUMMER SALAD | Rehydrate with a cooling watermelon salad tossed with lime and mint leaves. 

Yearning for something cooling in the hot summer months? Then look on further than the watermelon. Juicy, sweet and available in seedless varieties, watermelon is not just comprised of water and sugar, but is in fact a nutrient dense food, providing consumers a high amount of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants for a low amount of calories.

So for those craving something refreshing and light, without the associated guilt-trip, try tossing together watermelon cubes, a dash of lime, chopped mint leaves and for those who fancy the extra, some feta and finely sliced red onions. It won’t take you longer than 20 minutes all in all – I promise!

Watermelon Mint Salad (4 of 8).jpgMade up of 92% water and full of important electrolytes, watermelon is a great snack to have on hand during the hot summer months to prevent dehydration.

Watermelon, Mint and Feta Salad

TIME: 20 minutes | SERVES: 4 as a side 

INGREDIENTS:

  • 6-7 pound seedless watermelon, cubed
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • Dash of balsamic vinegar
  • Bunch of fresh mint leaves, chopped
  • Small handful of feta (or crumbled feta)
  • 1/4 finely sliced red onion (optional)

METHOD:

  1. Cut a refrigerated watermelon into 2cm cubes and throw into a large salad bowl.Watermelon Mint Salad (1 of 8)
  2. Juice the lime and remove pips. Pour juice into bowl with watermelon cubes.untitled (1 of 1).jpg
  3. Drizzle a dash of balsamic, add the crumbed or cubed feta and the chopped mint. Toss together to ensure watermelon cubes get coated with the lime juice. Garnish with few mint sprigs and sliced red onion. Serve whilst cold. Watermelon Mint Salad (7 of 8).jpg

Saffron Couscous with Cranberries and Almonds

Saffron couscous with cranberries and almonds (1 of 14)

COUSCOUS | A versatile and popular alternative to rice and pasta

Couscous. A staple in North Africa, not many know how versatile these small steamed balls of semolina can be. Consisting of many tiny granules made from steamed and dried durum wheat, couscous has become a popular alternative to rice and pasta.

In Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia, couscous is steamed over a simmered stew after being tossed with a little water or oil and water. This takes much longer than the ‘instant’ method, whereby couscous is boiled in water or stock for 5 minutes and then steamed for another 5 minutes before being “fluffed up” with a fork.

For myself, the beauty of couscous lies with its cross functional applicability between a pilaf and a salad. For this simple recipe, I have added a pinch of saffron to add a bit of colour and delicate taste. For some tangy sweetness I added some cranberries and for the crunch factor, some crushed roasted almonds. Feel free to throw in some pine nuts too!

Saffron couscous with cranberries and almonds (2 of 14).jpgSaffron couscous with cranberries and almonds

TOTAL TIME: 20 minutes | SERVES: 4 

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 chopped shallot
  • Juice of one lemon
  • 1 cup of wholemeal couscous (or plain)
  • 1.5 cups of water (if using wholemeal)
  • pinch of salt and black pepper, to taste
  • pinch of saffron threads
  • 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oilSaffron couscous with cranberries and almonds (12 of 14)

METHOD:

1. Soak saffron threads in half cup of boiling water to release the flavours. Remember, a little pinch of saffron goes a long way.

Saffron couscous with cranberries and almonds (10 of 14)

2. In the meantime, chop the shallots.

Saffron couscous with cranberries and almonds (11 of 14)

3. Roast the almonds on medium-high heat by stirring gently on a pan (about 1-2 minutes). Once roasted, crush with mortar and pestle. Saffron couscous with cranberries and almonds (13 of 14)Saffron couscous with cranberries and almonds (7 of 14)

4. Pour tablespoon of olive oil into a saucepan on medium-high heat. Throw in shallots and stir for one minute.Saffron couscous with cranberries and almonds (9 of 14)

5. Add the remaining cup of water. Once boiling, throw in the couscous, add a pinch of salt and pepper and let it cook for 5 minutes before closing the lid. Let it rest for another 5 minutes.Saffron couscous with cranberries and almonds (8 of 14)

6. Juice the lemon and remove the pips.Saffron couscous with cranberries and almonds (6 of 14)

7. Once couscous is done, remove the lid from the saucepan and pour in the lemon juice, cranberries, and crushed almonds. Fluff with fork until fluffy in texture.Saffron couscous with cranberries and almonds (5 of 14)

8. Serve while warm. Feel free to sprinkle some pine nuts an additional cranberries on top for garnishing.Saffron couscous with cranberries and almonds (4 of 14)

 

Wasabi Beef Cubes

wasabi beef cubes (1 of 1).jpgThe combination of steak, wasabi and garlic is too compelling of a concoction to miss.

I love Japanese-inspired dishes so and came up with this wasabi beef cube recipe using Wagyu beef from Japan (but feel free to use a rib-eye or sirloin cut too).

Don’t worry, the wasabi is not that overpowering. It just adds a little ‘kick’ factor to the beef. Then add a dollop of mustard and the rest of the ingredients – diced garlic, sesame oil and some light soy sauce – for an Asian marinade that complements beef very well.

P.S. Remember to take the steak 30 mins out of the refrigerator before cooking.

wasabi beef cubes (2 of 2)

Wasabi Beef Cubes

TIME: 20 mins | SERVES: 2

INGREDIENTS:

  • 380g wagyu beef cubes (can substitute with ribeye or sirloin)
  • ~8g of wasabi paste (3 small 2.5g packs)
  • 2 teaspoons of light soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons of sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon of dijon mustard
  • 4 garlic cloves, sliced
  • canola oil
  • butter (optional, for frying)
  • spring onions, diced (for garnish)

METHOD:

  1. Wash and pat dry wagyu beef cubes. In a bowl, marinade beef cubes with wasabi, sesame oil, mustard, and soy sauce. Wasabi Beef Cubes (11 of 15)
  2. Make garlic chips (for garnish). Heat pan on medium heat, add a dollop of canola oil and take one clove of sliced garlic to pan-fry until golden brown. Set aside to cool for use later.Wasabi Beef Cubes (10 of 15)
  3.  While pan is still hot add a knob of butter and throw in rest of the sliced garlic. Add the beef cubes and fry until colour changes and cubes give off a golden brown hue (~5-6 minutes). Wasabi Beef Cubes (8 of 15)Wasabi Beef Cubes (7 of 15)
  4. Once cooked to your desired ‘wellness’ factor for beef, remove from the pan and transfer to serving dish. To serve, garnish with the garlic chips set aside and sprinkle the chopped spring onions.Wasabi Beef Cubes (5 of 15)Wasabi Beef Cubes (6 of 15)

Coffee Pecan Financiers

Coffee and pecan financiers (23 of 39)

A PERFECT CONCOCTION | Pecans, ground sumiyaki coffee powder and a shot of nespresso add subtle warm undertones to the traditional financier.  

I love how baking brings out the perfectionist streak lurking deep within me. This Valentine’s day, me and my (single) girlfriends decided we’d get our hands dirty and do some baking.

To challenge ourselves, we set an ambitious goal to master the basic vanilla soufflé (which we managed to achieve). I also added another to our baking agenda for the afternoon  – to recreate Ottolenghi’s famed Coffee Pecan Financiers that sells likes hotcakes at his restaurant NOPI in London.

Coffee and pecan financiers (1 of 1)

Still missing Paris a lot, I was keen to make financiers again, but this time, I was set on making an adaptation of Ottolenghi’s Coffee Pecan Financiers from his well-known restaurant NOPI. Not too fond of anything too sweet, I reduced the icing sugar quantity by half and did away with the coffee pecan cream that often accompanies these little bars of gold.

Coffee and pecan financiers (29 of 39)

Coffee and Pecan Financiers

TIME: one hour | YIELDS: Makes 12 financiers

INGREDIENTS:

  • 100g pecans
  • 150g unsalted butter
  • 100g icing sugar
  • 100g ground almonds
  • 100g plain flour
  • 65g malt powder (or Horlicks)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp ground coffee beans
  • 8 egg whites (300g)
  • 2 shots of espresso (60ml)
  • pinch of coarse sea salt

Coffee and pecan financiers (7 of 39)

METHOD:

  1. Roast the pecans. Preheat the oven to 190°C/170°C fan/gas mark 5. Spread the pecans for both the financiers and the cream out on a parchment-lined baking tray and place in the oven for 12–15 minutes, until they have taken on a bit of colour. Use the flat side of a large knife to lightly crush them. Set aside half of the pecans for the financiers and half for the cream.Coffee and pecan financiers (1 of 39)
  2. To make the financiers, put the butter into a medium saucepan and place on a high heat. Once it starts to foam, cook for 3–4 minutes, until it turns golden-brown and smells nutty. Strain through a muslin- (or clean J-cloth-) lined sieve and set aside for about 15 minutes, to cool slightly.Coffee and pecan financiers (2 of 39)
  3. Place the icing sugar in a large bowl with the ground almonds, flour, malt powder, baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and ground coffee. Mix together and set aside.Coffee and pecan financiers (4 of 39)
  4. Place the egg whites in a separate bowl and whisk to form soft peaks: this should take about 3 minutes if you are whisking by hand and just 1 minute with an electric whisk.Coffee and pecan financiers (6 of 39)
  5. Fold the whites into the dry ingredients by hand, followed by the espresso. Next pour in half the browned butter, continuing to fold by hand as you pour in the remaining butter. Finally, fold in the pecans. Coffee and pecan financiers (13 of 39)Coffee and pecan financiers (12 of 39)Coffee and pecan financiers (10 of 39)
  6. Bake the financiers by preheating the oven to 220°C/200°C fan/gas mark 7. Grease mould of muffin tray or financier tray. Spoon in the mix until three-quarters full and bake for 10 –12 minutes, until the cakes are golden-brown on top and only just cooked through: a knife inserted should come out with a tiny amount of mix on it.Coffee and pecan financiers (15 of 39)
  7. Remove from the oven and set aside to rest for 5 minutes, before removing them from the tray. Serve warm or at room temperature, with a cup of tea if desired.
Coffee and pecan financiers (21 of 39) Coffee and pecan financiers (28 of 39)Coffee and pecan financiers (4 of 5)

Jerk Chicken Quinoa Citrus Salad

Jerk Chicken Citrus Quinoa Salad (1 of 21)

PROTEIN PACKED SALAD | A hearty and healthy chicken salad with creamy avocado, nutty quinoa, fresh parsley and lots of bright citrus flavours.

Fancy a touch of the Carribean? Well, look no further than Jerk Chicken. First, let’s clarify: “Jerk” doesn’t mean what you think it means. It means Jamaican BBQ. This well rounded flavour of sweet, hot, herbal and spicy chicken can be served with rice, beans or pasta. In this particular instance, I chose quinoa as I fancied a light dinner after the repetitive days of gluttony over the recent Lunar New Year.

I love quinoa not only due to its health benefits, but because it is so versatile and easy to prepare. Did you know that quinoa is one of the most protein-rich foods we can eat? It is a complete protein containing all nine essential amino acids. Furthermore, it is chock full of fibre (good for relieving constipation) and is high in iron and magnesium. For more information about the health benefits of quinoa, click here.

The prime burst of flavor in this salad comes from the jerk chicken. Jerk seasoning boasts elements of sweetness, hotness, herbal-ness and spicy-ness – what a terrific combination to titillate your taste buds. Now, many of you may be wondering whether you can make your own jerk seasoning? Short answer, yes. Can I be bothered tonight? No. Problem with Hong Kong is that jerk seasoning is not easy to find. Thanks to my dear friend Noah though, he managed to grab me some on one of his (many) business trips to the British Virgin Islands.

Jerk Chicken Citrus Quinoa Salad (17 of 21)

Jerk Seasoning…not for “jerks”. Jerk seasoning typically comprises of a mixture of onion, vinegar, cayenne pepper, all spice, cinnamon, black pepper and oil.

As for how I chose to cook the chicken, I opted for the sous vide (my latest cooking gadget addiction) which inevitably takes longer (but results in chicken that is more moist and juicy). Feel free to pan-fry your chicken tenderloins/breast instead if you only have 10-15 minutes to spare (after you marinade it).

Now, for a little light dressing, simply whisk together lime juice, orange juice, olive oil, and a dash of honey. This citrus dressing is so refreshing and light that it won’t overpower the intense flavours from the jerk chicken.

Jerk Chicken Citrus Quinoa Salad (3 of 21)

Jerk Chicken Quinoa Citrus Salad

INACTIVE TIME: 1.5 hours | ACTIVE TIME: 4 minutes | SERVES: 1

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 small chicken tenderloin fillets (or 0.5 pound chicken breast fillet if you prefer)
  • 1 tablespoon jerk seasoning
  • 1 bunch of Italian parsley
  • 1 limes
  • 1 orange
  • 1/2 tablespoon of liquid honey
  • 1/2 cup uncooked quinoaJerk Chicken Citrus Quinoa Salad (13 of 21)

METHOD:

  1. Preheat pot of water with the sous vide to the desired temperature. In this case, I set it to 140°F/60°C for cooking the chicken tenderloins. Jerk Chicken Citrus Quinoa Salad (11 of 21)
  2. Marinade chicken tenderloins with the jerk seasoning and place in zip-lock bag. Jerk Chicken Citrus Quinoa Salad (19 of 21)Jerk Chicken Citrus Quinoa Salad (18 of 21)
  3. Once desired temperature is reached, immerse zip lock bag into the pot of water, removing all air via the water immersion method. Leave in the water for 1-1.5 hours.
  4. While chicken is cooking via the sous vide method, prepare the quinoa. Simply place half a cup of uncooked quinoa into a pot set on medium-high and pour in 1 cup of water. Leave to boil, stirring occasionally for 10-15 minutes until cooked. Set aside and leave to cool.Jerk Chicken Citrus Quinoa Salad (12 of 21)Jerk Chicken Citrus Quinoa Salad (9 of 21)
  5. Prepare the salad dressing. Juice one lime and half an orange. In a small bowl, combine these juices together and whisk in half a tablespoon of honey. Set aside.Jerk Chicken Citrus Quinoa Salad (8 of 21)Jerk Chicken Citrus Quinoa Salad (7 of 21)
  6. Chop up the coriander and the remaining half of the orange into small chunks. Dice the avocado into small bite sized chunks. Combine everything with the cooled down quinoa, mixing in the salad dressing.
  7. Once chicken is done in the sous vide, remove from the zip lock bag and pat dry. Heat a heavy cast iron skillet or pan on medium-high heat and coat with a light drizzle of oil. Once oil shimmers throw the chicken tenderloins in and pan-fry until golden brown (~2 minutes each side).  Jerk Chicken Citrus Quinoa Salad (6 of 21)
  8. Remove chicken from pan and slice into smaller bite-sized pieces.Jerk Chicken Citrus Quinoa Salad (14 of 21)
  9. Transfer quinoa salad base into a bowl for serving. Top with the freshly cooked chicken slices and serve while warm.Jerk Chicken Citrus Quinoa Salad (4 of 21)

Sous vide Chicken Breast with Herbes de Provence

Sous Vide Chicken with Herbs de Provence (14 of 14)

Thanks to sous vide cooking, no longer do you have to tolerate bland and tough chicken breasts.

Chicken breasts are the classic lean muscle-building protein. But don’t get stuck in the routine of pan-frying the breasts, which often results in producing a tough, bland and dry texture.

Tonight, I was feeling rather experimental and had some time to spare. Consequently, I opted to cook chicken breast sous vide style. All it requires is extreme “hands off” patience.

The secret to perfect chicken? Temperature control. The kind of down-to-the-degree type of control that sous vide cooking can attain.

If we’re to believe what our parents told us, chicken should be cooked to a temperature of 165°F; anything below 140°F then you tread into the “danger” zone, the temperature zone in which bacteria supposedly thrives. The ideal temperature for cooking chicken rests between 140-145°F. Once you get pass the 155°F mark, sous-vide chicken starts to take on an unpleasant chalky, tacky texture.

I set up the dial on my Anova precision cooker to 60°C/140°F. Chicken cooked at 140°F has a very tender, extremely juicy texture that is firm and completely opaque. No signs of stringiness or tackiness. It melts between your teeth. At two hours the chicken has a nice resilient chew to it, while retaining its juiciness.

The problem with traditionally cooked chicken is that the meat is penetrated by higher heat from the outside in, making it very difficult to gauge exactly what temperature it is from the edges to the centre. Common sense dictates that we often overcook the outer layers inevitably, leading to that all too familiar dry and stringy texture. Sous vide cooking allows one to control precisely the temperature at which one desires to serve them eat. This effectively means that by the time we’re done, the chicken is cooked perfectly from edge to centre without compromising on its juiciness.

The results? The chicken breast is tender enough to cut with a butter knife and glistens with flavourful juices.

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Not your ordinary bland and dry chicken breast.

Sous vide Chicken with Herbes de Provence

INACTIVE TIME: 2 hours | ACTIVE TIME: 4 minutes | SERVES: 1

INGREDIENTS:

  • One chicken breast (palm size)
  • 1 tablespoon of herbes de Provence.
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • Sea salt and black pepper, to taste

Sous Vide Chicken with Herbs de Provence (9 of 14)

METHOD:

  1. Preheat precision cooker to 140°F/60°C. Allow the water bath to come to the right temperature before dowsing your chicken in the bag inside.Sous Vide Chicken with Herbs de Provence (7 of 14)
  2. Season the chicken breast with a coating of olive oil followed by the herbes de Provence, salt and pepper. Bag the chicken in zip lock bag or vacuum bag (if using).Sous Vide Chicken with Herbs de Provence (3 of 14)Sous Vide Chicken with Herbs de Provence (5 of 14)
  3. Immerse the chicken in the bag into the water bath. It should sink. Set timer to 2 hours. Feel free to run some errands, go for a jog, or take a shower while the chicken is cooking (this is what I mean by “hands-free” cooking).Sous Vide Chicken with Herbs de Provence (8 of 14)
  4. Once time is up, pre-heat a cast iron pan or skillet on medium-high heat, coated with a thin layer of oil. Remove chicken breast from zip lock bag and pat dry. Once oil starts to shimmer, place chicken breast on the pan and hold down flat with a spatula to ensure maximum contact between chicken breast and pan. Pan-fry for 2 minutes on each side to produce a beautiful brown and crisp sear.Sous Vide Chicken with Herbs de Provence (9 of 14)
  5. Once seared, remove chicken from pan and slice to serve. Sous Vide Chicken with Herbs de Provence (10 of 14)Sous Vide Chicken with Herbs de Provence (12 of 14)