Category Archives: Easy

Yogurt Panna Cotta with Honey


 

My first panna cotta experience was actually with my first job working as an Assistant Pastry Chef at Bailey’s Prime.  I was too embarassed to admit to the Chef that I had no CLUE as to what the heck panna cotta was except that it sounded fancy as hell.

Luckily, it was one of the easiest desserts I’ve ever made and actually turned out to be one of my favorites.  I loved the creamy yet firm texture, the lovely dressings on top and the way it looked so smooth and elegant — plus, who wouldn’t be impressed with a dessert called PANNA COTTA!  I say it exactly like that too when I serve it, with gumption, excitement and my best Italian accent.   

I found this recipe from an old issue of Food & Wine Magazine, I loved the simplicity of flavors with the yogurt and honey — did I also mention this was a healthy dessert?  *GASP* You’re welcome 🙂

Ingredients for Yogurt Panna Cottas with Honey:

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1 cup fat-free milk
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 cup low-fat buttermilk
  • 1 cup fat-free plain Greek yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • black grapes, for serving

In a small bowl, mix the gelatin with the water and let stand until softened, about 5 minutes.  In a small saucepan, bring the milk to a simmer with the sugar and cook until the sugar is dissolved, about 1 minute.  Remove from the heat and stir in the softened gelatin until dissolved.



In a medium bowl, whisk the buttermilk with the yogurt.  Whisk in the warm milk until smooth.  Pour the panna cotta mixture into six 4-ounce ramekins and refrigerate until set, about 3 hours.



To serve, drizzle the panna cottas with the honey and garnish with the grapes.  Make Ahead: The yogurt panna cottas can be covered and refrigerated for up to 1 day before serving. 

POM Mulled Cider


There are several reasons why Fall is my favorite season: the changing leaves, the damp cool air, leggings and boots, squashes galore, and cozying up with my  favorite reading blanket with a big mug of something warm and awesome. 

 

One of my favorite drinks would have to be cider.  Something about the comforting aromas of cinnamon and spices immersed in fresh apple juice seems soothing for any soul on any occasion. 

When the cool folks at POM sent me over a case their awesome pomegranate juice the first thing that came to mind was making a mulled cider out of it.  The tartness of the pomegranate blends harmoniously with the splendied sweetness of apples — a pair made in heaven, cider heaven specifically. 

This is not only an easy recipe but an awesome one — great for parties, get togethers, or in my case, just because.  Cider should always be enjoyed on a cool fall night.  Sit outside with your beau or friends and let the comforting aromas of spices fill your nose and warm your hands.  Maybe throw in a kumbaya somewhere in there and you’ve got yourself a party!

Ingredients for POM Mulled Cider:

  • 1 gallon fresh cider
  • 3 cups POM pomegranate juice
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 5 cloves
  • 3 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 piece of ginger, cut about 1/2 inch thick

Pour the cider and POM in a large pot and place on stove at high heat.  Add the sugar and spices and bring to a boil.  Once boiling, lower the heat to a simmer for 15 minutes — this allows the infusion of the spices. Remove the spices and ladel the cider into mugs, serve immediately. 

Hawaiian Pork Sandwiches


 

I had a wonderful housewarming party this weekend — complete with a 40 pound roast pig, a keg full of ice cold beer and a feast of epic proportions from salads to fried rice to cupcakes.  Life is good, what can I say?  Granted most of my girlfriends were completely grossed out by piggy, I happily enjoyed sneaking pieces of the crispy pork skin and sandwiching it between those delicious Hawaiian rolls that every one likes…don’t judge me, it’s delicious.

I guess the entire concept might’ve seemed a bit barbaric to some but I had to do it big, because finally having our house at a presentable state was a huge accomplishment — a feat that seemed merely impossible just 6 months ago is now finally completed.  I needed a centerpiece that would scream VICTORIOUS!, because frankly I am ready for a vacation from anything house-related for awhile.   

Strawberry Cheesecake Cupcakes anyone?  Someone didn’t wash their hands before eating… I would continously make these little treats throughout our house building process as a way to convince Collin to keep working — “If you finish building the deck I’ll make you those cupcakes you like…” poof, deck is done.  He deemed me the nickname “slave-driver Zhang” but in my defense, if I didn’t crack the whip every once in awhile how would we stay on track? (just kidding boo!). 

When Babe finally arrived, his massive size took me by surprise — this sucker was big, almost as big as my friend Sonya here.  Perhaps I might’ve over estimated the pig consumption among 40+ people as I am currently holding 20lbs of leftover pig in my freezer.  Hey, no worries!  Just don’t question why my site will be posting pork recipes for the rest of the month…

 My friend Heather captured these shots of me cooking fried rice — I made Pineapple Fried Rice with cilantro, cashews, onion and of course, PINEAPPLE!  I didn’t mean to have a cooking demonstration at the party but I’m not gonna lie, it added some pizazz.  It was as if I had my own miniature cooking show right in the comfort of my backyard — Cooking with Joy — it has a nice ring to it.  As a result, the rice actually became the favorite dish of the night and thanks to my trusty apron, I didn’t get a spot on me. ( Win! 🙂 )

So what does one do with 20 lbs of excess pork?  Make Hawaiian Pork Sandwiches that’s what.  I had a bunch of those sweet little Hawaiian rolls left over, I put two and two together and came up with the tastiest little sandwich combination.  For those of you who don’t order a whole pig just for shits, you can go to your local asian market that sells BBQ pork, peking duck, etc and more than likely you will find pig that’s fried, cooked and sold by the pound.

Ingredients for Hawaiian Pork Sandwiches: (serves 2-4)

  • 1/2 lb cooked pork, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons bbq sauce
  • 8 miniature Hawaiian rolls
  • 1/4 c mandarin oranges
  • 1/4 c red onions, small diced
  • 1 teaspoon jalapeno, small diced (you can increase the quantity if you like spicy food or omit it all together)
  • 1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped
  • 1 lime wedge, squeezed

Place chopped pork and bbq sauce into a bowl and mix thoroughly.  In another bowl, combine the mandarin oranges, jalapeno, onion and cilantro with the fresh lime juice and allow to sit for 20 minutes or can be kept overnight.  You can toast the buns if you choose –or eat them as is.  Split the buns in half and top with the pork mixture and relish.  You can use some fresh field freens as shown or leave them out completely.  Serve immediately with a glass of ice cold beer.

Drooling yet?  You should be.

So onto the cool stuff…the before and after pictures of our house makeover!!  The past 6 months of bitching complaining was for good reason…see for yourself.

Check out the swirly retro ceilings!  Check out the crusty old carpet and linoleum!  How was this stuff ever in style??  We raised the ceiling, knocked down a few walls, put in wooden floors and got a new door.

And here is the master bedroom…YUCK.  Please note the heavily yellowed close doors, apparently the tenant before us was not a fan of cleaning supplies *shudders* and those retro curtains…tsk tsk.  We tore down the weird light fixtures, fresh paint, hardwoods and installed a nice ceiling fan (excuse the messy bed).

Boy, were the bathrooms a nightmare.  I’d say crappy would be an understatement in this case.  I mean who even has sinks like that anymore?  We knocked out more walls, found some hidden space that we later made into a shelf in the living room, dressed it up with new tile and new fixtures and VOILA! A master bath fit for a stud.

We also raised the ceiling in the guest bath, gutted the old fixtures and replaced it with new ones.  My aunt Lori and mommy Wells actually tiled this entire bathroom by themselves, what talented ladies!

AAAAAAH my dream kitchen tranformation — looking how undreamy it was when we first started.  You can’t see very well from these pictures but the old stove top was activated by BUTTONS…I don’t even think my parents used buttons on their stoves in China.  Collin is convinced someone will buy this “vintage” stove, I give it 3 months or else it’s outta here (*insert whip crack here*).  We pretty much kept NOTHING from the old kitchen except for the old cabinets which we made into Collin’s workbench in the garage.  We put in granite counter tops, stainless steel applicances and custom made cabinets — a wonderful change from the past elf kitchens I’ve been cooking in for the past 4 years. 

And finally the living room.  We knocked down a lot of walls, put up a beam, new hard wood floors and some fresh paint.  Most of the furniture is courtesy of my mom, she gave us most of her belongings before she moved to Shanghai so that helped out a lot when we moved in.  As you can see Layla made a point to get into some of my shots, what a boob.  Though I have a lot of decorating left to do, like I said, I’m going on vacation from house chores for the next couple of months :).

None of this project would be possible if it weren’t for the help of family.  Collin’s parents put in hundreds of endless hours of blood sweat and tears to make our house to what it is today.  Aunt Lori and Uncle Dave made a trip down especially to help us renovate bathrooms and clean up debris.  We worked Carter all Summer helping with installations and texturing (I made sure to feed him well during this time so he wouldn’t quit on us) and Layla…well she just sat there and looked cute the whole time, what a HAM.  I think our first home will always be my favorite home — solely because of all the different people who helped us along the way.  I can’t begin to express my love and gratitude to everyone who took part in this huge project, a part of me is even a little sad that this project has come to an end.  It’s crazy even now for me to look through these before and afters, I just can’t believe my eyes.  WE DID IT! Through the stress, the unexpected challenges, the countless late nights — our first home is complete.  And it’s perfect. 

Ribeye Crostinis with Caramelized Onions and Bleu Cheese


As part of the Foodbuzz Tastemaker Program, I received Nature’s Pride Multigrain bread and was asked to create an award winning recipe that would win me a trip to San Francisco to attend the 2nd annual Foodbuzz festival.  Seeing that I absolutely adore San Francisco and I love to eat and drink (ALOT), what other choice did I have but to take a shot and enter?


Now last year, right after I became a featured publisher on Foodbuzz I found out about the festival and by that time it was too late.  This year, with purchasing a new home and planning a wedding, my funds have become dismal, insufficient, practically…nonexistent.   I realize the only way that I can get my happy ass butt out there is through this contest.  Now that wasn’t a sob story to make you feel sorry for me and pick me (…not that I’d mind by any means) but I hope my recipe inspires people to look at sliced bread in a different way….an elegant way.

I chose to make hor d’oeuvres as preparation for my housewarming this weekend and kept the following things in mind:

  • – simple preparation
  • – minimal cleanup
  • – delicious flavors
  • – beautiful presentation

So I came up with Ribeye Crostinis with Caramelized Onions and Bleu Cheese! These little morsels are packed with flavors that will be a hit at any party or soiree — just be sure to make extra because they’ll be gone in a heartbeat.  Enjoy 🙂

Ingredients for Ribeye Crostinis with Caramelized Onions and Bleu Cheese:(serves 12)

  • 6 slices of Nature’s Pride Wholegrain Bread
  • 8 oz ribeye
  • 1 small onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 oz container bleu cheese crumbles
  • 1 cup field greens
  • 1/4 lemon, squeezed
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • kosher salt & pepper to taste

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter and once bubbling add the sliced onions.  Allow onions to caramelize, about 4-5 minutes.  Do not move the onions around too much, this slows down the caramelizing process — stir every couple of minutes and once done, set aside.

Start searing the ribeye next.  Heat a skillet at medium high heat with a tablespoon of butter, sprinkle each side of the steak generously with kosher salt and pepper and once the pan is hot and butter is bubbling, sear each side of the steak — about 3 minutes on each side.  Remove from heat and place the steak on a pan in a toaster oven at 400F for an additional 4 minutes.  Set aside for 5 minutes to allow juices in the meat to settle.

Meanwhile, prep your bread and salad greens.  Using a 1 1/2″ circle cutter, cut out two circles from each slice of Nature’s Pride Multigrain Bread and using the skillet that the steak was cooked in, melt an additional tablespoon of butter at medium low heat and toast each side of the bread pieces, about a minute on each side.  Mix greens in a bowl with a little bit of olive oil, lemon juice and a pinch of salt and pepper.

Thinly slice ribeye steak and place ontop of the toasted Nature’s Pride crostinis.  Garnish with greens and top with caramelized onions and bleu cheese crumbles.  Serve immediately.

Pairs well with a sweet Riesling or a smooth Merlot.

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Hope you guys enjoy my recipe.  Happy Friday and have a great weekend!

Moroccan Carrot Soup


Back in March, Collin and I purchased our very first home together.  It was ragged, beaten down and was practically obliterated by termites.  The woman who owned the house before us lived here for over 40 years and never did a single update.  I want you to imagine that — original wall paper and carpet, stove tops and ovens from back in the 70s, we even found a hoover vacuum cleaner back from the the 60s, and not to mention that the doors and walls had deeply yellowed with age.  It was just plain awful.

But together we saw something in this house: potential.  We knew with a little lot of hard work, we could make this into something liveable, something beautiful, something we’d be proud to call our very first home.  Finally now after 6 months, we’ve finished: new walls, new kitchen, new paint, new floors…the list goes on forever.  And let me tell you, it’s freaking fantastic.  As a way to celebrate our achievements, I’ve decided to throw a housewarming party this Saturday — complete with a roast pig, a keg, and plenty of food but most importantly sharing our new home with our family and friends. 

In many ways this house has become representative of my personal struggles these past couple of years.  Since graduating college two years ago it has been a challenge to figure out what direction I wanted to take in my life, especially career wise.  At my lowest point, I felt like this house the way we first found it: dark, in shambles, and completely unorganized.  However, with time, ample searching, commitment and hard work I’ve found my niche in cooking, photography and piano and slowly but surely I’m begining to feel myself flourish.  I wouldn’t be here if Collin didn’t notice my potential and continued to push me to strive for my dreams, what once seemed like an impossible feat has now become my gorgeous reality. 

We completed the very last project, the deck earlier this week and we couldn’t contain our excitement and wanted to put it to use right away. I made this hearty, comforting to the soul bowl of Moroccan Carrot Soup to perfectly compliment our cool Fall nights we’ve recently been having (finally Texas!!!!).  We spread out a blanket, lit a few candles and basked in the aromas of cumin and fresh wood as we had our soup in silence.  Collin laid back on the blanket, closed his eyes and let out a huge long sigh — “I can’t believe we live here, we have the best house in the world.” 

Indeed we do my love, indeed we do.

From Epicurious

Ingredients for Moroccan Carrot Soup:(serves 4)

  • 2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter
  • 1 cup chopped white onion
  • 1 pound large carrots, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch dice (about 2 2/3 cups)
  • 2 1/2 cups low-salt chicken broth
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cumin seeds
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt, stirred to loosen
  • Melt butter in large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion; sauté 2 minutes. Mix in carrots. Add broth; bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until carrots are very tender, about 20 minutes.  Stir cumin seeds in small skillet over medium-high heat until fragrant, 4 to 5 minutes; cool. Finely grind in spice mill.

    Remove soup from heat. Puree in batches in blender until smooth. Return to same pan. Whisk in honey, lemon juice, and allspice. Season with salt and pepper. Ladle soup into bowls. Drizzle yogurt over; sprinkle generously with cumin.