Tag Archives: Basil

Flavors from Afar & FM 1410

If you’ve been keeping up with my artizone  posts, the site will launch next month!  Which means, you have only about two more weeks until you’ll be able to have the best artisan products in the city delivered to your front door.  This week I am featuring Flavors from Afar and FM 1410 — two well known names in Dallas.

At Flavors from Afar, the adventuresome duo Nancy and Gary  carries the best  artisan products imported from Italy.  You are able to taste a little part of Italy through the culinary gems that Flavors from Afar has to offer — like the fragrant olive oils of Tuscany or the bold and fruity balsamic vinegars from Modena. Flavors From Afar offers products that makes entertaining elegant and simple — as the Italians would say: Buon Appetito!!

The top chefs of Dallas know Tom well for his fresh herbs and produce.  With a beautiful garden tucked away in the middle of downtown, the treasures from Tom’s garden will redefine anyone’s definition of “fresh”. At FM 1410 it truly is a farm to table experience — full of flavor, life and most importantly, love. 

With the combination of these artisan powers I created these wonderful mini pizzettes — Bacon & Caramelized Onion with Arugula, Basil and Almond Pesto with Red Pepper and Thyme Lobster Mushroom drizzled with Balsamic.  These pizzettes would make a great appetizer or a wonderful afternoon snack.  Not to mention they are also quite healthy (except for the bacon..O_o) and dairy-free!

Ingredients for Mini Pizzettes: (serves 8-10)

  • 12 ounces pizza dough (You can find my pizza dough recipe here or buy storebought dough)

Preheat the oven to 475 F.  Roll out the pizza dough into a 1/4-inch-thick round.  Using a 2 1/4 to 2 1/2 inch diameter cookie cutter, cut out 30 dough circles.  Arrange the circles on 2 large heavy baking sheets (make sure you put semolina on the bottom of the pan to keep the dough from sticking).

Basil Pesto

  • 3 cups Basil leaves, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup toasted almonds
  • 2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup high quality Olive Oil (I used Ariston from Flavors from Afar)
  • 1/2 tsp of salt

Process the garlic, basil and almonds in a food processor.  Pulse until all ingredients are thoroughly chopped, scrapping down the sides as neccessary.  While running the processor, slowly pour in the 1/2 cup olive oil until it reaches the right consistency, you can add more olive oil as needed.  Set aside.


Thyme Lobster Mushroom

  • 8 oz Lobster Mushroom, thinly sliced (you can find these at FM 1410)
  • 1 Tb butter
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 2 oz Madeira or a sweet cooking wine
  • 2 oz fresh thyme, chopped
  • 2 oz high quality Balsamic vinegar (you can find these at Flavors from Afar)
  • salt pepper to taste

Heat a large saucepan on medium high heat and melt the butter til it’s bubbling.  Add in the garlic, shallot and sliced mushrooms and sautee until softened, about 3-4 minutes.  Add in the wine and thyme and cook until liquid is soaked up, taste with salt and pepper.  Set aside.

Carmelized Onion & Bacon

  • 6 oz bacon, chopped
  • 1/2 white onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 tsp honey
  • 2 tsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup fresh arugula
  • salt pepper to taste

Heat a large pan on medium high heat add the bacon and cook for 1 minute.  Add the sliced onions and reduce heat to medium.  Caramelize the onions with the bacon, about 8 minutes.   Add the honey and apple cider vinegar and cook until liquid is reduced, add salt pepper to taste.  Set aside

To assemble pizzas

Using the three toppings you’ve made, place them on the pizza dough rounds (about 1 tsp for each).  Bake until the pizzettes are golden brown, about 10 minutes.  Drizzle the pizzettes with olive oil.  For the Bacon Onion and Arugula, simply add some fresh arugula on top and serve.  For the Thyme Lobster Mushroom, drizzle some balsamic vinegar on top and serve.  For the Basil Almond Pesto, add the sliced red pepper and fresh basil leaves for garnish and serve. 

Penne and Meatballs Stuffed with Mozzarella

Dear World,

I have only a week and a half left before my trip to Shanghai, yet here I am sitting with a muffin top and a pair of love handles.  Why are they called love handles when I feel anything but love about having them?  If anything they cause me stress and much strife when I wear my low rise skinny jeans or that nice body hugging dress that looked good that week when I bought it (before I bought 2 boxes of Girl Scout Cookies) but now looks horrible.  They should honestly rename them “hate handles” because I HATE THEM.

Also, why do pastries give you a muffin top?  My mother was right, you are what you eat.  I am slowly watching  the edge of my stomach hang over the band of my pants — the muffin top effect is full fledged and ready to attack.  Good thing over the years I’ve learned the tricks of the trade like conveniently tucking in the muffin top underneath the pants, or wearing a loose fitting shirt, or better yet one of those “Spanx” thingys that wraps your fat so tight you can barely breathe.

Either way, the stress that I’m causing myself about losing weight is ironically having the opposite effect and making me gain weight.  As Alanis Morisette would say “Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think?”  Yes a little Alanis, except the irony is far from funny.  Every time I go back, my relatives always comment on how “healthy” I look — grabbing my arms as their eyes widen exclaiming “OOOOooo HENG ZHUAN!” or very fit; it’s pretty much a nice way of saying “Man dude, that is one meaty ass arm you got there.”

But then this weekend I had an epiphany.  Life can be much worse than having meaty arms or not being a size nothing, like not ever being able to experience the perfect bowl of Spaghetti and Meatballs.  Now before you stamp crazy across my face, allow me to explain.  Not just ANY spaghetti and meatballs, but the PERFECT spaghetti and meatballs – picture this with me if you will: a trio of meats veal, pork and beef mixed with herbs and spices then seared off to trap in all the delicious juices, then finishing the meatballs off by slowly simmering them in a fresh basil tomato sauce.  What more do you need?  Though the origins are Italian, spaghetti and meatballs have become a comfort food to every American kitchen – and spaghetti and meatballs were my culinary introduction to the American culture.

My mother never made them; I think to this day she doesn’t really like any food outside of Chinese, she finds American food “heavy” so 7 days a week it was always Chinese for dinner.  So you can imagine my excitement when I slept over at a friend’s house in elementary school and her mother invited me over for dinner, FINALLY something NOT CHINESE.  You must realize now, I fully appreciate my upbringing, but at the time I really hated having to eat Chinese food all the time. My only access to “American Food” were those awful school lunches they would serve in the cafeterias, yes that depressing gray looking food that was either too salty or tasteless.  The only exciting days were Fridays when they would serve really nasty mushy pizza, but it was pizza and when you’re 7 that’s totally awesome.

Remember the cartoon Lady and the Tramp?  Remember that scene when the dogs share that plate of spaghetti?  Well while most people were probably concentrating on the developing relationship of the Lady and the Tramp, I was drooling over the cartoon spaghetti and meatballs. AND NOW I was about to experience my very FIRST “American Dinner” and not just any dinner, but a spaghetti and meatball dinner.  And it was beautiful, it was soul satisfying, and even after almost 20 years I still remember it.

I recently had my love for spaghetti and meatballs renewed when I tasted Chef Thomas’ recipe last week.  It was moist, savory and filled your nose with aromatic herbs and spices – I had to close my eyes as I tasted it, to pay respect to the meatball gods because it was FREAKING delicious.  I threw my arms up in amazement and exclaimed – “CHEF YOU GOTTA TELL ME WHAT THE SECRET IS!!!!” And he didn’t want to tell me.  It wasn’t until an intense ninja battle in the kitchen where I finally had to twist Chef’s arm behind his back and threaten to dump him into a gigantic pot of bubbling bisque that he finally said “Milk and bread, MILK AND BREAD!!!!”

Okay. So the ninja battle and the threatening fight didn’t happen, but Chef was gracious enough to share the secret – Milk and Bread folks.  I’ve never had a yummier meatball, it gives the meat a velvety texture that just melts in your mouth and immersed in a homemade tomato sauce with fragrant garlic and herbs, life doesn’t get any better than this.

Now, before yall get your panties in a bunch, the reason why I didn’t do Spaghetti and Meatballs was because…I’m an extremely messy eater.  Every freaking time I eat spaghetti and meatballs I ruin a shirt with spaghetti sauce — it’s inevitable.  So I used penne here instead, less sauce splatterage, no loose noodles dropping onto my shirt, and instead of the art of fork twirling, it’s simple fork stabbing 🙂  BUT by all means, use spaghetti, just because I am a slob during spaghetti and meatballs doesn’t mean you have to be. To each it’s own I always say!

Ingredients for Italian Meatballs: (Adapted from Chow)

(makes about 30 meatballs)

  • 2 cups stale bread (I used a baguette), crust removed and torn into large
  • 3/4 cup milk (I used skim but whole can work here too)
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon white pepper
  • 4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 1 pound ground veal
  • 1/2 medium white onion
  • 3 large eggs
  • 6 tablespoon Italian Parsley, cleaned and finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon Thyme, finely chopped
  • 6 tablespoons finely grated Parmigiano- reggiano
  • 30 1″ cubes of Mozzarella cheese

In a medium sized bowl, place the bread and cover with milk.  Make sure all of the bread is moistened and let soak until the milk has been thoroughly absorbed by all of the bread, about 20 minutes.

Place the garlic, fennel seeds, salt and pepper on a cutting board and finely chop the mixture until it becomes well mixed and paste like.  In a large bowl, place the meats with the fennel mixture and mix until evenly combined.  Add the bread and any remaining milk until it is fully incorporated with the meats.  Add the onion and eggs along with the parsley, thyme and Parmesan and mix thoroughly until combined.

Take about 3-4 tablespoons of meat mixture between your hands and roll into a smooth compact ball, about 2 inches.  Make a hole in the center of the meatball using your thumb, and tuck a cube of mozzarella cheese in the middle.  Roll the ball closed to envelop the cheese, adding more meat if necessary. Set aside and continue to roll out balls until all of the meat mixture is used, will make about 30 meatballs.

In a large pan heat a tablespoon of olive oil or coat with cooking spray over medium-low heat.  Place the meatballs in the pan, leaving about 1/4 inch between each one — this will probably have to be done in a few batches.  Brown each meatball on both sides, making sure it is well browned on each side, about 4 minutes on each side for about 20 minutes.  Transfer the meatballs to a large heavy-bottomed pot or crock pot and set aside.

Ingredients for Tomato Garlic Basil Sauce:

(serves 6)

  • 1 can (14.5 ounce) whole peeled tomatoes
  • 4 roma tomatoes, cleaned and diced
  • 1 can (6 ounces) tomato paste
  • 3 cups beef stock
  • 1 medium white onion, finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan Cheese
  • salt pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in large heavy bottomed sauce pan at medium heat.  Once heated, add onions and tomato paste and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.  Add garlic and chopped tomatoes and cook for an additional 2 minutes.  Pour in the canned tomatoes, broth, sugar, and half of the basil and bring to a boil, stirring.  Reduce to a simmer and cook for 25 minutes or until thickened.

Once the sauce is a fork consistency, pour over the meatballs and place back on heat.  Bring back to a simmer on medium heat.  Cook uncovered, constantly stirring and allow meatballs to cook through, about 20-30 minutes.  Meanwhile, cook your penne.  Fill a large heavy bottomed pot 3/4 of the way with water, add 2 tablespoon of salt and bring to a boil.  Add 2 cups of dried penne and cook for 8-10 minutes or until el dente (Meaning still firm and almost cooked through).  Immediately strain and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking process.  Place pasta in a large bowl and toss with 1 tablespoon of olive oil.  Once meatballs are cooked through add the remaining basil and cheese and remove from heat.  Serve immediately.

When ready to serve, place penne in serving bowls and spoon sauce over noodles and top with 2-3 meatballs.  Serve with fresh basil as garnish and toasted garlic bread if preferred.

Now you can cut this recipe in half if the quantities are too large or you can do what I have done, which is freeze the additional meatballs I didn’t use.  I simply took a quart size bag, laid a piece of cardboard and placed my meatballs on top.  Now you have dinner ready for any day of the week you don’t feel like cooking or if you have unexpected guests coming over.  These also make great appetizers, you can simply roll the meatballs smaller (in bite size portions) and freeze them off the same way.

Price of Items:

  • 1 lb of pork – $5.99
  • 1 lb of veal – $ 7.99
  • 1 lb of beef – $ 5.99
  • 1/2 lb Mozzarella – $3.50
  • 2 cups of dried bread – $.50
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan – $1.25
  • 3 eggs – $1.00
  • 1lb of penne – $1.50
  • 1 can of peeled tomatoes – $1.50
  • 1 can of tomato paste – $.75
  • 4 roma tomatoes – $.67
  • 2 white onions – $.50
  • 1 quart beef stock – $1.99

Total cost per serving: $4.14

Herb Roasted Chicken

Food Blog 028

There are many reasons why I enjoy cooking, one of them being the feeling of accomplishment after making a wonderful meal.  Many people my age eat out a lot, with the common complaint that cooking at home is just too time consuming.  However, what many do not realize is the beauty of taking quality ingredients and creating magic with your hands.  Though yes, cooking can definitely be time consuming there are also many recipes that are simple to make with minimal cleanup.  This Herb Roasted Chicken is the perfect example — you marinate it for an hour  in a brine and throw it in the oven for another hour.  The reason I love this dish so much is that you can use this chicken with anything — pair it with some vegetables (I chose carrots), or use the left overs for sandwiches, salads and even soups!


Ingredients for Herb Roasted Chicken:

  • 4 cups water
  • 1/3 cup kosher salt
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon dried thyme
  • 1 tablespoon dried rosemary
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
  • 1 tablespoon coarse black pepper
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 6 cups ice water
  • 1 chicken, about 3 lbs, neck and giblets removed
  • 3 tablespoons butter


For the brine, combine the water, salt, sugar, half of the dried herbs and bay leaves into a large saucepan.  Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring to dissolve the salt and sugar.  Reduce to heat to low and simmer for 10 min so the flavors of the herbs can be drawn out. Pour the brine into a deep set large bowl and cool it down with your ice water.  Set aside.

Clean the chicken by rinsing out the cavity and outer skin and place on a clean surface.  Be sure not to contaminate any vegetables or other ingredients, because no one is a fan of salmonella!  Place the chicken in the brine,  make sure it is completely immersed in the brine.  Cover and allow to marinate for at least an hour and up to 6 hours.


Preheat the oven to 375F.

Remove the chicken from the brine and place on a clean surface.  Pat the chicken dry with a paper towel as shown.  Separate the skin from the flesh, you can do this by carefully inserting your fingers underneath the skin and gently pull up to create a space or pocket.  Take the butter and rub it underneath the skin and flesh — this will make your chicken moist and tender while accentuating the flavor of the herbs in the meat.  Coat the skin with te remaining herbs and place in a roasting pan, if more herbs are needed just add more.


Bake the chicken for about 1 hour and 10 minutes, basting the chicken half way through and again during the last 10 minutes.  To test the doneness of your chicken, insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the breast, it should read 165F.  If you do not own a thermometer, cut into the chicken and if it releases pink juices it is undercooked.  Your chicken is done when the juices are a clear yellow.

Food Blog 022

Transfer the chicken to a carving board and allow it to rest for 10-20 minutes.  This allows the juices to settle into the meat so it does not end up running out all over the board.  To serve, begin carving the legs –it is easiest to cut at the joints.  Remove the wings and then the legs and thighs the same way.  To carve each breast, start at the breabone and cut downward and parallel to the rib cage.  Then make a deep horizontal cut right above the thigh and wing joints.  You can choose to serve the breasts whole or cut them into thin slices.

Food Blog 017

I hope everyone gives this recipe a shot, like I said it used minimal ingredients and theres not much to clean up either! You can save cooking time by cleaning as you go, so at the end you do not feel like you’ve made a mess at all 🙂 Remember, always keep your work space clean, it makes cooking a lot easier.

Like I said before, you can use these leftovers in various ways — chop up any leftovers and make a chicken salad, or even shred up the chicken and put it on a bed of field greens.  I like to keep the carcass and make a wonderful chicken stock out of it for sauces and soups, either way the options are limitless!

Chicken with Basil Butter and Succotash

Food Blog 068

Beans beans the magical fruit, the more you eat the more you…well you know how the rest of the saying goes.  Either way my fiance is stuck with me and what better way to use beans than in succotash! Succotash became popular during the Great Depression since beans were one of the few items that were cheap and readily available.  I managed to grab the last few ears of corn before having to wait til Summer to eat it again.  It’s a great dish for those cool fall nights, with the earthiness of the beans and corn enriched with the beautiful basil butter, it will leave your tummy happy and satisfied.


Ingredients for Succotash:

  • 1 1/2 cups dried mixed shell beans, such as lima, flageolets, fava, cranberry, kidney, or butter beans (allow to soak overnight)
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup fresh corn kernels (about 1 large ear of corn)
  • 1 small white onion, diced
  • 1 cup chicken or vegetable stock (can be store bought)
  • Kosher salt and black pepper to taste
  • 4 chicken breasts or thigh, cut and trimmed

Ingredients for Basil Butter:

  • 1 large shallot, finely minced
  • 1/2 cup chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine, such as Chardonnay
  • 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons of cold unsalted butter, cut into tiny cubes
  • 4 tablespoons fresh basil, cut into chiffonade

What the heck is chiffonade? It’s a technique of cutting ingredients like herbs into ribbons.  You stack the leaves ontop of each other and roll them into a cigar-like shape, the cut the roll crosswides and the pieces will unravel in ribbons.

Food Blog 072

For the succotash, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and fill a large bowl with ice water.  Add the beans to the boiling water and blanch for 3 to 4 minutes, drain and transfer to the bowl of ice water.  This will “shock” the beans and stop them from cooking as well as set the colors.  Drain again and set aside.  Heat a large and deep saucepan over medium heat with 2 tablespoons of butter.  Once it has melted add the onion and cook until soft and translucent, about 8 to 10 minutes.  Add the corn and beans and stir to heat through.  Pour in the stock and increase the heat to high.  Cook until the liquid is soaked up by the beans, but leave just enough to coat the vegetables, about 15 minutes.  If the beans are still too hard, simply add more stock and cook it down until they have softened.  However, becareful to not overcook the vegetables or they may discolor.  Season with salt and pepper to taste, cover to keep warm and set aside.


Preheat the oven to 400F.  Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan and saute the shallots.  Place the chicken breast or thigh on top and pour the stock and wine into the pan.  Sear the chicken on both sides and stick the pan into the oven and allow to cook the rest of the way, about 8-10 minutes.  Remove chicken from oven and pour the juices into a medium saucepan.  Cover the chicken with aluminum foil and set aside.  Add the lemon juice to the pan of juices and bring to a boil until reduced by half, about 3-4 minutes.  Stir in the cream and continue to boil for 1 minute.  Reduce the heat down to medium and slowly whisk in the cubes of butter, incorporating each cube before adding more.  Season with salt and pepper and stir in the chiffonade basil right before serving.

Food Blog 074

Plate the succotash with a slotted spoon and divide evenly among 4 plates.  Place the chicken on top and generously spoon over the sauce.  Serve immediately.