Vanilla Brownie Ice Cream Drizzled with Lavender Olive Oil

Lavender is like “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hide”. While its scent evokes a sense of relaxation and calmness, its flavor wakes you up with a peppery and minty kick that has a sweet and floral flavor with lemon and citrus notes. In the last several months, I have had tons of fun making savory dishes with my lavender olive oil in my California kitchen. The oil’s blended flavors of mint, rosemary and evergreen, with its buttery texture and floral notes, have given a great depth of flavors to my dishes. Today, experimenting beyond savory dishes, I’ve decided to drizzle a bit of my lavender olive oil on top of vanilla brownie ice cream on this hot summer day.

Wow. How well my lavender olive oil pairs with the bitter sweet brownies, sweet aromatic vanilla and creamy rich ice cream! Like yin and yang, the sweetness of this ice cream gets beautifully contrasted by the peppery-ness of my lavender olive oil. The mysterious scents and flavors of the lavender olive oil also give a wonderful mouth feeling of “coolness” and “freshness” in every bite. This experiment turns out to be great fun on a hot day like today. If you’re having ice cream this summer, try it with my lavender olive oil as a topping. It will excite your palate and may even help cool down the heat a bit. Enjoy! Happy Summer!

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Curried Bruschetta with Goat Cheese & Heirloom Tomatoes

In our Christianity influenced society, goats’ heads, especially with their weird eyes, are often associated with the devil, while the sheep symbolize innocence. Last week my perception of goats being strange completely changed when I visited Harley’s Goat Farm in Pescadero, California. Contrary to their sometimes negatively portrayed image, goats are, in fact, very friendly, social and curious. In some ways, their extremely inquisitive minds resemble myself. Upon my immediate entry to Harley’s Farm, a herd of goats came to check me out. They started following me while rubbing my butt to scratch their horns and trying to nibble at my shoe races, jackets and buttons. But, when I pushed them, they stopped eating my clothes right away. Not only were they gentle, but they were also intelligent enough to get my cues.

I wouldn’t mind having a goat as a pet if I had a big yard like I did in Africa. Not only are goats great to hang out with, but they also produce amazingly delicious chèvre cheese. On average a goat in its prime time produces about 6 to 8 lb of milk every day (around a gallon). If you take the raw goat milk, let it naturally curdle, hang the curds in bundles of cheesecloth to drain overnight and then finally press the curds, you have home-made, fresh chèvre cheese in your kitchen.

Since I can’t keep a live goat in my condo, instead of making fresh chèvre cheese in my kitchen, I’ve decided to make delicious curried bruschetta using Harley farm’s fresh chèvre cheese, heirloom tomatoes and chives.

To start, preheat a broiler and toast the baguette slices on both sides. Next, reduce the oven temperature to 325F. Separately, with a knife, place a slice of chèvre cheese on each piece of baguette and drizzle some 7th taste curry olive oil on top. Next, place a slice of heirloom tomatoes and a few sliced chives on top of the chèvre cheese. Finally, bake them at 325F for 10 minutes and serve immediately.

Creamy, tangy and sharp, chèvre cheese blends in deliciously with the aromatic, spicy and buttery curry olive oil. When topped with the mildly acidic, subtly sweet heirloom tomatoes and delicate chives, a bite of this bruschetta gets even more exciting. Not only are the sweetness, spiciness, sourness and saltiness perfectly balanced, but also the crunchy baguette, creamy chèvre cheese and juicy heirloom tomatoes make the texture of the bruschetta very pleasing on the palatte. Moreover, the slices of chives add such a nice touch of mild sweet onion flavors to every bite. Yum! Try this recipe while the heirloom tomatoes are still in season. If you prefer a more “traditional-looking” bruschetta, bake the chèvre cheese together with diced heirloom tomatoes, some chives and curry olive oil until warm and then place them on top of a toasted baguette. My method is slightly faster and tastes equally good! Enjoy the recipe and happy cooking.

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Heirloom Tomato Salsa with Ancho Grilled Prawns

Every summer sun-kissed, colorful, juicy heirloom tomatoes get my mouth absolutely watery. Rich, deep and meaty, these tomatoes have fantastic flavors and texture. They also have such a great balance of sugar and acid that it’s easy to pop them into my mouth all day long. How thirst quenching they are on a warm Summer day! This season, in order to enjoy the great pleasure of heirloom tomatoes, beyond just snacking, I’ve decided to make a salsa with them to serve with ancho grilled prawns, rice and beans in my California kitchen.

First, finely chop one red onion and mix it with a pinch of sea salt in a bowl. Next, finely dice 2 large ripe red heirloom tomatoes (i.e. Pantano Romanesco or Sainte Lucie varietals) and combine with the chopped onion, ½ cup cilantro (chopped), juice from ½ lemon, juice from ½ lime, 1 Tablespoon jalapeno (chopped), some sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste in the bowl. Mix all ingredients well with a spoon. Separately, de-shell 1 lb prawns except tails and marinate with pinch of sea salt, 1 Tablespoon 7th taste ancho chili olive oil, 1 green onion (chopped), 1 Tablespoon cilantro (chopped), juice from ½ lemon and juice from ½ lime in a small bowl. Next, heat some 7th taste ancho chili olive oil on a pan and grill the prawns for a couple of minutes. Finally, serve them with the heirloom tomato salsa and rice and beans on side.

This salsa is very aromatic and packed with distinctively sweet, tangy and herbal flavors. The crunchy red onion and soft heirloom tomatoes give a nice texture variation, while balanced acid and a mild heat linger on my mouth for a long time. The heirloom tomatoes’ refreshing flavors beautifully shine through in every bite of this salsa. It’s truly invigorating and addictive. I could barely stop myself from just picking up the bowl and drinking the whole liquid of this salsa! But, I force myself to wait. This heirloom tomato salsa gets even better when eaten with my ancho chili oil soaked citrus-y prawns and a bowl of rice and beans.  It adds tons of vibrant flavors to these dishes.  So, enjoy them together during one of these balmy Summer days. Enjoy my recipe and the heirloom tomato season. Happy cooking!

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Lavender Yogurt Chicken Kabob

In this Summer BBQ season, what is your favorite way to cook the chicken? A friend of mine likes to marinate it with vinegar to add flavor and make the meat tender, while another friend prefers to rub her own dry spice mix on the meat before grilling. I also have a couple of friends who pick up a sugar-loaded, conveniently-packaged bottle of BBQ sauce from a store and brush it on the meat before throwing it on to the hot charcoals. For me, one of my favorite ways to BBQ the chicken is to marinate it in a “sugar-free” yogurt-olive oil sauce before grilling. Not only does this marinade add tons of delicious flavors to the chicken, but it also tenderizes the meat very nicely. I also like to put small cuts of the chicken meat on skewers when I cook outdoor. It’s a lot of fun to pick it up with hands and eat with no mess, no fuss. With that thought, last weekend I made a lavender yogurt chicken kabob to eat outdoor on a beautiful, sunny California afternoon. It came out so soft and juicy that I’d decided to share my simple BBQ recipe here.

To start, in a bowl, mix 1 cup plain yogurt, ¼ cup 7th taste lavender olive oil, 2 garlic cloves (crushed), juice from a ½ lemon and some sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Then, add 2 lbs skinless, boneless chicken thigh/breast (cut into 2 inches cubes) to the sauce and coat them with the sauce. Then, cover the bowl and let the chicken marinate for about an hour (or overnight up to 12 hours) in the refrigerator. Next, thread the chicken pieces on the skewers and grill the meat for about 15 minutes until all sides are lightly browned. Before serving, garnish with some parsley.

This chicken is so good that it’s really hard to stop eating them. The yogurt’s creaminess, the lemon’s tanginess and the lavender olive oil’s floral buttery-ness are perfectly infused into each chicken piece. It has such a rich mouth feel, while at the same time the refreshing lemon flavors cut through the richness of the chicken and olive oil. And what an interesting dimension the floral notes adds to each bite! I can’t believe how moist and tasty all these chicken pieces come out! Next time when you’re grilling, consider this super-easy recipe. It will make a lot of people happy at your cookout get-together, especially folks who are on “sugar-free” diet. Enjoy the recipe and happy cooking!

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Curried Papaya Pork Soup with Roussanne

“I am hungry. Does anyone have a snack I can borrow?”, I said. “Have some papaya”, said my colleagues. “My stomach is upset”, I said. “Have some papaya”, said my neighbors. During my 2 year service with the US Peace Corps in Kenya, rich orange colored papaya popped everywhere I went in my tropical village from the sunrise to sunset. Papaya, which is known to grow especially well in the hot tropical climate, was my essential daily staple that I couldn’t live without during my service there. Sweet, musky and butter-like, this sun-bursting color of tropics is not only delicious, but also has many healthy benefits, including as a great digestive aid. I simply adore papaya.

Every summer in California, the appearance of vibrant sunlit papaya reminds me of my sun drenched tropical days in Africa, and my mouth gets watery. Today, in order to bring this tropical taste to my California kitchen, I’ve decided to make a curried papaya pork soup with farm fresh corn, coconut and ginger.

First, season 1.5 lbs of lean pork loin with some sea salt, freshly ground black pepper and juice from a ½ lime. Grind it in a food processor. Separately, puree 3 lbs ripe papaya (peeled and seeded) and corn kernels from 2 ears of corn with a 14 oz can of coconut milk in a food processor. Next, heat up some 7th taste curry olive oil in a cast iron pot and sauté 1 onion (chopped), a thumb size ginger (peeled and grated) and a couple of mild small green peppers (chopped) for a couple of minutes. Next, add the ground & seasoned pork to the pot and continue sautéing until the pork is cooked. Then, pour the papaya-corn-coconut puree into the pot and bring it to a boil. Season with some sea salt, freshly ground black pepper and juice from a ½ lime. Stir well and simmer for about 5-10 minutes. Finally, serve with some bread or rice.

I am pairing this savory-sweet papaya soup with a 2010 Andre et Michel Quenard’s Roussanne from the Savoie region located in the mountainous areas just south of Lake Geneva. (Note: the label says “Chignin-Bergeron”. Chignin is a village located in South Eastern France, and Bergeron is a local name for the Roussanne grape varietal.) Grown on sunny, South-West facing slopes, this Roussanne grape varietal from the Savoie region is intense, rich and aromatic. Exploding with the flavors of honey, pear, citrus and with hints of tropical fruits and flowery herbal tea, this silky wine gives a very clean, long finish with a subtly sweet spice aftertaste.

When I pair this wine with my savory-sweet papaya soup, the ripe fruit flavors of the wine further draw out the sweet tropical flavors of my soup. The thickness and creaminess of my soup also picks up on the rich texture of the wine. I especially love that the mild spiciness of the soup is beautifully counterbalanced by subtly sweet spice notes in the wine. This wine and soup pairing is unbelievable, mirroring how the sweet and savory flavors within the soup deliciously balance each other. Try making this simple yet absolutely sumptuous papaya soup this weekend and enjoy it with a glass of Roussanne. It will blow your mind mind and palette this Summer. Happy cooking and wine pairing.

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Rocky Mountain Braised Steak

At the 14,110 foot summit of Pike’s Peak in Colorado, I reached out my hand to touch the snow white, fluffy clouds that covered the view downslope. All of a sudden, the clouds mysteriously started dancing in the mountain breeze. Then magically, they split unveiling the spectacular view of reservoirs and foothills covered with luscious green trees. At that mind-blowing moment, I thought to myself, “Wow. Timing is everything. Like those moving clouds, things keep changing in our lives. When the window of opportunity suddenly opens up, like this amazing view on a cloudy day, I should seize it and make it mine”.

Mountains are so inspiring. On the peak, I always feel like I could overcome any obstacles in life. Its fresh air, shadow and light also offer such simple pleasures, while its peaceful, calming silence makes me reflect my nature and nourishes my soul in its natural beauty.

Colorado, which encompasses the beautiful Southern Rocky mountains, is a great place to relax, renew and rejuvenate. I love its friendly atmosphere and laid-back ambiance, but dealing with the altitude can be a bit challenging. One way to cope with the high altitude “discomfort” is by increasing the consumption of carbohydrate foods. It is believed that increasing carbs to as much as 70% of one’s total energy intake makes it easier for oxygen to dissolve into the blood at high elevations. With that, locals told me they eat lots of potatoes and pasta along with the steak produced by the many cattle ranches located in Eastern Colorado. Being in love with the beauty of Colorado nature, I am making a braised Rocky Mountain steak in my California kitchen today.

First, rub 2 lbs beef of round steak with some sea salt on one side and sprinkle some freshly ground black pepper on it. Then pound ¼ cup flour into both sides of the meat with a meat tenderizer and cut it into 1 inch strips. Next, heat ½ cup 7th taste mushroom olive oil in a cast iron pot and sauté 2 garlic cloves (crushed), 2 onions (sliced) and 8 oz box of whole mushrooms (washed) for about 5 minutes. Then, add the floured meat and brown both sides of each slice. Next, add 1 chopped tomato (~1 cup) to the pot, 1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce and ¼ cup full bodied dry red wine and season with some sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Cover and simmer until the meat turns tender. And, stir the pot occasionally to prevent sticking and burning on the bottom. Lastly, sprinkle some fresh parsley before serving it with mashed potatoes.

Though time-consuming, this delicious steak is relatively easy to make. Smokey, tangy and earthy, it has many layers of complexities and very well-balanced flavors. How lip-smacking a slice of juicy steak coated with the fantastic sauce is! Try this recipe from the inspiring Rocky Mountains this weekend. It will delight you, your family, and friends, just like Pikes Peak blew me away with its incredible charm. Happy cooking!

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New Orleans’ Maque Choux Corn: Summer Cajun Side Dish

The image of New Orleans’ vibrant charm reminds me of the dazzling Caribbean Sun with beautiful mulatto women walking coquettishly in colorful sun dresses by the turquoise water.  In spite of having to rebuild large swathes of the city after hurricane Katrina, locals still seem to “let the good times roll” (Laissez le bon temps rouler, in French) with high spirit.  Every street corner is filled with the sweet melodies of blues, jazz or rock and the alluring aromas of Cajun foods. One of the most memorable things about New Orleans for me was watching people throwing strings of beads down on beautiful strollers from the cast-iron balconies of Bourbon Street. If I were there and decided to throw strings of beads on the most impressive dish in New Orleans, they would land on “Maque Choux Corn”. It’s a summer Cajun dish made with fresh corn, green bell pepper, tomato and a local seasoning mix. It’s a tasty side dish perfect for your 4th of July weekend BBQ.

To make it, first scrape corn kernels from 8 ears of corn and place them in a bowl. In a big cast iron pot, heat some 7th taste ancho chili olive oil and sauté ½ sweet onion (chopped), ½ green bell pepper (chopped), 1 clove garlic (crushed) and 1 fresh tomato (chopped). Then, add the corn kernels to the pot and season it with 1 teaspoon brown sugar, ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper and sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Stir well and and simmer with the cover about 20-30 minutes until the corns turn tender.

This braised corn, tomato and pepper dish, a fusion food originated in New Orleans under the influence of French Acadians and Native Americans, is so simple yet so good! The sweet, buttery, peppery taste is as gentle and harmonious as New Orleans’ sweet jazz melodies filling the narrow French alleys in the moonlight. It will melt in your mouth like butter, while perfectly accompanying your summer BBQ. Enjoy the recipe and happy cooking on the 4th of July!

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Cactus Mushroom Rigatoni

When I was studying for my master’s in the middle of the Arizona desert, we had an unusual “accident” one night. A very drunk classmate of mine, who had drunk tons of alcohol and was desperately searching for a toilet, quite happily finally found one and sat down to use it. Unfortunately, the cactus he sat on made for a very poor toilet, and a trip to the hospital. Imagine hundreds of sharp thorns stuck on your butt. Just thinking about it has made me ache for a long time. That fear of pointy cactus, however, recently turned into my new fascination. A co-worker of mine from Mexico brought a sautéed cactus for lunch, and I got to taste a spoonful of it. The lemony flavor and cucumbery texture of the cactus totally marveled me. I never expected something that can be so very hurtful can be so astonishingly delightful. That evening I went to a Mexican grocery store after work and picked up some cactus to cook. And, that night a delicious cactus mushroom rigatoni came out of my California kitchen. Refreshing and hearty, it is a great one pot meal you and your family will love very much this Summer.

To start, heat some of my mushroom olive oil in a pot and sauté 1 onion (chopped), 4 garlic cloves (crushed), 1 green chili (chopped), 1-2 large cactus (cleaned & chopped into bite sizes) and 2 portobello mushrooms (cleaned & chopped into bite sizes). Then, add 1 tomatillo (chopped) and 3 roma tomatoes (chopped) to the pot. Next, pour 4 cups of chicken stock and bring it to boil. Then, add 5-6 sprigs of cilantro, a corn cob (cut into half) and 30-40 pieces of rigatoni to the pot and season with a dash of anise seeds and some sea salt to taste. Lastly, simmer with cover until the rigatoni turns tender. Before serving, sprinkle some fresh cilantro and drizzle some of my ancho chili olive oil.

This riganoti is sumptuously delicious. It soaks in the tasty broth filled with flavors of earthiness, smokiness, sourness, spiciness and herbaceousness. A spoonful of the meaty mushroom and the crunchy cactus together balances each other so beautifully like “ying” and “yang” both in their textures and in their flavors. How irresistibly refreshing it is to bite into acidic tomatillo and cactus deliciously blended with smoky, fruity ancho chili olive oil and earthy, buttery mushroom olive oil. Enjoy this recipe on a balmy sunny day this Summer. Happy cooking!

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Sautéd Watermelon Rinds with Tequila & Ancho Chili Olive Oil

Many years ago I had a roommate named Lisa in Berkeley. Lisa, who grew up in a simple Mid-Western society, believed in living with “as little waste as possible”. I found her way of living very inspiring. Under her influence, I started recycling everything and using food compost, instead of filling up my garbage bags. Her practicality and frugality also taught me to get rid of “unnecessary” things that would clog up the house, as well as creatively reuse things I would normally throw away. Last April, while visiting the Amish village in Pennsylvania, I discovered that the Amish, who also embraced the philosophy of “no waste in life” like Lisa did, were pickling watermelon rinds to eat. Until that visit, I had no idea that watermelon rinds were not only edible but also had great nutrients. I couldn’t wait to try making something interesting with the watermelon rinds when I return to California.

Now that the Summer is here, thirst-quenching, juicy watermelons are everywhere. Last week, after happily de-fruiting a 14 lbs watermelon, I stir-fried its rinds, instead of throwing them away. Many of my friends got to try it for their first time when I took it to a Memorial Day weekend BBQ/picnic. Thankfully, they loved it. This refreshing side dish is awesome for a summer picnic or BBQ. Next time when you finish up a watermelon, try my stir-fried watermelon rinds recipe.

First, de-fruit and de-skin the green outer parts of the watermelon and shred them in a food processor. Next, preheat 2 Tablespoons 7th taste Ancho Chili Olive Oil in a big pot and sauté 2 garlic cloves (crushed), 4 green onions (chopped) and a thumb size ginger (chopped). Then, add the shredded watermelon rinds to the pot and continue to cook. Next, season with 2 Tablespoons tequila, juice from 1 lime, 1 Tablespoon honey, 1 Tablespoon cumin seeds and sea salt to taste. Mix everything with a wooden spoon and simmer with cover until the watermelon rinds turn tender. Before serving, drizzle a bit of ancho chili olive oil.

Watermelon rinds are like a big white canvas waiting for a great artist to paint a world-class masterpiece on it. Tasting like a blend of squash, carrots and cucumber with a hint of sweet watermelon, watermelon rinds are great “vegetables” to season with whatever inspiring seasoning mix you can think of. I like my simple seasoning mix on the watermelon rinds, because this delicious sauté has a smoky, earthy and nutty taste to it with a balanced sweetness and sourness. The crunchy texture of the watermelon rinds is also nicely accentuated by spicy, peppery cumin seeds with their distinctly robust aroma. Yum. How wonderful it is to turn this watermelon “compost” into a delicious Summer side dish. I hope you enjoy this recipe. Happy cooking!

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Mushroom Chicken Pilau

“You’re eating rice for breakfast?”, said my friends with their eyebrows raised all the way to their foreheads. In Korean culture, many of us couldn’t think of any meals without a bowl of rice on our dining table. But, my Western friends, who grew up with bread, couldn’t possibly imagine eating rice 3 times a day, especially for early morning breakfast. Rice, the most important crop in Korea, is also the king dish in Afghanistan. Wealthy Afghan families often eat one rice dish per day, much like high class Koreans (i.e. “yang ban”) used to eat a meat dish as their status symbol in old Korean society. Because of its status, a variety of delicious rice dishes are also made for special occasions in Afghanistan. They are considered to be the best part of the meal, like “turkey on Thanksgiving” in the US. Finding Afghan foods to be one of the most flavorful cuisines in the world, I am making a king of my meal today, an Afghan mushroom chicken pilau.

To start, wash 2 ½ cups basmati rice and soak it in water. Separately, rub some sea salt and freshly ground black pepper on 1 lb skinless chicken drumsticks. Next, preheat 2 Tablespoons 7th taste mushroom olive oil in a thick cast iron pot and sauté 1 onion (chopped) for a couple of minutes. Then add the chicken and brown all sides of the meats. Next, add 6 chopped tomatoes (~3 cups) to the pot. Continue cooking the chicken with tomato and onion for about 15-20 minutes. Then, stir in one 8 oz box of fresh mushrooms (washed and quartered) and a couple of chopped green chili (optional) to the pot, along with 2 teaspoons ground cardamom, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Next, drain the rice and add it to the pot. Bring the pot to boil and simmer with the cover, until the rice and chicken are completely cooked. Before serving, stir in all ingredients and drizzle a bit of my mushroom olive oil.

What an amazing “king” this dish turned out to be. Each spoonful has a great depth and complexity of tangy tomato, rich chicken and earthy mushrooms with a soft undertone of buttery mushroom olive oil and smoky cardamom. A bite of this mushroom chicken pilau also has amazing multi-flavor dimensions, ranging from an earthiness to a crisp sweetness to a mild spiciness to a smooth butteriness to a minty coolness in the throat. Flavors are not only beautifully balanced but also uniquely contrasting each other. There is just so much going on in every bite, but nothing screams out with a dominant voice. This rice dish is like listening to a beautiful octet acapella without a prima donna. If every “king” of the meal is balanced like this, I can’t imagine what a problem-free dining world we would have. Enjoy this delicious Afghan recipe. Happy cooking.

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