Friday, December 12, 2014

chicken (jook) for the soul

Cold-busting in more ways than one and boiled down with lots of love, this Chinese-style chicken jook is quintessential Asian comfort food. Essentially rice boiled down with broth into a thick porridge, it's what my mom used to make whenever I was sick and sniffly. Soft rice is easy on an upset stomach, and the ginger and garlic combo is a cure-all for just about everything - not to mention delicious.  

Traditionally served for breakfast, you can eat this savory porridge as is or enjoy it with an assortment of flavorful toppings - my favorite part. My family used to set everything out on the kitchen counter for each person to add at their preference: flavorful chopped cilantro, white Chinese pepper, crispy fried garlic, and a little less traditional - lots of hot chili sauce. It's filling, easy, and delicious. What more could you ask for?

Chicken (Jook) for the soul

for 10 servings

for jook:
One whole chicken, raw
1.5 inch piece fresh ginger, skin peeled 
1 tsp salt
10 cups water
1 tbsp dried shrimp
2 smashed garlic cloves
1 cup jasmine rice
2 tsp fish sauce
dried mushrooms (optional)

to serve
5-6 cloves chopped garlic
2 tbsp oil

as desired:
sesame oil
fresh green onion, chopped
fresh cilantro, chopped
Sriracha hot sauce
sesame seeds
Chinese white pepper

to make
1. Soak dried shrimp in hot water for ten minutes.

2. Chop the raw chicken into 10-12 pieces. If this sounds intimidating, there are lots of videos like this one you can use for reference. I always just find it cheaper and easier to buy a whole chicken - the added bones make the broth richer and more flavorful, and you get so much more meat. However, you can substitute this step with a mix of white and dark meats and store-bought chicken broth if it's more comfortable.

3. Place chicken pieces in a large pot and cover them with 10 cups of water. Mince ginger and add to chicken along with salt, garlic, soaked shrimp, and jasmine rice. 

4. Bring all ingredients to a boil, then lower heat and cover. Simmer for about an hour, stirring occasionally, until the rice has broken down into a thick, porridge-like consistency. 

5. Transfer chicken pieces to a cutting board. When they have cooled sufficiently, use your hands to shred the meat, discarding bones and cartilage. Stir the shredded meat back into pot, then season porridge with fish sauce as needed.

to enjoy

Fry chopped garlic in oil on medium high heat until light brown all over and crispy. 

Ladle jook into bowls and drizzle with sesame oil. Top as desired with any combination of fried garlic, chopped cilantro, chopped green onion, sesame seeds, Chinese white pepper, and Sriracha.

If you're feeling under the weather, enjoy this one next to a fresh mug of hot green tea with lots of lemon and honey. Go back for seconds, take your time, and enjoy.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

loch lomond / travels

It's been a whirlwind three(?!) weeks here in the UK, but things are beginning to fall into something that resembles normalcy.

A quick recap: I'm studying abroad at the University of Sussex in Brighton, England for eight weeks and so far I've visited London, Paris, and Scotland during the breaks. Traveling is novel and thrilling, but it's a relief to be able stay in this weekend. It's the first time I've been able to catch my breath, explore Brighton more extensively and just sit down and think. I've been walking everywhere with eyes wide open and just soaking it all up, but I haven't yet sat down to remember it with pen and paper - and I think I might regret that later. So here I am.

Hopefully I'll get to the others, but I wanted to start with Scotland because the memories are solely mine. I had originally planned to travel with other people that weekend, but apart from meeting up with school friends briefly in Edinburgh, I spent the three days alone. There's something wildly freeing about traveling by yourself; a sense of wonder and strength in discovering abilities you never knew you had, a special delight in experiencing moments of your own making. I spent a happy three days meandering alleyways, stopping in little shops, reading in cafes, talking with locals, visiting museums and gardens, and just seeing - just being present. And it felt so good.

The day I visited Loch Lomond encapsulated everything I loved about traveling alone. It's the pacing. I spent a few hours walking along a wooded path, approaching each new sight with camera in hand. I got lost. I ate with a book for company. I got lost again (kind of a lot of times). I took the bus to a tiny village halfway up the coast and started, maybe a little recklessly, a hiking trail I'd looked up beforehand. It was just after 7pm and no one was on the path, but I've always liked hiking alone - you can hear, smell, and feel the stillness.

It was a steep, hour-long hike to the crest on a path bordered by increasingly beautiful views and never-ending green. I wanted to stop at every turn in the road, but nothing beat the final climb. When I finally made it to the top, it was just me. I took one step and suddenly I could see everything for miles and miles and the weather was absolutely perfect and a huge gust of wind was lifting me up. I had this epiphany where I realized the closest people I knew were hundreds of miles beyond everything I could see, and I was halfway across the world from everything I'd ever known. That scared me for a second - but the world was beautiful and tangible and there. I'd never felt so small or so free. I never wanted to come down.

I walked the rest of the way down feeling a little bit smaller and a just a little bit older. The weirdest but best part of this trip was realizing that I had the capacity to do things on my own - to fly by myself, to climb mountains by myself, that everything else in comparison sounded doable.

I've included some pictures as well as a video, in an attempt to capture what it was like - the mesmerizing, ever-changing water, the medley of sounds, the plant and wildlife, the intoxicating stillness of everything. I tried to do it justice but really, you have to go for yourself. The digital representations of things never even come close to touching their real-life presence.

Ah, this was such a special trip and I know it will stay one of my favorite places. Until next time, Scotland. I love you, I love you, I love you. 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

ode to summer days

Here's to the best of summer days: afternoon light tempered by shade, bare feet tickled by grass, and familiar conversation that makes the hours melt by.

Warm, easy and slow.

Spending time with this one is always such a joy. Here's a short video of a recent excursion to a local public garden, where we celebrated the end of her school year and meandered through the grounds. Summer never felt better. Thanks to the best friend/model ever for being so patient and lovely.

Monday, June 16, 2014

picnic for two (+ beet veggie burgers)

It's a constant theme of growing older: coming to terms with a lack of constancy that slowly nudges you toward self-sufficiency. Sometimes you go from seeing people every day - people you grew up with - to not seeing them for ever-widening gaps of time. It becomes normal, expected. When I see old faces, I always worry beforehand that conversation will dissolve into recollection, that the time apart is insurmountable and we no longer stand on common ground. So often, I find those worries unfounded.

The thing about food is that it brings people together; if nothing else you can talk about the meal or savor bites in easy silence. I made lunch plans with an old friend the other day, and we decided on a picnic - the quintessential summer meal. We tried taking it to a public garden, but were thwarted by the no food rule (and our very obvious picnic baskets) so instead claimed a spot at a nearby park. A lot can happen in two years, and it was so good catching up. I'm learning that although time apart in friendships is becoming all too common, it no longer seems like such a big deal. What's a few months, a year? We're young, we're only just beginning to understand just how young we are. There's time to talk, there's time to grow, there's time to enjoy summer picnics in the grass.

We munched on bread and butter, kale salad (kale, berries, candied walnuts, feta cheese and balsamic vinaigrette), fresh fruit, brussel sprouts (halved, steamed, then sautéed in a pan with butter, onion, salt and pepper), and wholesome beet-based veggie patties that I'll include a recipe for below. 

veggie burgers with beet & corn

for 8 patties

1 cup cooked beets
1/4 cup millet flour
1/4 cup quinoa flour
1 tbsp ground flaxseed
1 cup cooked quinoa
1/2 onion
2 cloves garlic
1 tbsp olive oil
2 hefty pinches brown sugar
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
1 egg
1 cup cooked corn
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cumin
1 tsp thyme
olive oil, for cooking

to serve
sliced fresh avocado

to make
Mash beets in a large bowl, set aside. 

Mince onion and garlic. Sautee in a pan with 1 tbsp olive oil over medium high heat until soft and translucent, then stir in brown sugar and balsamic vinegar and cook for 1-2 more minutes. Place cooked onion and garlic in bowl with mashed beets, then add the flours, cooked quinoa, flaxseed, seasonings, egg and corn. Gently stir mixture until all ingredients are well incorporated. 

Heat olive oil in a pan on medium heat, then plop double spoonfuls of mixture onto pan in circles about the size of the palm of your hand. Flatten gently with the back of a spoon, then cook until the bottom is browned and the entire patty feels firm and sturdy, about 5 minutes. Flip, repeat. Watch the stove temperature carefully; if it's too hot it will burn without cooking through, and it it's too cool the bottom won't get the right color or texture. 

Cool on a wire rack before packing in containers to picnic. When you've taken them out to eat, serve with sliced avocado and cucumber - it's an absolutely heavenly combination. To make this a one-dish meal, serve stacked with roasted or grilled fresh veggies: bell pepper, mushroom; fresh pickles and tomato, in addition to aforementioned accompaniments.  

It was a perfect afternoon, cooler than the scorching summer heat I've become accustomed to in my time home. It was a lazy meal, eaten steadily and enjoyed in good company. Food never tastes better than when eaten outside and shared, and this was no exception. Here's to the best of summer days.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

chicago | bear with me

With family:

The small moments - savoring the small hints of mirth, betrayed by a twitching of the lips; sitting and waiting for things to happen; preparing food and taking care of one another.

One pivotal moment - graduation.

In these moments, I'm beginning to understand how vast are the depths of thankfulness; I'm only just learning how much room my love has to grow.


Even in an entirely different state, actions are familiar: the way my father starts joking and making faces when he catches the eye of the camera, the way my mother fusses in taking care of us all, the way my brother pushes me over and over but finally, fiiiiinally lets me hug him. :-)

Capturing it is easy in the way pictures and videos are easy - just a click of a button. What's so much more difficult for me is the articulation, finding the exact way of grasping with words the things I value, and why. Especially the most important things.

When we flew out to Chicago for my brother's college graduation, I was standing on the balcony at his apartment when it struck me how long it had been since the last time I stood there: three years ago, the summer we helped him move in. Before that, the year we said goodbye in a hotel room and watched the door close behind him, almost in slow motion, then sat in silence wondering how the time had passed so quickly. So much is changing. Sometimes the differences seem imperceptible, and sometimes it hits me all at once. Sometimes it's little things, like flipping through old pictures and realizing the girl who shares my face is now a stranger. Sometimes it's comprehending that I just flew out to see my brother graduate college - a place I was still processing that he left for in the first place.

A lot of things have shifted, including us. The family of my childhood is inarguably different and marked by time. We are a group of people with whom time together is scarce, and all the more precious to me because of it. Family is really such an inextricable part of who you are - who you were, who you'll be, because of the good and the bad. It took me a long time to realize that instead of trying to escape it, but despite my reluctancy, immaturity and inability to express it, I'm thankful. 

Thanks for bearing with me. Now, here is an illustration of my family in bear form. 

A note: This blog started off as an extension of a pre-existing Instagram hashtag (explained in the link) dedicated to food. However, I quickly realized this focus was narrow and limiting in its capacity to express everything I wanted to express. For a while, I've been debating whether I should change the name of my blog or start a new one altogether to house a broader scope of interests. However, I've decided to keep my name - I've grown quite attached to it - and group like-minded posts with labels. Hopefully that will suffice, but there is still a "to eat" tab to get your #thekaikitchen fix all in one place.

That's all for now. Adieu, Blogland. 

Friday, June 6, 2014

(the best) blueberry coconut pancakes

For the blissfully slow mornings, when eating breakfast food while wearing pajamas doesn't quite mean that it's still an appropriate time for breakfast. For the lazy summer days when working from home means working from bed, or the weekend mornings that welcome you with steady light and open schedules. 

For me, nothing says "brunch" more than pancakes. They're fluffy, versatile, delicious with minimal effort and paired with my favorite fruits and spreads; they can act simply and play foil to more extravagant breakfast dishes or light up a meal of their own accord. There's really nothing better. 

I woke up to my morning home alone in a while, without an agenda and with lots of time. Naturally, I cooked. These are the fruits of my (incredibly simple) labors: Moist, light, and flavorful blueberry coconut pancakes. These are everything pancakes strive to be, but also everything most breakfast carbs can only dream of becoming. These stacks of brunchy perfection are whole wheat, low in fat, and accompanied with plenty of healthy fruits. This is a recipe for a comforting meal you can indulge in without feeling guilty about, so dig in!

makes 10 medium-sized pancakes or 6 large pancakes

to make:
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons whole wheat flour
1/4 cup quinoa flour
1/4 cup rolled oats
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 cup soymilk
2 eggs
1 banana
dash cinnamon
3/4 cup blueberries
coconut oil, for frying

to serve:
fresh berries or fruit
shaved coconut
100% pure maple syrup

Whisk together dry ingredients in a large bowl, set aside. In smaller bowl, mash banana and add eggs; whisk together. Add wet ingredients to dry and mix until incorporated, then fold in blueberries.

Melt coconut oil in a pan over medium heat, gently rotating pan to evenly distribute oil. Spoon a large dollop of batter onto pan and cook pancake until golden brown, about 2-3 minutes each side. Repeat with remaining batter, adding coconut oil in between batches as needed. 

Stack pancakes, drizzle with syrup, top with berries or fruit, sprinkle with coconut. Slice, eat, close eyes and chew slowly to enjoy; there's no need to rush this breakfast, and that's all there is to it. Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

cauliflower pizza + butternut squash and avocado topping

It's been good to be home, if not a little surreal. Sometimes, being here feels like an extended vacation, a break from a more tangible life. Living out of suitcases I never unpack, making plans for the upcoming weeks of school, answering emails and messages from people hundreds of miles away. Scrambling to spend precious few hours with old friends, but taking so much time to update each other that we're hardly able to catch our breath and create new memories.

For the first time in a while, being home feels like home. The semester (and half of college??) is over, I'm taking deep breaths, and it's easier to be present. I've been waking up to knocks on my door, my parents' voices, and food in the kitchen, rather than the blaring street noises and hurried meals I've become used to. There is comfort in the familiarity of action: backing out of the driveway, arranging my cat in the crook of my arm, padding barefoot in sleep clothes to get milk from the garage.

There is comfort in the familiarity of people as well. This weekend, I was able to spend time with two beautiful, graceful and crafty friends I hadn't seen in a while. We've never lived close, so time together is rare. Over the years, that distance has cultivated friendship that is gentle and unassuming, but precious and steadfast, and it's made me all the more thankful for simple moments like these.

We met up at a farmer's market near Sarah's home to peruse ingredients, then settled down at Amy's house, where we chatted and snacked, then practiced for an upcoming campus ministry event before making dinner. 

On somewhat of a whim, we decided to try making cauliflower pizza. Cauliflower topping, you say? Oh no. If you haven't heard of it, 'tis a delicious whole wheat/gluten-free/veggie-friendly version of the familiar greasy dinner we consumed at childhood birthday parties and group gatherings. Cauliflower is used to make a perfectly toasty and yummy crust, then layered with fresh ingredients that beat any ol' slice of Domino's. This version was scrumptious and filling, but not heavy at all, making it a perfect summer treat. Try making your own with this simple recipe, or switch it up with your own favorite toppings.

Cauliflower Pizza + Butternut Squash and Avocado Topping

makes two medium-sized pizzas or one massive pizza

one medium cauliflower head
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
3 tbsp gluten free flour
1 tbsp ground flaxseed
1 egg
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp salt

one small/medium butternut squash
2 tbsp olive oil
a few pinches salt & pepper
2 tsp brown sugar
1 tsp cayenne pepper
4 oz. diced salami (we used packaged beef salami from the farmer's market)
any kind of pizza sauce (ours: trader giotto's bruschetta!)
2 cups shredded white blend italian cheeses
1 ripe, sliced avocado
black pepper

Oven - 400 degrees

First, peel and slice butternut squash then drizzle with olive oil and toss with cayenne pepper, brown sugar, salt and pepper. Arrange evenly on baking sheet covered with parchment paper, and bake for 40-45 minutes, until soft with golden brown edges.

To make the crust, rice the cauliflower by trimming the florets with a knife or mandolin so that you are left with a heap of fluffy white "rice." Discard stems, transfer cauliflower to a bowl and microwave on high for 7 minutes. Mix with whole wheat and gluten free flours, mozzarella, flaxseed, egg, olive oil, and spices until incorporated to form dough.

Grease or flour a baking sheet spread with parchment paper. This step is extreeeeemely important because the dough is sticky and and difficult to take off otherwise! I'm speaking from personal experience... Shape the dough into two identical rectangles that are about 1/4 inch thick. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until golden brown and firm.

Remove crust from oven and spread with pizza sauce and cheese, then layer with salami and butternut squash. Broil pizzas in oven for about 3-5 minutes, until cheese is melted. Remove and top with sliced avocado and sprinkle with cracked pepper.

rosemary potatoes
Slice about two cups of fresh baby potatoes (ours: an assortment of fresh purple, yellow and red baby potatoes), then drizzle with olive oil and toss with sprigs of fresh rosemary, salt, and pepper. Bake at 350 degrees (you can use a confectioner's oven) for 30-35 minutes.

to enjoy
Once your pizzas are complete, transfer to cutting board or serving dish and enjoy with rosemary potatoes and fruit tea, or for lunch: a simple salad, fresh fruit and cold lemonade. Food always tastes better outside, and summer weather is in full swing so enjoy on an outside table in your backyard if you can! As always, accompany with good friends and conversation for a well-rounded and thoroughly enjoyable meal.

P.S. We initially used another ingredient, a pretty bunch of greens we picked up at the farmer's market. We ended up not liking the taste, so we didn't eat it, and that's okay. Kitchen mistakes happen, but that's part of the fun of experimenting and learning. : )

That's all for now! xoxo, enjoy.