Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars

I know that Fall is coming to Texas when the morning breeze is suddenly brisk and the air is much more humid. People are already putting up Halloween decorations and then I realize 2014 is already 3/4 over. I begin to crave for seasonal Fall treats like these pumpkin cheesecake bars which I rarely make because they’re so delicious and addicting. It’s probably a good thing I don’t make them all the time. The base of this treat is an oatmeal and flour crust and the filling is a combination of fresh grated ginger, pumpkin, and cinnamon with whipped cream cheese. I could just eat the filling by the bowl. Please don’t be like me. It taste like pumpkin pie ice cream! I can’t wait for you to try these. You’re going to love the creaminess of the filling and the chewy buttery texture of the crust.

gluten-free pumpkin cheesecake bars

gluten-free pumpkin cheesecake bars

Recipe yields 9 bars

Ingredients:

Crust

  • 1 cup all-purpose gluten-free flour
  • 3/4 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into tiny cubes
  • 3/4 cup old-fashioned oats

Filling

  • 1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup canned pure pumpkin
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon of fresh grated ginger

 

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a 9x9x2-inch baking sheet with 2 sheets of parchment with extra on the ends.
  2. Using a pastry cutter, blend first 4 ingredients until coarse meal forms. Add oats and mix with your hands until mixture is moistened but not clumping.
  3. Press crust onto bottom pan lined with parchment.
  4. Bake crust until golden, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven to cool.

Filling:

  1. In a mixing bowl, whip cream cheese until fluffy. Add in eggs one at a time. Then add in remaining filling ingredients.
  2. Spread filling over baked crust; bake until set, dry in center, and beginning to rise at edges, about 20 minutes.
  3. Cover and chill until cold, about 4 hours. Cut into squares and serve.

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Orange Chicken

I’m in a really good mood today because the temperature dropped from the 90s to the 70s over the weekend. Dan man and I came up with a list of foods that would be great for colder weather. Also, I discovered an easy way to convert one of my favorite Chinese dishes to be gluten-free. I love orange chicken so much! Just swap out soy sauce and wheat flour for gluten-free soy sauce and Bob’s Mill gluten-free all-purpose flour and you’re set. I really like Bob’s Mill flour because it keeps fried food crunchy so you don’t compromise texture. I know you’re going to love this dish and the zesty sauce that glazes the crunchy bits of chicken. So good over some steamed white rice.

gluten-free orange chicken

gluten-free orange chicken

Recipe yields 4 servings.

Ingredients:

Orange Sauce

  • 1/2 cup of water
  • zest of 2 small oranges
  • juice of 2 small oranges
  • 1/3 cup of rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoon gluten-free soy sauce
  • 3/4 cup of brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon of fresh grated ginger
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • dash of red pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons of cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoon of water

Chicken

  • 2 pounds of chicken thighs cut in 1 inch cubes
  • 3/4 cup of Bob’s Mill All-Purpose gluten-free flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup of vegetable oil
  1. Mix the cornstarch and 2 tablespoons of water together until blended. In a medium sauce pan, combine remaining sauce ingredients and bring to a medium boil. Add in cornstarch mixture and simmer on low heat for 15 minutes.
  2. Heat vegetable oil in a non-stick pan on medium high heat. In a large bowl, coat chicken in flour and dust excess flour off. Fry the chicken on one side until brown and flip and fry other side. The chicken is ready when the edges start to brown. Drain chicken on paper towel and move to large plate.
  3. Pour orange sauce over the chicken and serve.

Beach in Central Texas

Dan and I made plans to pack a light lunch to take to the beach on Saturday but right before we decided to drive off, it began to storm really hard. The next thing we knew, the power went out. We didn’t get to go to the beach but we still enjoyed the rain and those spring roll bentos did not go to waste. We packed vegetarian spring rolls made with Thai basil, bean sprouts, rice noodles, lettuce, and carrots. It was so colorful and light. It was the perfect meal for those dwindling Summer days. Luckily, the next day the sun came out and we got to drive out to Granbury and swim around the lake. I can’t wait for Fall. Texas heat has been unbearable.

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Phở Gà (shortcut version)

When Dan buys a chicken, he’ll debone the chicken himself and use every part including the rib cage and remaining bones to make a delicious broth. When we cook together on the weekends, we save the skins and scraps from vegetables and add them in to make chicken stock. I’m still in the process of getting him to give us a tutorial of exactly what he does but the cool thing is, the man’s freezer and fridge is always stacked with 64 ounce containers of broth. This means, we are ready to make curries, gravy, bisques, and chowders whenever we want without having to buy tons of broth from the store. I encourage everyone to save the bones and make your own broth. It’s a great way to control the amount of salt in your soup and a bonus that it contains no added preservatives/coloring/MSG. So here’s another great idea: use your chicken broth to make chicken pho. Since preparing the broth is usually the longest part, you can make the soup in no time.

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Serves 4

•    4 liters of chicken broth
•    1 pound of fresh pho noodles
•    small package of pho seasoning with whole seeds
•    small yellow onion
•    1 large chicken breast
•    1 tablespoon of salt
•    2 teaspoon sugar
•    2 nubs of ginger sliced thinly
•    For garnish: chopped cilantro, green onions, bean sprouts, lime, Thai basil

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Roast the onion with skin on for 20 minutes or until fragrant. Remove pho spices from package and roast on non-stick pan for 5 minutes or until fragrant. Add spices into the mesh bag and secure tightly.
2. In a large soup pot, bring chicken broth, ginger, and roasted onion to a boil. Add in seasoning bag and raw chicken breast. Cook for 20 minutes and remove breast from the soup. Let the breast rest for 5 minutes then slice thinly.
3. In a medium pot, fill halfway with water and bring to a boil. Add in noodles and cook for 2 minutes. Drain water and rinse noodles in warm water to remove excess starch. Divide noodles between 4 soup bowls and ladle hot broth over soup. Add chicken breasts and finish off with garnishes.

 

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Fried Rice

Even though I grew up in a Vietnamese family, we didn’t eat fried rice often. We ate steamed rice with every meal paired with whatever my mom cooked that day. When my mom made fried rice, it was a special treat. During Christmas time ham and pineapple fried rice was a tradition. Other times, she would add cured sausage aka Lạp Xưởng and shrimp. It took me awhile to figure out how to make fried rice without it clumping together or sticking to the pan (we’ve all been there eep!) So I’m going to share a basic fried rice recipe that can easily be altered so you can add whatever extra ingredients you like. By the way, pineapple and ham fried rice is crazy good if you ever want to try that out. Let’s make fried rice!

Add rice, 1/4 teaspoon salt, water/broth to a medium pot and bring to a boil then reduce and cover with lid and cook on the lowest setting for 20 minutes.Turn off heat, remove lid and allow the rice to cool completely. Once cool, use a fork to fluff the rice breaking it up without mashing the rice. Then cover the rice and refrigerate overnight. This process is important because it dries up the starch so when you’re ready to use it, it won’t stick to the pan. Now, using clean hands, break up the cold rice to ensure that no kernels are clumped together. Your rice should look like the photo below.

IMG_1154In a non-stick pan or wok, heat up oil on medium high heat. Fry onions and carrots until softened.

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Add in beaten eggs. Break the egg up and mix in with onion and carrots. (If you plan to add in raw meat, this is the time to do it) just ensure to cook it all the way before moving to the next step.

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Add in rice, peas, garlic, and 1/2 teaspoon salt and stir until mixed well. Turn up the heat very high and stir for 2 minutes before turning heat off.  Serve with fresh cracked black pepper.

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Hey congrats! You just made your own homemade fried rice! Rock on with your bad self!

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Recipe yields 4 servings of fried rice

Ingredients

  • 1 cup of long grain white rice
  • 2 cups of water or chicken broth
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt + 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup of diced carrots
  • 1/4 cup of peas
  • 1/2 cup of diced onion
  • 4 eggs beaten
  • 1 tablespoon of vegetable/canola oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • fresh cracked black pepper
  1. Add rice, 1/4 teaspoon salt, water/broth to a medium pot and bring to a boil then reduce and cover with lid and cook on the lowest setting for 20 minutes.
  2. Turn off heat, remove lid and allow the rice to cool completely. Once cool, use a fork to fluff the rice. Breaking it up without mushing the rice. Then cover the rice and refrigerate overnight.
  3. Now, using clean hands, break up the cold rice to ensure that no kernels are clumped together. Set aside.
  4. In a non-stick pan or wok, heat up oil on medium high heat. Fry onions and carrots until softened and add in beaten eggs. Break the egg up and mix with onions and carrots. (If you plan to add in raw meat, this is the time to do it) just ensure to cook it all the way before moving to the next step.
  5. Add in rice, peas, garlic, and 1/2 teaspoon salt and stir until mixed well. Turn up the heat very high and stir for 2 minutes before turning heat off. Serve with fresh cracked black pepper.

Siu Yuk (Roasted Pork Belly)

Siu Yuk, a popular  Cantonese dish that has disseminated throughout Southeast Asia and revered for its crispy, crackling skin and layers of rendered pork fat. This beautiful cut of fatty pork is a cut of pork belly rubbed with 5 spice, salt, and sugar then roasted at a high temperature until the skin bubbles and crackles very much like pork rind. In my family, the dish is called Heo Quay which in Vietnamese literally translates to Spun Pork because traditionally, the entire pig is roasted over a pit of coal and hand spun.

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It tastes great with steamed buns or rice. The crispy skin and succulent meat makes it very addicting.

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This recipe is best when prepared overnight so that the pork has time to absorb the 5 spice flavors. Okay, the best place to find pork belly is at an Asian market. They’re usually pretty inexpensive. Once you get your hands on some pork belly, what you want to do first is to run the pork belly under water and pat it dry with a paper towel. Then place it on a foil sheet skin side down.

raw pork belly

raw pork belly

Now, mix the salt, 5 spice, and sugar together.

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And rub it evenly on the meat side of the pork, avoiding the skin part. This is starting to look good. Smells good too.

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Flip the pork over and using a very sharp knife, make incisions on the skin without cutting deep into the meat part. You an also score the skin diagonally. It doesn’t really matter. The point is when the fat starts to cook, the incisions will allow the steam to escape and this makes the skin crispy! IMG_1105Sprinkle the skin with salt. Slowly fold the foil to cover the meat but leave the skin exposed. Leave it in the fridge to cure and dry overnight. Or if you’re in a hurry, wait for 4 hours. The longer you allow the pork belly to dry, the crisper it will be so it’s worth the wait!

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Preheat your oven to 375 degrees fahrenheit. Line a non-stick pan with foil. Invert a pie pan on the baking pan. Remove pork belly from the foil and place on top of pie pan with skin side down. If you have a roasting rack, use it instead of doing it this way. The important thing is to let the fat drain. Now place the pan on the middle rack and roast for 40 minutes. Then remove the pan from the oven and flip the pork belly over with skin side on top and dab any liquid on the skin with a paper towel, ensuring that the skin is dry. Baste with vinegar and roast for another 40 minutes with skin side up. Then broil for 10 minutes 425 degrees.

Remove from oven and let rest for 5 minutes before cutting and serving. Also congratulations! You’re now a pork belly rock star! Look at that bubbly skin! YUM!

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Recipe yields 4 servings

Pork
•    2 pounds of unsliced pork belly with skin on
•    1 tablespoon of 5 spice powder
•    1 teaspoon of salt plus extra on the side
•    1 tablespoon of granulated sugar
•    aluminum foil sheet

Basting liquid

•    1 tablespoon of distilled white vinegar

Equipment

•    Pie Pan
•    Non-stick baking pan
•    metal tongs
•    basting brush

1. Mix 5 spice powder, salt, and sugar and set aside.
2. Run pork belly under water and pat dry with paper towel.
3. Lay pork belly skin side down and rub seasoning on the meat and sides but do not allow the seasoning to coat the skin or it will turn dark when cooking.
4. Flip the pork belly over with skin side up and using a sharp knife, make small horizontal incisions throughout the skin without cutting deep into the meat. Lightly sprinkle the skin with salt.
5. Cover the pork belly meat with aluminum foil, leaving the skin (top) exposed. Transfer onto a tray and refrigerate overnight or at least 4 hours. Remember to leave the top uncovered. Dry skin will ensure crispy pork.
6. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Invert a pie pan on the non-stick baking sheet and place pork skin side down on top of the pie pan and roast for 40 minutes. Remove from oven and flip pork over with skin side up, dab any moisture/seasoning on skin off. Lightly base the skin with the vinegar and add back in the oven for 40 minutes. Broil for 10 minutes at 425 degrees minutes until skin is crispy and bubbly. Allow to rest for 5 minutes before cutting into bite sized pieces. Now give yourself a pat on the back. You’re now a pork belly champion! Yay.

I like fried things and I cannot lie

I blame my mother. I call her the Deep-Fry Queen because that woman can fry ANYTHING. I think this is why some of my favorite foods are made with batter and thrown into hot oil. It also doesn’t help that I live in the state with the largest state fair where deep fried food is an annual novelty experience. By the way, do you think it’s possible to deep fry ducks? Since you can deep fry a chicken. Why hasn’t anyone thought of this?

I digress.

Two weeks ago Dan and I discovered how to make deep fried pickles. Sweet Jesus they were easier than I imagined. You slice up some dill pickles like thick chips, pat them with a paper towel and then coat them in flour and throw them in the bubbly oil. I served these with a creamy sour cream dip. Dan man approved. I have to say, damn that was good!

Gluten-free Fried Pickles

Gluten-free Fried Pickles

Recipe yields 2 servings

  • 2 large dill pickles cut into 1/4 inch slices
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose gluten-free flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon Slap-Yo-Mama seasoning (or any Cajun seasoning)
  • 1 1/2 cup of peanut/canola/or vegetable oil
  • non-stick pan

Dipping sauce

  • 1/3 cup sour cream
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon Slap-Yo-Mama seasoning (or any Cajun seasoning)
  1. Pat the pickles dry with a paper towel.
  2. In a medium bowl, mix flour with Cajun seasoning and coat pickle slices.
  3. Heat oil in the pan until 350 degrees F.
  4. Add in pickles using tongs. Once they brown at the bottom, flip and cook until golden brown.
  5. Move to a plate lined with paper towel.
  6. For the sauce, mix all ingredients in a small bowl. Serve with fried pickles and enjoy while hot!