Gung Hei Fat Choy! I love Chinese New Year! Lots of eating with family, friends, lucky money, special treats, and new clothes (on the first day of the New Year you should wear new clothes to give yourself a fresh start). But I also love that Chinese New Year for me is where I get to have a “do over”. If there were any resolutions made on Jan 1 that haven’t started, then I can try again. And, to all of you who also had good intentions to ie. give up sugar, start a new workout, read more, floss every day, and/or eat more superfoods, well, don’t be discouraged as you can try again in the Lunar New Year….even if you aren’t Chinese!
My Chinese New Year recipe is quite unconventional, in that the ingredients aren’t your standard New Year’s fare. Because, frankly, most of the “special” dishes eaten at this time are not delicious to my North American palate, such as dried oysters, black moss (looks like a clump of black hair), jai (vegetarian gluten dish). Doesn’t sound too appetizing, does it? But I hope this Gung Hei Fat Prawns does! And, it’s loaded with superfoods.
It wasn’t love at first sight, not even second sight. My “date” was quite verbose, but I was seduced by his vulnerability, the ease with which he stripped his….heart bare (clothes stayed on). Once I fell into his grasp, I fell hard for him. My husband knew of this love affair, and was fine with it because the object of my affection is a book, The Goldfinch. I devoured it for hours at a time, good thing I don’t have kids, otherwise I would surely have Child Services knocking on my door. I was swept away by the raw beauty of Donna Tartt’s writing, and how the main character wooed me into his inner life. The story unwound itself page by page and wrapped itself around me in sensurround. The Goldfinch in the title of the book refers to an actual painting that became very dear to the main character, but please go read it for yourself if you haven’t already.
I wanted to make an edible Valentine to The Goldfinch, and thought something lemony would be fitting. I decided to create golden cupcakes that are tart and sweet, which is one of the book’s messages, that is – even though your life may be sour, sweetness can still be found. Because the book is so substantial in content and length I wanted my cupcakes to be dense and substantial, almost like a pound cake quality. For the love of The Goldfinch, below is my Valentine cupcake recipe.
What do aliens eat? Do they have the same food groups as earthlings? Do they care about eating local, organic and fair trade? What do their fruits and vegetables taste like, look like? Do they even eat? Or, have they done away with eating, which would be sad. I am fantasizing about alien cuisine because I’ve got food fatigue. That is what I am experiencing more and more these days. You must have those days too where you just can’t stomach another boring bowl of oatmeal, spring mix salad, or chicken breast. I want to travel with my tongue.
And so it was with gratitude that I came across 2014’s top ingredients of the year. And I find myself behind the food trend because it is now 2015 and there are foods from last year’s list that I have never heard of, ie. shishitos, leaf lard (I didn’t know leaves have fat) and gribenes to name a few. But I am happy to say there are many ingredients that are staples in my pantry.
The number one ingredient of last year is the spice mixture, zaatar, I remember reading about it a few years ago when it first burst onto the culinary scene, but have never tried it. Until now, it is a new year and new food, well, at least for me. So I went on the hunt for zaatar, and found it at a Mediterranean market. What exactly is zaatar? It is a mixture of herbs – thyme, oregano, marjoram – sumac and sesame seeds. You may be familiar with the first three ingredients, but sumac? What the heck is that? When I had gone to Turkey in the past, I brought some sumac back and didn’t really know what to do with it. But it is a berry that is dried and then ground into a powder. It has a tangy citrusy flavor.
My New Year’s resolution is to KISS a lot. I will KISS more at home, at work, anywhere that I can do it. That is, to “Keep It Simple Sweetheart”. This extends to the appetizer that I am blogging about today, because I often put pressure on myself to come up with dishes that are unique, tasty and good for you. And sometimes ‘simple’ is best. Many years ago, I had a tasty chicken dish that my friend’s mom made for me and it was made only with chicken wings and oyster sauce. The chicken wings were placed in front of a window all day to dry out (this was before food safety was an issue, and hey, none of us got sick eating those wings) and then lightly fried in a hot wok with the oyster sauce barely coating them. They were super crispy and flavourful; I remembered that it was hard to stop eating them. Not only did the taste blow me away, but the fact that it was made with only two ingredients stuck with me.
Today’s recipe is barely even a recipe. It has only two ingredients in homage to my friend’s mom. This classic Italian dish can be served as an appetizer or as a dessert. But in my home, this is the perfect light meal when it is served with a salad.
Italians are brilliant in so many ways – they gave us Leonardo Da Vinci, stunning architecture, and Ferrari sports cars. Then there is their contribution to the culinary world, but I must say that my favourite Italian import is prosciutto crudo, which is raw cured ham. Parma and San Daniele are the best and come from the same region in Italy. A popular way to serve prosciutto is with ripe cantaloupe. For those of you who are Italian or have travelled to Italy, you will be familiar with this dish, but you may not know that cantaloupe is a superfood! It offers a high amount of vitamin A (great for eye health), vitamin C, vitamin B’s and also many minerals including calcium, iron and magnesium. It also has the antioxidant, zea –xanthin, which protects the body from UV rays. Prosciutto would not really be a superfood as it is high in sodium and fat so I wouldn’t recommend eating it on a regular basis, but it does have iron, zinc, vitamin B12 and of course protein.
My husband is of Chinese descent, but because he is good friends with Italians he has eaten a lot of authentic Italian food. When we were dating and before I was able to visit his place, I asked him what I might find in his kitchen. He said that the contents of his cupboards gave the impression that an Italian lived in his apartment. This was a dish he made for me when we first met and I have loved it ever since. The saltiness of the prosciutto with the sweetness of the cantaloupe makes the perfect marriage.