Check out my foodie adventures at Foodspotting and Foodgawker

Monday, December 14, 2009

Product Review: So Delicious Coconut Milk products

Dairy and I have had a long standing love-hate relationship that has been on and off for about the last 5 or 6 years. I’m not really bothered by yogurt or ice cream or cheese (and boy do I love all those things), but milk and cream in its pure form consistently make my tummy unhappy (to put it politely). Like some bad news ex-boyfriend, I had a hard time cutting the chord completely due to two items: cereal and coffee. Now, I am not the type to drink milk by the glass, but it turns out I have been pretty hard wired from decades of nice white creamy milk in my cereal. So began the hunt for a good quality milk substitute to use with cereal and coffee. While brands of milk taste fairly homogenous across the board, I’ve found that the taste of soymilk varies greatly depending on the brand and type (sweetened, flavored or unsweetened). For a comparable milk substitute, I stick to unsweetened soymilk, and I am happy to report that I stopped purchasing cow’s milk altogether about 4 years ago.

Nowadays, the door on my refrigerator could stand in for a Silk commercial with neatly lined rows of plain soymilk (for cereal), vanilla soymilk (for baking), chocolate soymilk (for dessert), and eggnog soymilk (for holidays). As soymilk became a household staple (among many other soy-based products I consume), I realize just how much of my money goes to the ever-booming soy industry.

The problem with soymilk is that it lacks the creaminess and white appearance of moo milk (and if you don’t realize how important color associations are in food, try out some green ketchup). Also, many people have soy allergies or don't want to consume too much soy, so it's great to have another alternative.

That’s why I was really excited to try out the newest coconut milk product line from the exceptionally generous people at Turtle Mountain. Chances are, you’ve probably come across their Soy Delicious or Purely Decadent products by way of soymilk-based vegan ice cream.

Coconut Milk Creamer—Original, French Vanilla and Hazelnut
Price: $2.00 (on sale at Whole Foods)
Size: 1 quart
Notes: I tried them all. I loved them all. The original is the most versatile; the flavored creamers are a bit intense, which is good if you love the flavor of vanilla or hazelnut. I had long ago abandoned coffee-mate creamer due to its hydrogenated ingredients, so I am especially happy to have found a fantastic alternative. Also, I don't know how it's possible, but this creamer is fat free. YES! It is my favorite product of the whole line, and I will continue to purchase it.

Coconut Milk Beverage: Unsweetened
Price: $3.49 (on sale at Whole Foods)
Size: Half Gallon
Notes: It is a pretty good milk susbtitute--very white in color and creamy with only a faint whisper of coconut in the background, but I still didn't really like it in my cereal. However, it is very versatile for cooking and baking: I used it as I would milk to make oatmeal, corn chowder, and even to make a roux for japanese croquettes (korokke).

Cultured Coconut Milk: Passionate Mango
Price: $1.50 (on sale at Whole Foods)
Size: 6 oz.
Notes: I didn't care for this flavor, but I imagine it could add a nice tart touch to a mango smoothie, perhaps with a splash of lime juice. However, the 6 grams of fat (all 6 of which are saturated due to the coconut milk) is a bit prohibitive for a yogurt.

Soy Delicious Yogurt: Blueberry
Price: $1.49 (on sale at Whole Foods)
Size: 6 oz.
Notes: The blueberry flavor was dissapointingly artificial in this yogurt. I think soy yogurt products still have a ways to go to really provide the creamy texture of milk-based yogurt.

Coconut Milk Fudge Bar Minis
Price: $3.49 (on sale at Whole Foods)
Size: 6 bars
Notes: These little fudge bars are a perfect little snack when you just want a little sweet something. Unfortunately, I detected a hint of freezer burn so it was difficult to focus on the chocolate flavor. Next time, I would like to try the vanilla ice cream bars covered in chocolate and covered with almonds.

Coconut Milk-based Ice Cream: Mocha Almond Fudge
Price: $5.29 (on sale at Whole Foods)
Size: 1 pint
Notes: I was really pleased with this ice cream. The hint of coconut made it literally tasted like almond joy ice cream. It seemed a little on the lighter side and not quite as rich and creamy as I was hoping for, but the flavor is excellent. I wish I had also purchased the cookie dough flavor.

Soy-based Ice Cream: Chocolate Peanut Butter
Price: $4.99 (on sale at Whole Foods)
Size: 1 quart
Notes: This is a soymilk-based ice cream. I didn't really like this ice cream because the chocolate didn't taste like chocolate and the peanut butter tasted artificial. However, at 4.5 grams of fat per serving, I'd be willing to try another flavor in the future.

Overall, I think Turtle Mountain is doing excellent work in providing dairy-free products. Keep up the good work!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Caribbean Sweet Potato Soup at SF Soup Company

In all honesty, I have been feeling a little under the weather. Schlepping to work in my rain boots is not fun. Luckily, the base of my office building has Peet's coffee and SF Soup Company, so you don't even have to go out in the rain to get lunch. If I didn't diligently pack a home lunch, it would be all too easy to just run downstairs and grab a $6 or $7 container of soup served with a hunk of french bread and a pat of butter. And, if I wasn't trying to keep my lunch expenses to a minimum, I would do it too because I loooove their Caribbean Sweet Potato Soup. So, I decided to look up the ingredients on the website and make some soup.

I am sorry that I don't have a photo. Too many things were going on at once and I forgot to get a picture--I was, in fact, making a large batch of Lentil Barley Soup while creating a recipe for the Carribean Sweet Potato Soup while also cooking up some Sunday supper of oven-roasted tofu and broccoli.

The soup was a huge success! The result is a silky bisque with the delicious flavors of sweet potato and coconut milk with a last minute splash of lime juice to brighten it up. I don't often use Jamaican jerk seasoning, but for this soup, it is essential and provides a faint spicy kick. I used a blackened jerk seasoning from Cinnamon Bay Foods, which I highly recommend--its a nice blend of pepper, brown sugar, salt, cayenne, thyme, nutmeg, red pepper, cinnamon, allspice, cloves and dried green onion. You should know that a little bit goes a long way.

Oh, and it's vegan and gluten-free.

Caribbean Sweet Potato Soup


2 Tbsp. olive oil
3 medium sweet potatoes
1 large russet potato
1 large onion, diced
1 large carrot, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
2 Tbsp. ginger, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp. jerk seasoning
1 can light coconut milk
2 cups vegetable stock
1 cup water
1/2 tsp. salt
3 or 4 tsp. fresh lime juice
2 Tbsp. Molasses


* Wash the sweet potatoes and russet potato, cut them in half and wrap in foil. Bake them in the oven at 400 degrees for about 45 minutes or until it is fork tender. Remove from the oven and let cool. Peel the skins off and discard them and dice up the sweet potato and potato.
* Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium high heat. Sautee the onions for 2-3 minutes.
* Add the diced celery and cook for another 5 minutes.
* Add the garlic, ginger, jerk seasoning and carrots and continue cooking, stirring occasionally.
* Add the water and vegetable stock. Bring to a boil then simmer for about 8-10 minutes until the vegetables are soft and tender.
* Add in the diced sweet potato, potato and coconut milk and cook for another 3-4 minutes.
* Use an immersion blender or blender to puree the soup until smooth and velvety.
* Add the salt, molasses and lime juice and stir.

I think I once told my friend, Chelsea, that I dreamed of having a freezer stocked with at least ten soups to choose from--maybe some corn chowder, a tomato bisque or hearty carrot soup and definitely some french onion soup.

With a couple of fresh soups in tow neatly portioned away in my freezer, I think I am ready for the week. Good thing it's a short one, because I am headed to Vegas on Thursday!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Flourless Apple and Almond Tea Cake

It has been unusually cold and rainy. True to its moody style, SF rained and then rained some more before it opened up its blue sunny skies and within the hour grey skies swept back in and it poured again. Good thing the only plan for this rainy saturday was to rest, watch movies, make a flourless apple and almond tea cake and prepare for my friend, Ryan's, surprise party in celebration of his 30th birthday. We decided to give Ryan 30 ties for his 30th birthday.

The tea cake was essentially a gooey, sugary apple pie, but with a nicer densetexture from the almond meal.

And Ryan had a good birthday. And all was well.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Ginger-Miso Glazed Sweet Potatoes

Lately, I have been missing Hawaii. A lot. I miss the weather, the feeling I get driving around an island I know so well, the house I grew up in, my favorite restaurants, eating papayas and driving up to my uncle's house to swim in the pool and make sushi. Funny how the familiar is so synonymous with what we find to be comforting. I also miss going to my brother's house to watch his Japanese wife, Hiromi, cook authentic Japanese food. You should see her freezer--everything is neatly plastic-wrapped into single serving squares. She is a nabe magician. I am always fascinated watching her cook because she doesn't use recipes, she pours stuff out of colorful packages with no english on it and she, like any good cook, goes by taste and has an extensive palate for the salty and umami flavors of Japan.

I am not so graceful in the kitchen--When I cook Japanese food, it's always a shot in the dark as I hope to make magic out of the trusty staples of mirin, rice vinegar, miso, sake and soy. With various quantities and combinations of those five ingredients, I'm convinced, magic can be made.

For these sweet potatoes, I simmer down some miso, soy sauce, garlic, brown sugar and water until it becomes a nice, thick syrupy glaze. Then I brush the roasted sweet potatoes with the glaze, sprinkle some sesame seeds on it and put it under the broiler for just a couple of minutes to seal in all the flavor.

I like to serve it with some steamed veggies and a bowl of brown rice.


* 2 or 3 large sweet potatoes, washed and cut in quarters
* 1 cup water
* 2 tsp. ginger sugar (or 1 inch piece of fresh ginger, grated finely)
* 1 Tbsp. white miso
* 1 Tbsp. low-sodium soy sauce
* 1 clove garlic, crushed and minced finely
* 1 Tbsp. brown sugar
* 1/2 Tbsp. toasted sesame seeds (optional)

Note: If you like a little citrus flare with your sweet potatoes, substitute out 1/3 cup of the water for 1/3 cup of orange juice.


* Heat oven to 400 degrees.
* Wrap each piece of sweet potato individually in foil and bake until fork tender, usually about 30-40 minutes.
* While the sweet potatoes are roasting, combine all of the rest of the ingredients except for the sesame seeds and cook in a pot on medium heat for about 12-15 minutes or until sauce reduces by at least half.
* Unwrap the foil and place sweet potatoes in a baking tray and drizzle ginger-miso glaze over the sweet potatoes, sprinkle with sesame seeds and place under a broiler for 3-5 minutes.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Pumpkin Cheesecake with Marshmallow Sour Cream Topping

I love Thankgiving. It could be that my birthday is always peeking around the corner (and even actually falls on Thankgiving every seven years). Or it could be that I love the fall seasonal flavors and markets overflowing with big fat sweet potatoes and juicy crisp apples (be sure to get your hands on some honeycrisp apples!). But, for me, it has very little to do with turkey.

Have you ever played Cranium?! It's a game that does a little bit of trivia mixed with some charades and a healthy dose of pictionary. Anyway, the game has a challenge where a word or phrase like "Superbowl" is said aloud and then you and your team mates each secretly write down the first three words that come to mind and hope that at least 2 of you has one word in common. No big deal, right?! Not so. I can't tell you how many times I have done this with a team and failed. Miserably. And then a shouting match follows with "How could you possibly think of [insert completely off-base word here]?!! Are you kidding me! Clearly, the first word to come to mind is [insert perfectly appropriate word here]!!" My point is that if the Cranium word/phrase was "Thanksgiving," I cannot say with certainty that everyone would write down turkey. I might have written pumpkin.

Because what I really L-O-V-E is pumpkin. Did anyone get to try the pumpkin-five spice ice cream from Humphrey Slocombe?! I've been hearing some raves about the Guiness Gingerbread, which, after many, many scoops of the Russian Imperial Stout ice cream from Notoberfest, I am a true believer of the beer infused ice creams.

In honor of pumpkin, I wanted to share with you the star of the Thanksgiving show:

Pumpkin Cheesecake with a Marshmallow Sour Cream topping and studded with glazed pecans.

The pumpkin cheesecake is rich and dense, but it buckles under a thin layer of sweet sticky marshmallow creme with the tang of sour cream to balance it all out. It's incredibly indulgent. And incredibly impressive.

This recipe is from Bon Appetit, November 2008 edition. I should mention that I left out the crystallized ginger and used reduced-fat cream cheese and was completely happy with the results.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Korean Supper Club

Two years ago, after graduating from law school, my friend Lindsay and I started a little supper club as a commitment, or tradition, to explore cooking centered around vegetarian foods around the world. And maybe an excuse to make sure we saw each other fairly regularly. Occasionally, it involved a few card games along with some arguments about said card games. Sometimes, at the end of the night, we were so full of delicious food that all we could do was quietly clasp our hands around our bellies and smile and sigh.

Back in September, during what would be our last supper club, my friend, Lindsay abruptly announced (over a rather heated game of Settlers of Catan, actually) that she and her husband just bought a house in Fort Collins, Colorado and they were moving at the end of October. And just like that, as I reached for more of the raspberry wine to wash down the news, our two and a half years of supper club has come to an end.

Maybe we could call it a hiatus instead, separated only by a couple of states and some serious mountains. During that time, Jason and I managed to cook our way through the foods of Japan, Mexico, China, Hawaii, Korea, and even some Jewish cuisine. Lindsay and Patrick cooked up feasts from the South, the Mediterranean, Spain, Italy and France. It was a good run, I must say.

While I am sad to see them move so far away, I am so grateful for the friendships that have been nourished by our dear supper club. Bon voyage, friends!

Besides being exceptionally spicy, Korean food is really centered around banchan--lots of little dishes with explosive flavors. If you've ever gone to a Korean restaurant and balked at the menu prices, it's because no less than five to eight little dishes also accompany your meal. Think of it as free appetizers.

From top to bottom: Kongjaban (black beans stewed down in a sweet soy syrup; recipe here); Quick-pickled cucumber (I made this one); and boiled peanuts in a soy glaze.

Besides some jap chae, I had never cooked an entire Korean meal. Or a vegetarian Korean meal (who knew that most prepared kim chee has anchovy or shrimp powder in it?). I didn't have it in me to make nine or ten dishes in my small San Francisco apartment kitchen, so, to make things a little easier, I picked up some ready-made banchan from Woo Ri Food Market and First Korean Market. These stores have such a wide selection of prepared food, you could eat lunch or dinner at the grocery store.

Now, the banchan pictured below typically comes in one of my favorite korean dishes-Bi Bim Bap, which is a sizzling rice bowl decorated with these delicious crunchy veggies and various BBQ meats or tofu. At a restaurant, they will sometimes crack open a small raw egg (sometimes a quail egg) on top of the hot rice and the pot is so hot that it cooks as you stir it all up. The bowl is so hot that it also creates a nice crispy rice crust along the bottom.

From clockwise: boiled bean sprouts; cold seasoned spinach (sigumchi namul); spicy pickled daikon; and Kongnamul--boiled mung bean sprouts.

These dishes might not look like much, but, added to your rice or tofu dish, they are packed with flavor and add the perfect crunchy texture to balance things out. It also helps that they are all cold dishes to cool down the heat in other spicy dishes.

Another classic Korean dish is pajeon, which is typically a seafood and vegetable pancake similar to the Japanese Okonomiyaki or the Chinese Scallion Pancake. I had been wanting to make this ever since Namu, a modern Korean restaurant, started selling these tasty pancakes and other street food items at the Thursday Ferry Building Farmer's Market. Namu's pancake costs just under $10 and comes heavily adorned with Kewpie-mayo, a savory soy glaze, bonito flakes, shredded nori seeweed and a fried egg.

While this pancake can easily be made with flour, eggs and water, it is much easier and far tastier to buy a package of Korean pancake mix and save yourself the hassle. I just made some batter with the mix according to the directions on the package and added in some sauteed vegetables (I used a mixture of cabbage, carrots, onion and flat scallions). I cooked it on a hot griddle just like you would cook a pancake, then I drizzled some Asian Kewpie-mayo on top of the pancake and topped it off with shredded nori seeweed.

I also made a classic spicy tofu stew, which was gobbled up before I could take any pictures.

It was a really good meal. We followed it up with some Korean dessert treats such as banana milk and choco pies.

Oh, and I lost at Settlers of Catan.