Friday, February 25, 2011

Stuffed Bell Peppers on Marinara Sauce

Where do you get your inspirations for cooking? This is the question frequently asked from newly made friends. When I started to cook, I always have this mentality from my parents that we should buy ingredients when it is only on special. It helps narrowing down my decision of which dish that I should create.  SOSCuisine is the ultimate reference website for Canadians to seek out deals of the week of all the supermarkets in your hometown. Pretty convenient, isn't it?

It does happen that I lack of inspirations especially if I have to respect the cooking theme. Just for a heads-up, the cooking theme for tonight will be any dish that are "stacked", "skewed" or "layered" like crostinis, brochettes, lasagnas and mille-feuille. I usually end up going through my pile of cookbooks or food blogs for inspirations. I usually tweak the recipe according to what's available in my fridge and my pantry.

Nothing beats the good old taste of home cooked food especially for this stuffed bell peppers, a classic North American dish. It is essentially meatloaf inside a bell pepper. These bell peppers are usually baked with a coating of olive oil or a pool of sauce. I decided that my sauce should be the classic Italian American marinara sauce.

Serves 6
Preparation Time: 15 mins
Cooking Time: 20 mins
Baking Time: about 60 mins, depending on the size of the bell peppers
Printable Recipe


6 bell peppers, any colour

Marinara Sauce
1 medium onion, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 can (28 oz.) diced tomatoes, liquid drained
1 can (14 oz.) tomato sauce
1 can (6 oz.) tomato paste
1 garlic, minced
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried basil
Salt and pepper

1 egg, beaten
2 tsp Worchestshire sauce
1 1/2 lb ground meat (I use 1/2 ground beef and 1/2 ground pork)
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1 1/2 cup cooked rice
Salt and Pepper
Mozzarella cheese


1. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil over high heat.

2. Meanwhile, cut the tops off the bell peppers. Chop edible part of tops and set aside. Remove seeds in cold water. Submerge bell peppers in boiling water and cook for 5 mins until the flesh has slightly softened. Drain peppers and set aside to cool.

3. Preheat oven to 350F.

4. In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Sauté bell peppers from tops, onion, celery for about 5 mins, until onions are translucent.

5. Add diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste, garlic, oregano, basil, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 mins.

6. Meanwhile, in another bowl, combine egg, Worcestershire sauce, ground meat and Parmesan. Mix in cooked rice and 1 1/2 cup of the marinara sauce. Season with salt and pepper.

7. Stuff peppers with meat mixture and place in a 13'' x 9'' baking pan. Create a 1/2-inch hole in the middle of the stuffing to ensure even cooking. Pour the remaining tomato mixture over the stuffed peppers.

8. Bake for 60 mins. Sprinkle with a little Parmesan and Mozzarella cheese on top of the stuffed peppers before bell peppers are done. Bake until cheese has melted. Serve.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Recipe to Riches - Blueberry-Lemon Crisp with Maple Syrup Whipped Cream

Last Saturday, I went through the open call auditions for the new show Recipe to Riches on Food Network Canada. This show gives Canadian home cooks the opportunity to have their favorite recipes turn into a product which will be branded by President's Choice. An amount of $25,000 is offered to every winner in each 7 categories and the grand prize winner of the $250,000 is decided by the public vote.

When I heard that Laura Calder of French Food at Home is on the judging panel, I did not hesitate to sign up for the competition as she is my favorite chef for French cuisine. I have to admit that I only have less than 3 years of cooking/baking experience, so I knew that I will be competing with stay-at-home moms, grandmothers and people who have been cooking since they were a kid. Thus, my chances of winning were slim to none. Anyhow, it didn't prevent me from entering the competition. I have nothing to lose, I can only win.  To be honest, I wasn't aiming for the money; I wanted to prove myself if I'm actually a good enough cook/baker. Friends can say: "Victor, your food is SO good!" These words are even more meaningful if it is said by food experts who have been judging over hundreds of dishes in their lifetime. 

For the competition, I originally signed up for the "cake" category. Due to popularity this category, the producer called me and suggested that I should sign up for "sweet pies" so I made the switch. I chose to bake my blueberry crisp which was one of the first dessert when I started baking. I seriously can't believe that I spent many days on perfecting the recipe and on plating the dish. I even gather at least 20 taste testers to give their opinions and comments for improvement. I took all of them seriously and made the necessary adjustments accordingly.

On the day of the competition, I had to wait patiently for FOUR hours before I can meet the judges. I gather some friends to be part of my cheering crew. We were in total 10 people who came to cheer me up. Also, my friend Mon and her roommate Chris made an absolutely gorgeous banner of my blog for showing on camera. Some couldn't stay for long and some stayed until the end. I seriously didn't know that I have to wait that long. After the wait, I finally presented my dessert in front of Laura Calder, Tony Chapman, and Dana McCauley. The judges love the taste of my blueberry-lemon crisp. Unfortunately, I didn't give a convincing case why my recipe should be marketable. Well, in a positive note, Tony told me to come back next year with a more sophisticated dish. When I left the room, I was not disappointed at all, I was more than happy to hear that they enjoy my dessert. Oh well, no golden ticket this year! I'm very glad that my cheering crew came to support me.

In comparison to my old version, the sourness of lemon accentuates the sweetness of wild blueberries. I added a little crunch to the cinnamon crust by setting the oven to broil once the blueberry mix starts to bubble. A topping of maple flavored whipped cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon will help contrast the flavor of the crisp. 

Serves 12
Preparation Time: 20 mins
Baking Time: 30 mins
Broiling Time: 10 mins



600g frozen wild blueberries
1/3 cup white sugar
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp lemon zest
2 tbsp cornstarch

Cinnamon Crust

1 1/2 cups quick oats
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup flour
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1 pinch nutmeg
2/3 cup margarine, melted

Maple Syrup Whipped Cream

1 cup whipping cream
4-5 tbsp maple syrup


1. Preheat oven to 350F.

2. In a bowl, mix blueberries, sugar, lemon juice and lemon zest. Transfer mixture to a 8''x8'' baking pan.

3. In medium bowl, combine all the dry ingredients. Add melted margarine and stir with fork until the mixture is crumbly.

4. Spread topping over the blueberry mixture. Bake for 30 mins or until bubbly.

5. For a crunchy topping, set oven to broil. Broil for 10 mins until golden brown. Otherwise, continue baking for 10 mins.

6. Meanwhile, with an electric mixer, beat whipping cream until it starts to thick. Add maple syrup and beat until stiff peaks.

7. Remove pan from oven. Cool for 10 mins. Serve blueberry crisp with a dollop of whipped cream and sprinkle with cinnamon.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Guest Post on Chow and Chatter - Steak and Cheese Pizza

Two weeks ago, I received an offer from Rebecca of Chow and Chatter to write a guest blog for her. Since she shared quite a few of my recipes on Twitter, it was such an honor to be her guest blogger. Head out to her food blog and check out my post on Basil Pesto Chicken Pizza with Pineapple. Thank you, Rebecca!

In order to avoid a duplicate post, I'll be posting my Steak and Cheese Pizza recipe. The procedure is very similar to the pesto chicken pizza where you prebake the pizza dough, cook the meat until it is a bit undercooked and finish the cooking process in the oven. 

Philly cheese steak sandwich is such an easy thing to make, all you need basically is to cook thinly sliced beef and caramelized the onions, bell peppers and mushrooms. You can use these same ingredients onto a pizza. Ever since I used chipotle peppers on the BBQ sauce, I have become more and more an addict to chipotle peppers because of its smoky taste. This time, I added some chipotle peppers to my favorite pizza sauce recipe. If you haven't tried making your own pizza, it is very easy to make and it can easily be made to your own liking.

Preparation Time: 10 mins
Refrigeration Time: at least 1 hour (pizza sauce)
Cooking Time: 5 mins
Baking Time: 20-25 mins
Printable Recipe


1 pizza dough
1/2 lb beef tenderloin, thinly sliced (or any choice of beef)
1 medium onion, sliced
1/2 - 3/4 cup Chipotle Pizza Sauce (recipe follows)
3-4 mushrooms, sliced
Grated Mozzarella cheese or Provolone cheese

Chipotle Pizza Sauce

1 (6 oz.) can tomato paste
3/4 cups water
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 chipotle peppers, sliced
1/2 tbsp oregano
1/2 tbsp basil
salt/pepper to taste


1. Prepare Chipotle Pizza Sauce. In a bowl, mix all ingredients and season with salt and pepper. Refrigerate for 1-2 hours or overnight to blend all the flavors.

2. Preheat oven to 400F.

3. Oil a 12-inch pizza pan. Spread it onto prepared pan. Prick dough with fork.

4. Prebake the pizza dough until it starts to turn brown, about 10-15 mins.

5. Meanwhile, in a skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Cook sliced beef until it turns brown and still a bit pink in the middle, and onions until transparent.

6. Spread chipotle pizza sauce onto the prebaked dough. Top with beef, onions and mushrooms. Sprinkle with cheese.

7. Bake for 10 mins until the cheese has melted.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

No-Cream Creamy Cauliflower Soup

Have you made any soup lately? Ever since I made the creamy broccoli soup without cream, I fell in love with the recipe and test on other vegetables.  I'm amazed how one potato can convert any vegetable into a creamy soup, even on sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts. These soups are simple to make, all you need is to cook everything in one pot and purée it in an immersion blender. Especially during these cold winter times, you do need a nice and warming soup.

Serves 6
Preparation Time: 10 mins
Cooking Time: 25 mins
Printable Recipe


2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
3-4 cups vegetable stock
1-2 head cauliflower, trimmed and coarsely chopped 
1 russet potato, peeled and chopped
Salt and pepper
Paprika for garnish


1. In a large pot, melt butter over medium heat. Sauté onion until translucent, about 5 mins. Add in garlic and cook for 1 min until fragrant.

2. Pour in vegetable stock, cauliflower and potatoes, bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for 20 mins or until cauliflower and potatoes are tender.

3. Purée mixture with an immersion blender. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve and garnish with paprika.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Gluten Free Nutella Chocolate Cake

Did you know that February 5th is Nutella Day? I actually didn't know there were such event, it seems that it has been running successfully for 5 years. You can read about this event on World Nutella Day. I knew about Nutella Day because of the many tweets and blog posts spammed that day. I love the fact that they share their love for Nutella and the number of amazing desserts using Nutella as an ingredient.

I don't recall using Nutella as an ingredient, the last time was used as a frosting for the banana-reese cupcake or as a filling for crêpes. Looking through hundreds of Nutella recipes, one recipe title catches my eyes before reading the recipe in details: Flourless Nutella Chocolate Cake made by the host of Nutella Day, Sara of Ms. Adventures in Italy.

At first glance, I was questioning myself, how can this cake be made without flour? In fact, flour gives the structure, texture and shape to the cake, so without any flour, another ingredient must play its role. It is only when I was making this cake that Nutella is actually a good substitute because of its thick texture. I was very surprised of the results when I took the cake out of the oven. One bite is all it takes to blow your mind away. The texture is not like any dessert that I tried before. I can say that the texture is between a brownie and a mousse; it is rich, silky, chocolate-y, Nutella-ish and satisfying. 

Makes 1 cake
Adapted from Ms. Adventures in Italy
Preparation Time: 15 mins
Baking Time: 25-30 mins
Printable Recipe


3/4 cup butter
3 oz. bittersweet chocolate (Baker's Chocolate)
about 3/4 cup Nutella (or any hazelnut spread)
1/3 cup sugar (or a bit less)
5 eggs, separated
1 tsp instant espresso powder
1 pinch cream of tartar


1. Preheat oven to 350F. Butter a 9-inch springform pan and lightly coated with cocoa powder.

2. Cut butter and chocolate into chunks. In a double boiler, melt butter and chocolate.

3. Add Nutella to the melted chocolate and stir until a mousse-like texture is reached.

4. In a large bowl, beat egg yolks and gradually whisk in the sugar until thick and pale. Using a rubber spatula, add chocolate mixture to egg yolks and stir until combined.

5. Mix in the espresso powder.

6. Using an electric mixer, beat egg whites until it starts to foam. Add in cream of tartar and beat until stiff peaks. As a test, the egg whites should not fall if you invert the bowl.

7. Incorporate 1/4 of the egg whites into the Nutella chocolate mixture. Fold in the remaining egg whites, 1/3 of egg whites at a time until incorporated.

8. Pour mixture to the prepared springform pan.

9. Bake for 25-30 until it passes the toothpick test. Let it cool for 10 mins. Release pan and serve.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Prosperity Cake - Fa Gao

Chinese New Year is probably the most colorful and important of all the traditional Chinese celebration. This is the time for us to congratulate ourselves and each other on making through the year. It is the time to leave the old year behind and welcome in the new year.

For three years straight, Chinese New Year Eve is the day that I hang out with my friends and some fellow food bloggers for the giant Chinese New Year feast at Beijing restaurant in Montreal (by the way, this is not part of Chinese tradition). You can read about this feast in my previous post from two years ago or from my foodie friend Evelyne on Cheap Ethnic Eatz. On Chinese New Year, we make traditional baking goods like Nian Gao (Chinese New Year cake), sesame seed balls stuffed with red bean paste, and Fa Gao (prosperity cake). The recipe for Nian Gao can be found here.

Fa Gao translated from Chinese means both the "cake that has expanded" or "prosperity cake". The Chinese believes that when these cakes blossom, it looks like a smile which will bring good luck and prosperity for the rest of the year. These cakes are sweet, light and fluffy. Often, these are dyed in bright colors.

Makes 6 muffin-sized cakes
Preparation Time: 5 mins
Steaming Time: 15 mins
Printable Recipe


3/4 cup water
1 1/2 block Chinese brown candy (or about 1/2 cup brown sugar)
1 cup white rice flour
1 tsp baking powder + 1 tsp water


1. In a saucepan, combine water and brown candy over medium-high heat. Stir until dissolved. Cool to room temperature.

2. In a medium bowl, add rice flour and gradually add sugar mixture while stirring.

3. In a small bowl, add baking powder and pour in water until combined. You should hear a little sizzling and see some bubbles forming.

4. Stir it into the batter.

5. Line the mould with muffin paper. Pour batter almost all the way.

6. Steam for 15 mins. Serve. Never open the steamer midway, otherwise you won't get the smiley face :).

Gung Hay Fat Choy! 
Gong Xi Fa Cai! 
Bonne année lunaire! 
Happy Chinese New Year! 
May the year of the Rabbit brings you and your family good health, success, happiness and prosperity.


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