Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Stuffed Chicken for New Year's

For some reason, I never understand why people find such happiness fussing over the New Year's. It's another year, it's getting older, being slower and growing grey hairs. It's not a very happy moment for me, really. One of the good things though, is that I get an excuse to pig out and enjoy copious amounts of alcohol. Except that because I'm ONE year older, my liver is starting to shrivel to the size of a sorrel mushroom and I can't seem to hold my liquor that well anymore.

Which is why I'm spending the night in. Some Amanda alone time with a glass of wine, some Robert Downey Jr. and trying to stop my dog from invading the rubbish bin. I probably won't stay awake till 12am considering the fact that I've had quite a lot of green tea ice cream and a humongous glass of Riesling, but Happy New Year's all the same! I'll be sitting here with my swansong to 2008, typing a recipe that incorporates all my favourite ingredients and listening to The Walkmen sing 'In The New Year'. Tonight I made chicken stuffed with thyme, goat cheese, crème fraîche and prosciutto (those are the things I ALWAYS have in my fridge) and served with an apple, spinach and raisin salad.

There's really nothing else I would rather have. Except maybe a slice of chocolate cake... Happy 2009! Whee!

Goat Cheese and Thyme Stuffed Chicken Breasts
Serves 2

1 piece chicken skinless and boneless chicken breast
2 tablespoons goat cheese (room temperature)
1 tablespoon crème fraîche
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 slices good quality prosciutto
Fresh black pepper and pinch of salt

In a medium bowl, mix together the goat cheese, crème fraîche, thyme, pepper and salt together.

Make a slit lengthwise in the side of the chicken. Stuff it with the cheese mixture. Prick the surface of the chicken all over with a fork then wrap the chicken with the slices of prosciutto.

Heat a non-stick pan with one tablespoon of olive oil. Sear the chicken for about 5 minutes on each side on medium heat until it is no longer pink and the prosciutto is crispy. Turn the heat up to high for about a minute to reduce any of the juices in the pan. Slice the chicken width-wise and serve with the cheese reduction from the pan.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A date with my cappucino maker

I'm pretty glad the end of the year is coming. There'll be no major celebration for me (the other half is away in blistery Minnesota with the blokes) - just a good night in with the dog and a movie that hopefully doesn't involve love triangles or bad Al Pacino acting. Or decapitated bodies. A nice French movie, perhaps. Or Iron Man. Either way works.

Over Christmas my mum got me the glass Bialetti Mukka Express from Williams-Sonoma. It's a really pretty contraption, but I haven't had quite the Victrola experience with it yet. It bubbles my milk rapidly, then the froth dies away in a very disturbing way. It's like cappucino maker rabies. The video on the Williams-Sonoma website is a fake, I swear. Look at that man and his perfectly frothed cup of cappucino - I want to stab him with my faulty pressure valve...

One of the good things that came out of a half-arsed cappucino maker though, is my desire to be all faux Italian-suave. I made a batch of white-chocolate hazelnut and cranberries biscotti that I conjured from scratch. And while roasting hazelnuts is single-handedly the worse experience rubbing nuts (ahem!) you will ever have, it's well worth it since roasting brings out the smoky and earthy flavour of the nuts.

White chocolate is in itself a little sweet, so I was careful to use less sugar than normal. I know chocolate-connoisseurs will pooh-pooh at the idea of anything less than 65% cacao,but white chocolate really goes well with the hazelnuts and a cup of flat white coffee.

Oh, and while you're at it figuring out the calorie content of my biscotti, have an oogly-eyed moment at my very mischievious and rascally dachshund. He's one of those dogs that "counter-surf" acrobatically and eat chocolate.

White-chocolate, hazelnut and cranberries Biscotti

Makes about 36 biscotti

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon amaretto
1/2 cup white chocolate chips or chunks
1/2 cup cranberries
1/2 cup chopped hazelnuts (roasted and skinned, see below)

Heat oven to 275°F and slowly roast shelled raw hazelnuts for about 15 - 20 minutes until the skins start to the flake and the nuts are browned. Remove nuts and place them on a kitchen towel. Gather up the ends of the towel and twist them tightly over the nuts. Allow the nuts to steam for 10 minutes, rubbing the occasionally to remove the skin. After 10 minutes, with the kitchen towel, rub the nuts in between you hands until almost all the skin is removed. Set aside to cool then roughly chop the cooled nuts in a food processor.

Bring the oven temperature up to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper

In a medium bowl, combing the flour, baking powder, salt, nuts, chocolate and cranberries.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs, sugar, vanilla and amaretto. Slowly add in the flour mixture bit by bit until a dough forms. The dough will be stiff.

Divide the dough into two balls. For each ball, transfer to baking sheet and using a rolling motion, extend the dough into a 12-inch log. Flatten the log into 7/8-inch thickness. You will have two loaves of dough measuring 12-inches long and 7/8-inches thick.

Bake at 350°F for 20 minutes until the logs are risen and just beginning to brown. The logs will be slightly soft. Remove from oven and allow to cool on the baking sheet for about 20 minutes. This will allow the chocolate to set and make cutting easier.

Bring oven temperature down to 325°F.

Using a serrated knife, cut the baked logs diagonally into 1/2 inch widths. Place on baking sheet and toast each side of the biscotti for about 5 - 7 minutes until brown.

Cool completely on wire racks.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Holiday Baking Part 2: Orange Sable Cookies

The usual driving time from Seattle to Portland is on average 3 and the half hours. Today, it took us almost 8 hours. We almost skidded off the road and into an oncoming truck. It was NOT the best experience. The sound of tires grating over ice is possibly one of the scariest things you will ever encounter on solid land.

Anyway, we came home after the ordeal to a marvelous bowl of stew, some home made bread and lots of Christmas cookies. This recipe comes from Martha Stewart and is a citrus-y take on traditional sable cookies. It's super easy to make and goes well with a hot cup of orange pekoe tea.

Have a safe and Merry Christmas!

Orange Sable Cookies
From Martha Stewart Living
Makes 5 dozen

1 1/4 cups whole blanched almonds
1 cup confectioners' sugar
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
3 tablespoons finely grated orange zest (2 to 3 oranges)
1 large egg
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed orange juice
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sanding or granulated sugar, for rolling

Place almonds and confectioners' sugar in the bowl of a food processor. Process until mixture resembles coarse cornmeal; set aside.

Place butter and zest in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. On low, add almond mixture; beat until combined, 10 to 15 seconds. Add egg and orange juice; combine. Add flour; combine.

Place two 12-by-16-inch pieces of parchment on a clean work surface. Divide dough in half. Form a rough log with each half; place on parchment. Fold parchment over dough; use a ruler to roll and press dough into 1 1/2-inch-diameter logs. Wrap. Chill for at least 3 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment. Spread sanding sugar in a baking pan. Unwrap logs; roll in sugar to coat. Cut into scant 1/4-inch-thick rounds; place on sheets, 1 inch apart. Bake until edges turn golden, about 15 minutes, rotating halfway through. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Bake or freeze remaining dough. Store baked cookies in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Holiday Baking Part 1: Linzer Cookies

First off, let me apologize for the lack of posts of late - I haven't entirely given up on cooking, I've just been having my term finals, been in San Francisco for a conference and chilling out (literally) in front of the heater and drinking hot cocoa. It's been snowing here for the past couple of days, and in Seattle, anything below 38F is considered madness.

When it's snowing, there's always the danger of ballooning up to 300 pounds because
a)You can never (or don't ever want to) leave the house
b)You're hungry ALL the time
c)You get addicted to hot chocolate and marshmallows with a dollop of creme fraiche

I decided to put to use my time moping around the house by doing some holiday baking. I trudged out last night in the snow to haul back one pound of blanched almonds since both cookies I've decided to make this year are based around almonds.

The first of the baking craze is the Austrian favourite - linzer cookies. I've been wanting to make these cute little things since I picked up a linzer cookie cutter set from Crate and Barrel just for the heck of wasting some hard-earned money. I used my favourite Bonne Maman raspberry preserves, but you can also use any other kind of good quality fruit preserves (a good alternative would be Stonewall Kitchen's Cranberry Orange Marmalade for a festive twist).

Linzer Cookies
Makes 30 2" sandwiches
Adapted from Joy of Baking, Tuesdays with Dorie and Barefoot Contessa

1 cup blanched or sliced almonds, toasted and ground
2 cups (280 grams) all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2/3 cup granulated white sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large egg yolks
Zest of 1 lemon
Confectioners' (Icing or Powdered) Sugar for dusting
1/2 cup Raspberry Preserves

Toast the almonds (or pecans) on a baking sheet in a 350°F oven for about 8-10 minutes (or until lightly browned and fragrant). Once the nuts have cooled, place in a food processor and process with 1/4 cup of the sugar from the recipe until finely ground. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, whisk or sift together the flour, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), cream the butter and remaining sugar until light and fluffy (approximately 3 minutes). Beat in the vanilla extract, egg yolks, and lemon zest. Beat in the ground nuts. Add the flour mixture beating just until incorporated. Divide the dough in half and shape into two rectangles about 1/2 inch (1.5 cm) thick. Wrap the two rectangles of dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm (at least one hour and up to several days).

Preheat oven to 350°F and place rack in center of oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

Remove one rectangle of dough from the refrigerator. (Amanda's note, the dough will be crumbly, it would work better if you leave it out at room temperature for 10 minutes). On a lightly floured surface roll out the dough until it is about 1/4 inch (1 cm) thick. Using a 2 to 3 inch (5 to 7.5 cm) cookie cutter (round, square, heart, etc.) cut out the dough. Place the cookies about 1 inch (2.54 cm) apart on the prepared baking sheet. Use a smaller cookie cutter (3/4 - 1 inch (2.54 cm)) to cut out the centers of half of the cookies on the baking sheet. (You will be sandwiching two cookies together and there will be a small 'window or cut out' in the top cookie so you can see the jam underneath.)

Re-roll any scraps and cut out the cookies. Remove the other half of the dough from the refrigerator and roll and cut out the rest of the cookies. Bake the cookies for 12-14 minutes or until they are very lightly browned. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool.

To Assemble Cookies: Place the cookies with the cut-outs on a wire rack and lightly dust the tops with the confectioners' (powdered or icing) sugar.

On the bottom surface of the full cookie (top of cookie will face out) spread with about a 1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon of jam. Place the cut-out cookie on top and gently sandwich them together, making sure not to smug the confectioners' sugar. Using a small spoon, fill the cut-out with a little more jam.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Heads up: Apartment Therapy Giveaways

This is just a quick post to let U.S. residents know that Apartment Therapy is doing a series of really great giveaways for the holiday season.

is where it's at. Have fun!

P/S: Crazy holiday baking in pipeline, including linzer cookies and lots of chocolatey fun.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Thanksgiving blubber riddance: Salade Niçoise

Hello! I hope your Thanksgiving was as enjoyable as mine. We had an 18lb. turkey which we ate for three straight meals and a gigantic bowl of the best mashed potatoes I've ever had that does not involve dairy. Hurrah! Heading back from Portland to Seattle, I swear my seat belt buckle was almost breaking under my gargantuan mashed potato, pumpkin pie, turkey stuffed self.

While in Portland, I manage to score a copy of Williams-Sonoma's "Savoring Provence" from Borders for almost 75% off. I love French food, and I think it's my New Year's resolution to try every single thing from that book, including frog legs, rabbit saddles and baby fish.

My first choice from the book is the Niçoise salad which basically just translates to a salad from Nice. As always, Niçoise salads MUST have green beans, romaine lettuce, tomatoes, eggs, anchovies and olives. The recipe called for artichoke hearts but I skipped it because we don't live in an artichoke friendly household.

Salade Niçoise
Serves 4
(Adapted from Williams-Sonoma's cooking series:'Savoring Provence')

4 small new potatoes, unpeeled
20 baby green beans, trimmed
1 can tuna chunk in olive oil
1 head or 1 bag baby romain lettuce
10 small cherry tomatoes (or 2 large roma tomatoes)
1/2 red onion, sliced thinly
8 slices olive oil packed anchovy fillets, halved lengthwise
1/2 cup Nicoise or kalamata olives
1 tablespoon capers
4 hard boiled eggs, peeled and quartered lengthwise

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon fresh thyme (or 1/2 teaspoon dried)
2 cloves garlic, minced fine
1 small shallot, minced fine
Salt and ground black pepper to taste

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Cook potatoes until tender, about 10 - 15 minutes. Drain, and set under running water until cool. Cut into 1/4 inch thick slices.

Blanch the green beans in a pot of salted water for 2-3 minutes. Drain, and set under running water until cool.

Drain the tuna and separate into large flakes. Make the vinaigrette by whisking the vinaigrette ingredients together in a bowl.

Line a large salad bowl with lettuce leaves. Lightly toss the remaining ingredients except for the eggs in a separate bowl with the vinaigrette. Spoon over the lettuce and arrange the quartered hard-boiled eggs on top.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The fastest and easiest and moistest chocolate cake you will ever bake

Confessions of a girl who oft-denies her feminine side: I don't like cake. I'm not a cake person. I like the idea of the gratification that cake brings, but after a bite of chocolate, cheese, berries or whatever the heck is in those things, I feel like throwing up and go into anaphylactic shock (literally). I've made a couple of cakes on this blog, but mostly those were pretty healthy, involved minimal use of butter and were ready in 45 minutes flat.

I recently bought a Food & Wine cookbook from 1998 at Half-Price Books for $2. I don't do Gourmet or Bon Appetit subscriptions. I'm cheap like that. In the Food and Wine book was a recipe for a mix-in-the-pan chocolate cake. I was semi-thinking: How good can a chocolate cake that didn't involve a mixer be? Wouldn't that just taste like brownies (which I find marvelously gross)?

I decided to try it anyway because a) I didn't get cake for my birthday (I'm anti-cake like that) b) I have a potluck tomorrow for someone's birthday, the cake would be my contribution. And also, lately, I've been craving chocolate so much. I blame that both on Ina Garten and leftover Halloween-goodies, and oh, on the economy, on General Motors, on my thesis advisor, on Eric Cantor and change we may never believe in.

Have a go at this chocolate cake that is so easy, it's laughable. To make it more elegant, you can (and should) bake it in a round cake pan - the recipe will yield two round 8" cakes. Otherwise if you're like me, this recipe will yield a moist, soft and supremely chocolatey 8" square cake, dripping with chocolate glaze and sparkling with chopped walnuts.

Fast and Easy Chocolate Cake
Adapted from Food and Wine, 1998

1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup and 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/4 lb unsalted butter, melted
2 eggs, beaten lightly
1/2 cup very hot water
1 cup low fat yogurt
1 teaspoon vanilla essence

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Line an 8-inch square cake pan with parchment paper.

In a bowl, mix the dry ingredients together. Whisk in the eggs, butter, hot water and vanilla. Then whisk in the yogurt. Mix together with a rubber spatula and pour in to the prepared pan until it is half filled. (Note: Do not overfill or you cake will resemble a chocolate volcano!) . Bake for 40 minutes at 350°F until a thin knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Remove from oven and cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Turn the cake out gently on a wire rack and cool completely. Top with chocolate glaze and chopped walnuts.

Chocolate frosting
4 ounces semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Melt the chocolate and butter in double boiler. Gently pour over the prepared cake, starting from the middle of the cake and letting the glaze drip over the sides. Sprinkle with chopped walnuts.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Chana Dhal (Indian Lentils)

News alert: Dogs aren't really that cute. Especially if they're rascally dachshunds that have learned to jump up on your garbage bin and crawl across the counter to munch on half a pack of raw chorizo. They are NOT cute that way.

Indian food is one of the three staple cuisines I grew up with in Malaysia. Weekends were usually spend watching live football (to be incorrectly termed: Soccer) broadcasts at 3am whilst chomping on a traditional roadside Indian dish of dhal and 'roti'. That was of course, complemented by mugs and mugs of milky tea that were guaranteed to give you a tummy-ache hours later.

For some reason, the change of season has brought back rather strong urges for both football and dhal with 'roti'. I recently found out that the Seattle Sounders FC have signed on my once-upon-a-time favourite Arsenal player Freddie Ljungberg as the distinguished player for the club. So I figure I'll get an early headstart on the food part of the soccer night outs.

Dhal is usually made with ghee, a kind of shortening. I used vegetable buillion cubes and a small amount of vegetable oil instead to make this a healthy dish that you can serve with some store bought naan and a cup of milky chai. It works wonderful on a cold day, and lends a subtle spicyness to offset the chill factor.

Chana Dhal (Indian Lentils)
Serves 4

1 1/2 cups yellow split peas
3 cups water
2 big green chilis (Serrano or Hot Cherry works fine)
1 large tomato, cubed
1 medium onion
1 clove garlic
4 slices fresh ginger
2 tsp Garam Masala
2 tsp curry powder
2 tsp black mustard seed
1/2 cube vegetable buillion
Pinch of Red pepper flakes
Handful fresh parsley leaves
Salt to taste

Note: If your lentils are still tough, and you would like it to be softer - add in 1 heap teaspoon of baking powder. Likewise, you can use an immersion blender to pulse the lentils.

Soak the lentils in 4 cups of water for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight.

In a big pot, bring the lentils, water and a teaspoon of salt to a boil. Cover and simmer for 45 minutes. After 45 minutes, uncover and stir in the Garam Masala and curry powder. Let the pot remain simmering, uncovered.

In a separate frying pan, heat two tablespoons of vegetable oil and fry the garlic, onions, ginger, tomatoes, chili and black mustard seeds until fragrant, about 7 minutes.

Stir in the fried tomato mixture, red pepper flakes and vegetable buillion cube into the lentils and let it simmer for another 5 minutes until the lentils are thick. Remove the sliced ginger. Season with salt to taste. Serve garnish with parsley leaves.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Cranberry and Orange Scones

On most days when I go to the gym, I try to veer attention away from my strenuous plodding by either watching something depressing and funny (MSNBC!) or ridiculous and delicious (Food Network!). My secret is always to head to the gym at about 1.30pm to catch Giada, Barefoot Contessa, then Chris Matthews on Hardball. I like Giada because she is very well-endowed and has really pretty things - like plates. And she doesn't annoy me as much as say... Rachael Ray does. Ina Garten I watch mostly because she whacks a pack of a fat into EVERY single thing she cooks. I like that she doesn't care if she's chubby or that she has a chubby hubby. They're my favourite chubby couple. And Chris Matthews... oh, I watch him because he's mean, mean-spirited and funny.

Well, this morning, being a bank holiday and all, I decided to try out something I saw on 'Barefoot Contessa' a few weeks ago. It involves a shitload of butter and an insane amount of dairy (heavy cream! eggs!) and just seemed like the perfect breakfast to offset what Northwesterners complain most about (the rain) and to satisfy my lust for all things pretty.

I modified Ina Garten's recipe a little - first off by making 6 scones instead of a whopping 16 scones, using less butter, and discarding the frosting and egg wash. So instead of one scone that will set you back by 600+ calories, have fun with one scone that is roughly 220 calories. I know the prissy foodies will pooh-pooh at the idea of "counting calories" but I really want to be able to leave the gym the moment 30-Minute Meals comes on.

Cranberry and Orange Scones
Adapted from Ina Garten's 'Barefoot Contessa'
Makes 6 scones

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tbsp granulated white sugar
1/2 tbsp baking powder
1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons grated orange zest
3/4 stick (6 tbsp) cold unsalted butter, diced
1/2 cup low fat milk (or soy milk)
1/2 cup dried cranberries

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix the flour, sugar, the baking powder, salt and orange zest. Add the cold butter and mix at the lowest speed until the butter is the size of peas. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the milk and cranberries until dough forms.

Dump the dough onto a well-floured surface and knead it into a ball. Flour your hands and a rolling pin and roll the dough 3/4-inch thick. You should see small bits of butter in the dough. Keep moving the dough on the floured board so it doesn't stick. Flour a 3-inch round plain or fluted cutter and cut circles of dough. Place the scones on a baking pan lined with parchment paper. Collect the scraps neatly, roll them out, and cut more circles.

Bake for 15 - 18 minutes until the scones are light brown. The scones will be firm to the touch.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Grilled Portobello Mushrooms with Eggs, Spinach and Roasted Peppers

The election, school, the dog, dog training, rain, Farmer's Markets... those are the reasons I have been absent from the blogosphere for so long. My nights these days are mostly filled with having lots of quick-fixes like pasta, pasta, more pasta and (horrors!) Sushi-land. Yes, sushi on a conveyor belt for $1.50 a plate. In lieu of the crazy week(s) that was/were and also for my birthday, we went out for a wonderful, romantic (albeit expensive) dinner at a French, fine-dining establishment called Crush. And yes, it is one of those pretentious, one-word restaurants that are patrolled by gay waiters with frou-frou decor and "May I help you wipe down the lobster spill on your shirt?" attitude. I had a good time inspite of that, mostly because the food was good. We started off with the Hudson Valley Seared Foie Gras steak, then I had the Roasted Hawaiian Mero Sea Bass and finished off with the most delectable serving of Chocolate Mousse and Caramelized Bananas. I think the one reason that place was so expensive was because they used truffles in EVERY SINGLE THING. Hello, truffle laces, truffle oil, truffle shavings, truffle soaked meat...

I finally had time this morning to make us a decent sit-down breakfast, spurred on by my craving for Portobello Mushrooms. This is a take on a recipe in Bon Appetit that I've tried to recreate following my pretentious gourmet outing at Crush. And isn't Konosur the ideal name for a my very own pretentious one-word restaurant?

Grilled Portobello Mushrooms with Eggs, Spinach and Roasted Peppers
Serves 2

2 large portabello mushrooms
4 organic, free-range eggs
2 cups spinach
1/4 chopped Spanish onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tbsp fresh chopped parsley
2 tbsp freshly grated Parmesan
1/4 cup sliced roasted red pepper
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil

Heat the grill. Drizzle olive oil over both sides of the mushrooms, sprinkle the thyme over, season with salt and pepper and grill for 15 minutes until the mushrooms are soft, about 15 minutes, turning once.

In a skillet, heat 1 tsp olive oil and saute the onions and garlic for about 2 minutes, and add in the spinach. Toss until the spinach are wilted, about 5 minutes. Divide on to two plates.

In a medium bowl, beat the eggs until fluffy and season with salt and pepper and half the parsley. Heat 2 tsp olive oil in a skillet (you can use the same one you did for your spinach), pour in the eggs and gently scramble the eggs over medium heat until the eggs are cooked. Sprinkle the parmesan cheese over.

On the bed of wilted spinach, arrange one mushroom cap on top with the smooth edge facing down. Spoon the eggs on top of the mushroom, top with roasted peppers and garnish with remaining parsley. Repeat for the other mushroom.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Pumpkin Spice Sugar Cookies

Hello! I hope your Halloween went well - I think Halloween is the one day in the year girls are allowed to dress up skankily and not be called out for me. Luckily for me too, since over the weekend, I dressed up in a failed attempt at being Sarah Palin with a sticker stuck on my chest that said "MAVERICK". I ended up looking like a school girl and a nerd (which I am).

Anyhoo. I think the disasterous, half-arsed attempt at Nailin' Paylin (heh heh heh) was offset by some really good pumpkin spice cookies which I spent so much time decorating that by the time I was done, it was too dark out to even take any good photos. I made cookies in the shape of pumpkins, ghosts, cats and bats. I think the ghosts turned out really cute and I used chocolate frosting to make the cats and bats black.

This recipe is a combination of basic sugar cookies (from Martha laced with brandy and pumpkin spice. You should save this for next Halloween, or use it with your Thanksgiving cookie cutters.

Pumpkin Spice Sugar Cookies
Makes about 15 cookies with a large cookie cutter or 20 with a small one

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons brandy
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon all spice
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ginger powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Whisk together flour, salt, baking powder and spices in a medium bowl. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar; add dry ingredients, and mix until incorporated. With mixer running, add egg, brandy (or milk), and vanilla; mix until incorporated.

Transfer dough to a work surface. Shape into 2 discs, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour (I skipped this step and it turned out fine).

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with nonstick baking mats or parchment paper; set aside.

On a lightly floured work surface, roll out dough to 1/8-inch thickness. Cut into desired shapes, and transfer to prepared baking sheets, leaving an inch in between. Leftover dough can be rolled and cut once more. Bake until lightly golden, about 10 minutes; do not allow to brown. Transfer to wire racks to cool.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Easy Mondays: Savoy cabbage, potatoes and spare ribs soup

There's something about cabbage that just screams "peasant" and "Russia" in the same sentence, mostly because Brian has so ingrained the horrors of Russian borsch in my mind that I've been quite hesitant to combine cabbage and potatoes in a soup. Over the weekend however, we took a stroll with down to the Broadway Farmer's Market and there sat a lonely little savoy cabbage bursting with all colours of green, beckoning to me to chomp on it.

Also, cabbage and soup reminds me of Brer Rabbit and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, both British institutions that demonstrate how highly popular cabbage and potatoes are in European culture. I guess that in the Old WorldAlaska, it must have been a great relieve to be able to dig something out of your garden, stab a pig (or a moose!) and toss it all into a large kettle.

I adapted this recipe from the New York Times, adding in potatoes as the bad-bad-bad carb filler and braising the spare ribs in liquid for the soup instead of doing it separately. Savoy cabbage lends a sweet taste to the soup, and complements the spicy spareribs. The actual recipe states that this will yield 10 - 12 servings. Unless you're a midget or Giada De Laurentiis, I think this whole recipe will yield about 6 servings for a main course with some crusty bread.

Cabbage, Potatoes and Spare Ribs Soup
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
1 teaspoon paprika
2 teaspoons dry mustard (I used mustard seeds)
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
Pinch cayenne pepper (I used chili flakes)
1 1/4 pounds pork spareribs (about 8 ribs or 1/2 rack)
1 head garlic, peeled, cloves crushed
Vegetable spray
6 cups rich chicken stock
2 cups diced yellow onions
6 generous cups green cabbage in 1-inch dice
2 cups red potatoes, peeled, cut into 1-inch cube
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons chopped parsley for garnish (Optional)

1. In a spice grinder process caraway seeds, paprika and mustard until fine. Turn into a bowl with brown sugar, 1 teaspoon salt and the cayenne; fluff with fingertips.

2. Dry ribs well with paper towels, and rub both sides with spices and crushed garlic. Place ribs on a small rack or plate, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least 6 hours or overnight.

3. Adjust oven rack to lowest position, and heat oven to 425 degrees. Spray a sheet pan lightly with vegetable spray. Brush garlic cloves from ribs, place ribs in a sheet pan, and roast until a deep golden brown, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven.

4. Transfer ribs to a 5-quart Dutch oven; pour rendered fat (about 2 tablespoons) from sheet pan into a large heavy skillet, and set aside. Place sheet pan on 2 burners over high heat, add 1 cup water, and stir with a wooden spoon to dislodge browned bits. Pour deglazing liquid and stock into Dutch oven, cover, and bring to simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low, and simmer gently until ribs are tender, turning occasionally, about 75 minutes (1 hr 15 mins). Add in cubed potatoes and simmer for another 20 minutes until potatoes are soft.

5. While ribs simmer, sauté onions and cabbage in a skillet over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until lightly browned, about 20 minutes. Add 1 teaspoon salt and the black pepper; stir to combine. Set aside.

6. Remove spare ribs from the soup. Pull pork off bones, trim off bits of cartilage, and dice meat. Discard bones. Return meat to soup base, add cabbage and onions, and simmer about 15 minutes. Serve, garnished with parsley.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Hello Saturday Morning Breakfast!

I know what you're thinking: "Oh noes! Another sweets recipe - is she turning into one of those baking maniacs?"

Well the truth is that baked goods are so photogenic. And let's face it, no one really wants to visit a blog where all the writer moans about is calories, no butter and food that tastes like paste (hey, I rhymed!). Anyhoo, I'm not giving up on healthy meals just yet - the only time I have so far has been used to make recipes that I've wanted to try for a long time now. And those recipes just happen to be made up largely of sugar and flour (*wink!* -- Sarah Palin style).

Once again, a huge thank you to The Omnomicon for being a big inspiration. She set in motion my craving for crepes, something which I've never justified paying close to $7 in a restaurant for. I made a simple pear and vanilla compote to go with the crepes. The other variety was peanut butter, apples and cinnamon. I made a healthier crepe recipe using half all-purpose flour and half whole-wheat flour.

Basic Crepes
Makes 6 crepes

1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp sugar
Pinch salt
1 egg
1/4 tsp vanilla essence
1/4 cup low-fat or soy milk
1/4 cup water
1 tbsp melted butter

In a blender, combine all the wet ingredients first then the dry. Refrigerate batter for about 45 minutes.

In a non-stick 8" skillet, brush a little bit of cooking oil on the surface and pour 1/4 cup batter on the heated pan. Swirl the pan around the coat the entire surface of the pan. Heat should be on medium to low. Cook the crepe about 1 minute on the first side, flip and cook the either side for 1 minute. Add in ingredients and fold. Garnish with powdered sugar or honey.

Pear and vanilla compote
4 servings

1 large comiso pear (or soft bartlett pear), cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1/4 vanilla bean
4 tbsp brown sugar
1/2 tbsp lemon juice
1/4 cup water

Incise the vanilla bean through the middle and remove any seeds.

Bring 1/4 cup water to boil in a saucepan. Add in all the ingredients and simmer for about 20 minutes until the water has evaporated and the pear is soft.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Disconnect the Dots: Lemon and Poppy Seed Cake

If you're wondering about the dearth of posts recently (apart from stress-relieving sugar fixes), the story is that we got a miniature dachshund. It's the cutest little thing ever. I don't know what it is about dogs, but no matter how much you train them, they still always keep that little bit of genetics with them. Dieter the Dachshund loves burrowing and snorfing around, probably due to the inate hound nature in him. It's so fun watching him spaz out that sometimes I even forget about food!

A couple of days ago, Omnomicon posted a recipe for some Lemon and Poppy Seed Muffins, something which I've wanted to try for the longest time now since lemons are supremely easy to come by, and muffins are one of my favourite things in the world. Also, I stare at a jar of Lemon Poppy Seed face wash from Burt's Bees every morning. Some days I get some poppy seed stuck on the sides of my lips and it makes me think about lemony goodness in food form.

I actually prefer the idea of a lemon and poppy seed cake mostly because I want to save on muffin liners and because dumping a whole bowl of batter in a loaf pan is easier than scooping it out bit by bit. So yes, I'm lazy and have no pastry chef skills but have a go at this recipe. Be sure to floss well afterwards though, because you don't want to be walking around and grinning like a loon with poppy seeds in your teeth (speaking from experience here!)

Lemon Poppy Seed Loaf Cake
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated white sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 large eggs
1 stick butter
1/2 cup yogurt
3 tbsp blue poppy seed
2 tbsp lemon juice (about 1 large lemon)
2 tbsp lemon peel (from 1 large lemon)
2 tsp pure vanilla essence
Apricot jam for glaze (optional)
Powdered sugar (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°F.

In a large bowl combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.

In a microwave safe bowl, heat butter for about 20 seconds. Stir until melted. Cool for about 5 minutes. Beat eggs together until fluffy. Gently add in the yogurt, vanilla essence, lemon juice and finally add in the melted butter.

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Pour in wet ingredients. Add in lemon peel and poppy seeds. Stir until just combined. Be careful not to over mix! Spoon into prepared pan and smooth the top with a knife.

Bake in preheated oven for about 55 - 60 minutes until a thin knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Cool completely on wire rack. Glaze with apricot jam and sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Note1: Once again, I used soy yogurt and cooking margarine instead to make it dairy-free.
Note2: I always use less sugar in my recipes because I don't like the feeling of being on sugar high all day. If you like things a little bit sweeter, use 3/4 cup light brown sugar.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Comfort Food: Chocolate Chip Cookies

I recently started my PhD program and one of courses I'm taking involves a weekly quiz - which constantly leaves me constantly stressed out, cynical and crummy. I'm usually that way anyway, but I swear this course has multiplied all those negative qualities by a billion.

Of course, when stressed, there's nothing better to turn to than alcohol and food. My comfort food is usually an ENORMOUS bowl of pasta, several bottles of ale and one other kind of bad-for-your-hips munchies. Pasta because it fills me up and it involves tons of CHEEZ, beer because it fills me up and it involves tons of hops... and I suppose chocolate chip cookies because it involves tons of gooey yummy melted chocolate.

This recipe is from David Lebovitz's The Great Book of Chocolate - which Deb of SmittenKitchen swears is her favourite chocolate chip cookie recipe ever. So far I think it's mine too! For some reason, the bottom of the cookie is a little crunchy and the center is just soft enough without being mushy. I don't usually like walnuts, but the addition of it I think helped enhance the flavour of the cookies. Also, instead of using just a teaspoon of vanilla, I used two teaspoons and that made the cookies even more yumtastic (yes, yumtastic is a word in the Konosur vocabulary).

I might just pack this up for our trip out on Sunday to see Joe Biden in Tacoma. Chocolate chip cookies and a stop at Harmon Brewing Co. will offset whatever doldrumminess Monday will bring.

Chocolate Chip Cookies
Based on David Lebovitz's The Great Book of Chocolate
Makes about 20 cookies (4" diameter)

1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
8 tablespoons (1 stick)unsalted butter, cold, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (or baking margarine)
1 large egg
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt (or omit if you use salted butter or margarine)
1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup walnuts or pecans, toasted and chopped

Adjust the oven rack to the top third of the oven and preheat to 300°F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Beat the sugars and butters together until smooth. Mix in the egg, vanilla, and baking soda.

Stir together the flour and salt, then mix them into the batter. Mix in the chocolate chips and nuts.

Scoop the cookie dough into 2 tablespoon balls onto prepared baking sheet, spacing the balls about 4-in apart. I used two tablespoon scoops and mashed them together and dropped them on to the baking sheet.

Bake for 20 minutes, or until pale golden brown. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack.

Store at room temperature in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Monday, October 13, 2008

(Sulk) It's Monday, have an Easy Noodley Stir-Fry

Sulk! Pout! Stomp! I hate Mondays. Actually, I hate Sundays more because it's the day before Monday, and it reminds me that I have to go to school and work and start the miserable trudge through my mundane week again. I also hate Mondays because... who doesn't?

Cynicism and all things pouty aside, Mondays are good for being lazy and also good for getting rid of vegetables and what-nots so that when Wednesday comes and I am attacked by a massive amount of grocery store flyers promoting 10 zucchinis for a buck, I can stock up my fridge with a bucket-load of produce I don't even want to eat.

The quickest and bestest way to get rid of last week's vege is to use it in a stir fry. Here's a secret: The reason why Asians like chow mein is so that nothing goes to waste. Leftover cabbage? Chuck that in. Mushrooms? Celery? Chicken? Greens? Onions? Chuck them all in, add some soy sauce and you've got yourself a tasty dinner with maybe some leftover for lunch tomorrow.

Here's my easy peasy stir-fried noodles with bok choy, mushrooms and chicken - MSG free. By the way, unpeeled straw mushrooms look like little teeny-weenies, so to save yourself the shock, get peeled ones.

Political Speak (P/S): Last debate this Wednesday! I think we're going to do TexMex to support those folks in bell-weather New Mexico. And also, I don't think McCain has got me where he wants, despite whatever new stump speech he's moaning about now. And yes, Obama: we know how to spells JOBS.

Easy Noodle Stir-Fry
Serves 4

1 lb chicken breast, sliced thinly
1/2 lb vegetables (you can use ANY kind of leafy vegetables or even shredded cabbage, carrots, celery, bean sprouts, etc.)
1 can peeled straw mushrooms
1 can sliced water chestnuts
16 oz. wheat or egg noodles (chow mein variety)
2 cloves garlic, chopped

Chicken Marinade
1 tsp baking soda
1 tbsp corn flour
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp Tsiao Shing wine
2 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tsp Chinese Five Spice Powder

Stir-Fry Sauce
1/2 cup chicken broth
4 tbsp light soy sauce
4 tbsp sweet soy sauce
2 tsp corn flour
White pepper

Marinade the chicken for 15 minutes.

Cook the noodles according to package directions. Drain, rinse with cold water and set aside.

Heat two tablespoons of oil in a wok. Add in chopped garlic and chicken. Stir-fry on medium-high heat until chicken is almost cooked through. Toss in mushrooms.

Fry for another 2-3 minutes and add in vegetables. In a small bowl, mix together ingredients for the sauce until corn flour is dissolved. Add in cooked noodles and pour in sauce. Turn off the heat and stir to combine. Serve with chili sauce.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Saturday night blues: Seafood Curry

I must be getting old, considering the fact that I spent Saturday night holed up in the house, cooking and watching a really bad movie (I have unbearably high standards). I should have known better, it was a movie with Will Smith playing an alcoholic superhero... Hancock indeed.

Most of Saturday morning was spent shopping at Pike Place Market and searching for a French Press because I've decided that I like the taste of pressed coffee more than the brownish piss water from a drip machine. I have a regular Bodum press that I've been using for ages, but the coffee always turns lukewarm after the infusing time. I ended up buying a Frieling stainless steel thermal french press from Bed Bath and Beyond. While the price cost me my left kidney, it works supremely well and I got piping hot, swishy pressed coffee this morning. And the pot looks really swanky too.

So I came home yesterday with french press in hand and lugging bottles of cheapo wine from World Market and felt like having seafood. One of the easiest way to make tasty seafood is by rubbing it with some spices and chucking it on the grill. Another quick way is conjuring up some seafood curry. All you need is some good quality curry powder and garam masala.

I've been using the curry powder blend from Dean and DeLuca for the longest time. After trying a few other brands, I think the the D&D ones give the strongest and freshest flavour. This seafood curry is super quick and easy, with a spicy tomato flavour infused with creamy coconut milk. Peas and fresh cilantro and lime gives it a tangy twist. It's what I call my "fall-back-on" quick meal.

Seafood Curry
Serves 4

10 large prawns (we used tiger prawns)
1 lb solid fish fillet, like halibut, mahi-mahi or snapper cut into 1-inch bite size
4 tbsp curry powder
1 tsp Cayenne pepper
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 tsp Garam Masala
1/2 medium onion, diced
1 tsp minced garlic
2 tsp grated ginger
1/2 cup peas
1 cup light coconut milk
1/2 cup low fat or soy milk
1 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup roughly chopped cilantro
Juice from 1/2 lime

Heat 1 tbsp oil in a wok or stainless steel pot. Add in diced onions, minced garlic, grated ginger, garam masala, chili powder and curry powder and saute until fragrant, about 5 -6 minutes on medium heat.

Pour in coconut milk and milk and bring to a bubble. Let the curry simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring constantly until thickened.

Add in the halibut and gently pour in half the chicken broth so that the curry covers the halibut. Simmer for 5 minutes until halibut is almost cooked through, then add in the prawns and remaining chicken broth. Simmer another 5 or 6 minutes until the prawns no longer appear transluscent.

Add in the peas and season the curry with salt to taste. Simmer another 5 minutes, stirring to make sure the seafood is coated with curry. Turn heat off, stir in lime juice. Garnish with cilantro leaves and serve hot with bread or rice.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Oh noes! No-Cheese Easy Faux Lasagna

Let's establish one thing here. I detest going to the gym. I do so almost every other day because I need to, and because I get a personal TV screen whilst peddling my legs to muscular dystrophy on the elliptical machine. I also get to put on my headphones on full volume and yell at silly Sarah Palin statements or channel silent hate to Wolf HansWolf Blitzer.

Unfortunately, Direct TV decided to be a pain in the butt today and would not allow me to watch ANY news channel (ok, I didn't even bother trying FOX News). I ended up watching Racheal Ray's 30 Minute Meals because when you're triddling on the treadmill, you need some sort of distraction, even if it's in the form of a chippy who grins like she has had one too many omelettes and sounds like she swallowed a whole bottle of ecstasy pills (who TALKS like that in real life?). I've ranted before about how annoying I find her, but I tuned in today (shamefully) to find that she was making a decent recipe which I could improvise to make it dairy-free (the boyfriend has dairy allergies). She made an easy lasagna recipe using spiral pasta instead of egg noodles. And instead of using the traditional ricotta, she used a bechamel sauce, with milk of course.

For my improvisation, I used soy milk and added sliced canned button mushrooms to create a mushroom bechamel sauce. It turned out to be a wonderfully creamy concoction, not unlike melted cream cheese. Vegans can use portabello mushrooms instead of beef for the tomato sauce and substitute chicken broth for vegetable broth. The baking part is my idea, mostly because it allows the sauces to stick to pasta and dries it up a little bit. I added grated Parmigiano just coz IHRTCHEEZ. I used a bottle of Pugliese Primitiva red wine I picked up from World Market for the recipe, and finished the rest off while cooking. The entire cooking time took less than half and hour, and the end product was pretty good considering the fact that it's really just curly-wurly pasta in tons of meat sauce.

No-cheese Easy Faux Lasagna
Serves 4

2 cups whole-grain short spiral pasta (like fusilli or rotini or spiralli)
1/2 lb lean ground beef
2 Italian sausages links
2 slices pancetta, diced
1 small can tomato paste
1 medium carrot, grated
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup dry red wine
1/2 tsp allspice
2 bay leaves
1/2 can button mushrooms, sliced
2 tbsp cooking margarine
2 tbsp flour
2 cups unsweetened soy milk
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
Handful chopped parsley (fresh) or 1 tbsp dried
Freshly ground black pepper
Kosher salt

Heat 2 tbsps olive oil in a skillet. Add in the pancetta and ground beef and saute for about 5 minutes. Toss in the onions, 1/2 of the minced garlic, grated carrots, allspice, bay leaf and freshly ground black pepper and saute for another 10 minutes until the beef is cooked through. Add in tomate paste and wine and gently simmer until the beef mixture thickens.

Cook pasta according to directions. You want to make it al dente. Do not overcook. Preheat oven to 375°F.

In a separate saucepan, heat the margarine on medium until melted. Add in remaining minced garlic and sliced mushrooms and saute until the mushrooms turn slightly brown. Whisk in the flour and gently pour in soy milk. Whisk till the sauce thickens. Add in grated nutmeg, some freshly ground black pepper and salt to taste. Turn the heat down to low. Add in chicken broth until the bechamel sauce reaches the consistency of melted cheese.

In a baking dish, layer half the cooked pasta, add on the bechamel sauce, top with remaining cooked pasta and finish off with the meat sauce. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes and sprinkle with chopped parsley.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

It's Town Hall Night! Onion, Garlic and Italian Herbs Beer Bread

OK. Here's two things you need to do if you're watching the Presidential Debates tonight: 1) Drink... a LOT, if you want to offset the dull ache of "My Friends" ringing in your ear 2) Eat a LOT, if you want to offset the boredom that comes with listening to 90 minutes of earmarks, Fannie and failed economic policies, Fannie and earwaxmarks. You can read the minute to minute outtake of the debate here.

If you're looking to combine the best of both worlds, try out this savoury beer bread recipe with some grapes, sliced cheese and fresh butter on the side along with tons and tons of your favourite Oktoberfest Marzen.

We bought a variety pack of Sam Adams a couple of months ago, and the box came with 4 bottles of Boston Lager (which we never touch, and never ever drink... yelch), so I used that for this recipe. You can use any kind of beer - even shitty cheap ones. An apricot wheat would work perfect with this though.

P/S: McCain just talked about healthcare and hair transplants. Is he poking fun at Joe Biden?!

Onion, Garlic and Italian Herbs Beer Bread

1 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/4 cup unbleached all purpose flour
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup sugar
1 bottle (12 fl. oz.) beer
1 large white onion
2 cloves garlic
4 tablespoons butter or cooking margarine
1 tsp each of:
Dried Oregano
Dried Thyme
Dried Basil
Dried Parsley
Dried Marjoram
1/2 tsp black pepper

In a skillet, heat up the butter and saute the onions and garlic and half the herbs until the onions are slightly browned. Drain the butter from the pan into a bowl and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 9X5 loaf pan.

In a large bowl, mix together the all the dry ingredients, including the herbs. Make a well in the center and gently pour in the beer. With a spatula, mix the flour until all the beer is incorporated.

Add in the onions and mix into the dough. The dough will be be super tough and sticky. Use your hands to incorporate all the flour if necessary. Turn the dough out into the prepared loaf pan.

Bake for 55 - 60 minutes until a skewer or knife inserted in the middle comes out clean. Set on wire rack to cool completely.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Ready in 3-minutes: Almost Healthy Apple Raisin Coleslaw

For the past two days I've been going on a beer tasting rampage. I want to draw attention again to the brilliant Pike Street Beer and Spirits shop down on Pike and Harvard in Capitol Hill. They had a Pumpkin Ale tasting session yesterday and I got to try some of Delaware's finest (Say it ain't so, Joe! Doggone it!), Dogfish Head Punkin Ale which was reminiscent of a whole huge amount of pumpkin spice cake dunked in some hoppy mixture. Of course, our favourite is Buffalo Bill's Pumpkin Ale from San Francisco, but the Punkin Ale is definitely one worth trying if you're looking for an interesting albeit weird Seasonal brew.

We also tried a couple of seasonal brews at the Elysian which is a local Seattle brewpub, admittedly Brian's favourite brewpub (mine is Big Time in the U-District). I had a pint of the Awakener Amber Hef yesterday and some White Woods Wit (Germain weissbeir). Both were light wheat beers that reminded me of summer, I'm still in denial about it being Fall so quickly, I'm not ready for any stout, porters or IPAs yet.

After that crazy amount of beer, I felt the not-so-secret need to eat only light, easily digestible food. I love coleslaw because cabbage helps to get rid of water retention and makes me feel less bloaty. Celery seeds also help dispel tummy discomfort and oh well, it just seems healthy to be wolfing down greens and fruits instead of chomping on a gigantic hunk of cow. This recipe which is proudly something I serve at almost every barbecue, uses low-fat yogurt and an eensy bit of light mayo to create a healthy yet creamy texture.

Almost Healthy Apple Raisin Coleslaw
Makes 6 servings
1/2 pack coleslaw mix (no dressing)
1 large gala apple, cored and cubed, skin on
1 cup Thomson raisins
1 tbsp celery seed
2 tbsp poppy seed
2 tbsp low fat mayonnaise
1/4 cup low fat yogurt
2 tbsp sherry or dry vermouth
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp honey
1 tbsp olive oil
Dash of pepper

Wash the slaw mix in ice water. Drain and dry well.

Core and cut the apple into 1/2 inch cubes. Mix all the salad ingredients in a large bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together the dressing ingredients. Drizzle over the slaw mix and toss to combine. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving to allow flavours to meld. If the slaw is a little too wet after refrigeration, add in an extra 1/2 cup of slaw mix.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Rainy-day comfort food: Chicken and Wild Rice Soup

On some days the weather around here gets so depressing (that coupled with depressing political, economic and personal happenings), that I just want to say sod it, curl up into a ball and not move for a few hours. I don't know about you, but I sometimes wish that the Willy Wonka Magic Food Bubblegum with a 3-course meal variety is real. Either that or a food drip.

A few weeks ago I found a bag of overpriced wild rice at Trader Joes. On the days I have canned soup for lunch, I spend almost 10 minutes trying to figure out what the floating bits and pieces are. Sometimes they appear to be dehydrated chunks of chicken but I can never really tell. Just the other day, I opened a can of Progresso's chicken and wild rice to find mushed up carrots bobbing about with some little black specks. It took me quite a few minutes to realize that those specks were wild rice.

I figured if I could spend $2 on a can of sodium-infused carrot mulch, I could haul my lazy ass up to make a healthier version on soup that won't cause hair loss or severe dehydration half a year from now.

A lot of wild rice recipes online seem to have an insane amount of cream or half and half which I somehow find to be quite unhealthy. That coupled with the fact that my partner can't have dairy makes creamy soup recipes often undesirable. After a prolonged, time consuming, hair-tearing search, I found this really interesting recipe on Kitchen Parade that it uses vegetables to create a creamy base (red creamer potatoes create a starchy texture).

I wanted some protein in the soup so I added some pan-seared chicken marinaded in some Stubbs chicken marinade. I changed the recipe very slightly from the original, but all in all I think it stayed true to the Kitchen Parade vision of a healthy, vegetarian soup. We rounded off dinner with crusty bread and a really great bottle of Mirassou (one of the oldest wineries in Western US) 2007 Chardonnay.

Chicken and Wild Rice Soup
Makes about 6 cups

8oz chicken breast, cubed
2 tbsp Stubbs chicken marinade or any kind of chicken marinade
1/2 cup wild rice, native or cultivated
1 tablespoon butter
1 tsp olive oil
2 cups sliced leeks, white and light green parts only (about 4 leeks)
2 cups chopped celery (about 4 stalks)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 clove garlic
1/2 medium white onion, diced
6 cups no-fat, sodium-free chicken broth
2 cups red creamer potatoes, chopped (about five small potatoes)
1 tbsp dried chopped parsley
3 pieces bay leaves
2 tsp dried thyme
Salt and pepper to taste

Cook the wild rice in water according to package directions.

In a separate skillet, pan-sear the chicken meat until just cooked through.

In a dutch oven or soup pot, saute onions, garlic, leek, celery and carrot in the butter and olive oil until the onions become translucent, about 10 minutes.

Add in the chicken broth and potatoes, bay leaves, thyme and parsley. Bring the soup to a boil, cover and simmer for about 20 minutes until the potatoes are soft.

Turn the heat off. With an immersion blender puree the soup until smooth, with some chunks left. Add in the chicken and wild rice. Season with salt and pepper. Stir to combine.