Sunday, January 30, 2011

Coconut Chicken

Who randomly has coconut milk, tamarind and macadamia nuts in their kitchen? Apparently we do. This dish is definitely worth the extra trip to find the tamarind (it took us a few weeks of us to locate it when I wanted to try out another Thai dish some time back).

The recipe I used claims Balinese origin; however, the flavors are reminiscent of a Thai yellow curry.

Adapted from The South Beach Diet Cookbook by Arther Agatston, M.D.

serves 4

The Ingredients
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 lb chicken breast tenders
1 Tbsp chicken broth
1 med onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
3/4 tsp dried cilantro
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
1 tsp freshly grated lemon peel
1/8 tsp ground cumin
pinch of ground turmeric
1 cup light coconut milk (no sugar added)
2 Tbsp macadamia nuts, finely chopped
1 tsp sugar substitute
1/4 tsp ground red pepper
1 Tbsp tamarind paste
2 tsp water

The Process
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the chicken and cook for 5 minutes per side or until browned and no longer pink. Remove the chicken to a plate and set aside.

Heat the broth in the same skillet. Add the onion, garlic, cilantro, ginger, lemon peel, cumin, and turmeric and cook for 5 minutes or until the onion is tender but not browned.

Stir in the coconut milk, nuts, sugar substitute and red pepper. Return the chicken to the skillet, cover and simmer for 10 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through.

Remove the chicken to a plate. Do not discard the sauce. In a small bowl combine the tamarind paste and water. Stir into the sauce in the skillet and gently boil to thicken.

Divide the chicken among four plates. Top with sauce.

My Modifications:
I opted for fresh cilantro over the dried stuff as I still had a plethora on hand.

The tenders I used too far less time to cook than the recipe called for.

I'm uncertain of the tamarind paste the test cooks used, but the paste I found was more of a compressed block of the pods...seeds, shell, pulp and all. In previous recipes I've cut off about a 1 oz/1Tbsp chunk and set it aside in1/4 cup of hot water for about 15 minutes. After a bit of mashing with a fork, I removed the obvious shell and seed bits. What remained was about 2 Tbsp of a thick tamarind sauce...about the consistency of steak or Worcester sauce. This is water I ended up adding to the sauce at the end.

I also felt no need to remove the chicken at the end, instead opting to add the tamarind right into the entire dish and letting all of the flavors meld.

The review:
The curry was very bright, and I don't mean the color...if that makes any sense. The tamarind, ginger and lemon peel all contributed to a crisp, clean flavor, without being overly sour. Ross and I were both whisked away to memories of curries we had shared in Hawaii...whether it was from a whole in the wall vendor, or cloth napkin establishment. It was comforting and nostalgic food. And I'd imagine the recipe is fairly adaptable (as most curries are) to any number of meat or veggie substitutions.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Asian Pulled Pork

Every once in a while, our grocery store will have a special on whole pork tenderloin that is just too good to pass up. As a result we occasionally end up with 7-10 pounds of the tasty cut in our freezer, usually parceled into 2-3 pound bundles. It roasts well, put shreds wonderfully after a day in the slow cooker. On a cold January day, a BBQ shredded pork sounded perfect.

I have of late jumped back into phase 1 of South Beach, making most commercial BBQ sauces a no-no for the shear amount of sugar and corn syrup they often contain. After a bit of searching I stumbled upon an interesting Asian pulled pork recipe. So little sugar was in the rub and sauce that is was easy enough to substitute splenda or truvia without sacrificing the taste, especially with so many other flavors in the mix.

I did make quite a few substitutes to the sauce, due to what I did or did not have at home. Below is my version. The original can be found at the Week of Menus blog (I really want to dish this up again someday with Joanne's pickled shallots and pickled jalapeno accompaniments).

The Ingredients:
the meat
2-3 lb pork tenderloin (or shoulder, or butt...)

the rub

2 tsp garlic powder
1 1/2 tsp onion powder
1 1/2 tsp ginger powder
2 tsp salt
1 tsp brown sugar substitute
3/4 tsp cayenne pepper

the sauce

1 Tbsp oil
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 Tbsp fresh minced ginger
2 tsp rice wine
1 1/2 tsp sriracha
1 Tbsp sugar substitute
1 Tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp oyster sauce
1 Tbsp sesame oil
1 Tbsp nut butter (peanut or cashew works particularly well)
1/2 cup chicken broth
the garnish
scallion, minced
fresh cilantro, chopped

The Process:
In a bowl, combine all of the rub ingredients and mix well. Trim any excess fat from the pork, pat dry and press into the rub, coating all sides. Place the pork in a slow cooker with 1/2 cup of water or broth and cook on low for 7-9 hours.

About a half hour prior to serving, start the sauce. Saute the garlic and ginger in oil for 2 minutes or until fragrant. Add the rice wine, srircaha, sugar substitute, soy sauce, oyster sauce, sesame oil and nut butter. Simmer for an additional 2-3 minutes. Add the chicken broth and simmer while the pork is prepared.

Remove the pork from the slow cooker. Discard any cooking liquid. Shred the meat with two forks and return to the cooker. Stir in the sauce and set the cooker to warm until ready to serve.
The Review:
A-M-A-Z-I-N-G! The meat was tender and juicy without being soggy or overly laden with sauce. One thing I love about Asian fusion recipes such as these is how well all of the flavors meld...salty, sweet, acidic, spicy...

This meat would have made a great sandwich (especially with the aforementioned accompaniments found with the original source). However, as I have cut the carbs for the next two weeks I opted to serve it over a bed of shredded cabbage that had been tossed with sesame oil and rice wine vinegar. The cool crisp cabbage and warm, spicy pork played so well off each other. Those two in tandem would work well wrapped in lettuce leaves (as seems to be the current appetizer trend at many a nicer Asian fusion restaurant), or with báo bǐng...those delicate little Chinese crepes...

There was quite a bit of heat, probably from the srirachi. I loved it. Ross was ambivalent. But the spice-timid could always dial back the cayenne in the rub and serve the sriracha on the side.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Chicken and White Bean Soup

I wanted something hearty and warm, but nothing with the thickness of traditional bean soups. A light clear flavorful broth, tender beans, moist chunks of chicken all flashed in my minds today I played with the ingredients I had on hand...

The recipe is my own

serves 6

The Ingredients:
1 cup dried white beans
6 cups chicken stock or broth
3/4 pound boneless skinless chicken cut into small chunks (I used breast meat)
2 cups water
3 cups fresh baby spinach, torn
1 Tbsp savory leaves (or a blend of thyme with a touch of sage and mint)
salt and pepper to taste

The Process:
Rinse the beans and cover with water. Allow to soak overnight in the fridge.

Rinse the beans and layer in a slow cooker with the broth and chicken. Cook in high for 4 hours, of low for 7.

Set the slow cooker to low and add the torn spinach and additional 2 cups of water. Allow to simmer for an additional 20 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

The Review:
It was mild, hearty and very filling...almost exactly what I had in mind! While I thought the savory was a great flavor, the bits of leaves were a nuisance to eat. I have the same issue with rosemary though. Perhaps a quick pulse in the spice grinder would take care to the problem. Ross made the unusual comment that the overall flavor reminded him of pizza toppings. But I think he has pizza on the mind.

Be forewarned...any attempt to recreate this will be different from my version as I often make my own stocks from whatever meaty carcass I have to dispose of. This particular stock was either from a chicken or a pheasant. My typical recipe consists of the bones of a roasted bird, a celery stalk, 1/4 onion, sage, thyme and parsley (or poultry seasoning...or bouquet really depends on my mood, and how I seasoned the original roasted bird) with enough water to cover and left to simmer for 2 hours, minimum.

This soup was made in the slow cooker, but the entire process could be sped up by using canned beans and the stove top.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Surprise South Beach Mashed Potatoes

Surprise is really can't fool me into thinking that mashed cauliflower will ever be anything other than mashed cauliflower. I'm not saying it was bad. But I'd just as well eat cauliflower and call it cauliflower rather than try to parade it around as something its not. mashed cauliflower, it's not that bad!

adapted from The South Beach Diet by Arthur Agaston, M.D.

serves 4

The Ingredients:
4 cup cauliflower florets
1 oz I can't Believe It's Not Butter! Spray
1 oz Land O' Lakes fat free half and half
pinch salt
pinch pepper

The Process
Steam or microwave the cauliflower until soft. Puree in a food processor adding the butter spray, and half and half (or yogurt in my case) to taste. Season with salt and pepper.

My Modifications:
I reduced the entire recipe down to one serving, so really it should read 1 cup cauliflower and seasonings to taste.
I abhor fat free "half and half" so it didn't make the cut. Instead I added a dollop (maybe a Tbsp) of fat free plain yogurt.
In addition to the salt and pepper to taste, I sprinkled in some garlic powder.

The Review
As I said before, there's no fooling me. I enjoy cauliflower, but to mash it up and call it potatoes is a bit weak. The texture has nothing on the starchy creaminess of the real thing, and it is really hard to hide that sharp cruciferous flavor...

The pureed cauliflower was by no means smooth. And the end result was incredibly running and watery. Perhaps my cooking method was off. Too much steam condensing on the tender stems perhaps? Who knows. But as I don't indulge in mashed potatoes on a regular basis, I cannot say I'll crave them as I plow through phase one of this plan. I'd rather just enjoy the cauliflower without pretense.

While the rest of my dinner was in no way an adventure into untried techniques, I did indulge in a new spice blend from Penzeys

California Seasoned Pepper.

Red pepper, black pepper, green was robust with just the right amount of kick. I have a feeling we'll use up a lot of it when the grill come out again!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Gado Gado Salad with Peanut Sambal

I had never heard of gado gado before trying this dish. Nor had I ever tried peanut sambal. So I cannot vouch for the authenticity of this Indonesian veggie dish. Although,through my little bit of research it looks like this recipe is a fair representation. I do think the sambal could be much improved...I think next time I'll try this sambal recipe, courtesy of Merry's Kitchen of Indonisan Food.

Adapted from Main Courses 365 edited by Jenni Fleetwood. (This will be the last recipe from this book for a while...)

serves 6

The Ingredients:
The Salad
1/2 pound new potatoes, halved
2 carrots, cut into sticks
1/2 small cauliflower, broken into florets
1/4 firm white cabbage, shredded
7 oz bean or lentil sprouts
4 eggs, hard-boiled and quartered
watercress (optional)
The Sauce
6 Tbsp crunchy peanut butter
1 1/4 cups cold water
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 Tbsp dark soy sauce
1 Tbsp dry sherry
2 tsp sugar
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp anchovy essence (extract)

The Process
Place the potatoes in a steamer or colander and set over a pan of gently boiling water. Cover and steam for 10 minutes.

Add the rest of the veggies to the steamer and steam for a further 10 minutes, until tender. Cool and arrange on a platter with egg quarters and watercress, if using.

Beat together all of the sauce ingredients in a bowl until smooth. Drizzle a little sauce over each salad and serve the remaining in a small bowl on the side.

My Modifications:
Who knew it would be hard to find new potatoes this time of year! I substituted the smallest reds I could find.
As Ross does not like hard-boiled eggs, I only used one...for my portion of the salad.
I am not a fan of overcooked veggies, so to keep the bean sprouts and cabbage crisp, I did not add them with the other veggies in the steamer. Instead, I tossed them on top at the end as the other veggies cooled in the bowl, and let the residual heat gentle wilt them while I prepared the sauce.
I omitted the watercress.
I lieu of anchovy essence, which I did not have, I used fish sauce (which is often a blend of anchovy and soy sauce).
I halved the soy sauce, as the fish sauce I substituted had a far amount of sodium on its own.

The Review:
An unusual combination of veggies, that's to be sure. Gado gado purists may scoff at the addition of carrots and criticize me for not serving with salad with the traditional cracker accompaniment. But all in all, it was good, simple food. My biggest complaint is how thin the sambal turned out. I was expecting something more the consistency of the peanut sauce that accompanies satay. Were I do use this recipe again, I start by halving the amount of water, and adding a Thai chili or two. Better yet...I'd try a different version starting with a completely different recipe. And boy, are their many variations out there! But most recipes all seem to start with deep fried peanuts, chilies, salt, sugar, water and lime juice. A few get more complex with lemongrass, garlic, coconut milk, tamarind, each their own. One big perk...this salad seems like a great way to use up any veggies still laying around...

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Baked Sweet Potato Salad

Perhaps it is the lack of sun, but I've been craving a lot of bright orange produce lately. And this recipe seemed a nice change of pace from tradition potato salads. And it gave me an excuse to try out sweet potatoes in a new way.

Adapted from Main Courses 365 edited by Jenni Fleetwood. (I do have slight obsession with this cookbook recently...)

serves 4 to 6

The Ingredients:
2 1/4 lbs sweet potatoes
3 Tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped
juice of one lime
2/3 cup plain yogurt
1 red bell pepper, diced
3 celery stalks, diced
1/4 of a red onion, diced
1 red chili, diced (I used the fresno)
salt and pepper to taste

My Modification:
None. This time I actually used a recipe unaltered

The Process:
Preheat the the oven to 400 F. Wash and pierce the sweet potatoes. Bake for 40 minutes or until tender. Remove and allow to cool.

Meanwhile, mix the yogurt, cilantro, and lime juice. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Chill until ready to assemble the salad.

In a large bowl combine the red pepper, celery, onion and chili.

When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, peel them. Cut the potatoes into cubes and add them to the bowl. Drizzle the dressing over and toss carefully to combine.

The Review:
Not bad, but this salad screams to be served alongside other picnic classics in the height of summer instead of in the dead of winter. The flavors were bright and surprisingly reminiscent of tzatziki. I was expecting more of a Caribbean vibe than Greek...

The only thing I know I'd try differently would be to bake the sweet potatoes longer. Ours still had an bit of crunch to them. The smoother texture and sweeter taste from a longer bake time may give this salad the extra oomph it needed...

Monday, January 10, 2011

Parsnip and Chickpea Indian Stew

In honor of the oft overlooked root vegetable....the parsnip.

The full title of this recipe is "parsnips and chickpeas in a garlic, onion, chili and ginger paste." Much more evocative, don't you agree? This dish serves up as a hearty vegan stew rich with Indian flavors.
Adapted from Main Courses 365 edited by Jenni Fleetwood.

Serves 4-5

7 oz dried chickpeas, soaked overnight and drained
7 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 small onion, chopped
2 inch piece of fresh ginger
2 green chilies, seeded and chopped
scant 2 cups, plus 5 tbsp of water
4 tbsp peanut oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 - 1 tsp chili powder
2 oz cashew nuts, toasted and ground
9 oz tomatoes, peeled and chopped
2 lbs parsnips, cut into chunks
1 tsp ground cumin
fresh lime juice to taste
salt and pepper to taste

garish: fresh cilantro and toasted cashew pieces

My Modifications:
In the interest of saving time, I opted for canned garbanzo beans. I do not know the exact equivalent of dried chickpeas to canned, however one 14 oz can seemed to provide an ample but not overwhelming amount.
The chili of choice this time around was the serrano.
For a lack of peanut oil in my cupboard, I substituted vegetable oil.
Because of my fascination with Indian cooking, I do indeed have both cumin and coriander seeds on hand. Do not use their ground counterparts as a substitute...they do not quite have the same taste, nor do the ground seasonings add that extra little crunch you get from the seeds. Penzeys spices carries both coriander and cumin...ground and in seed form.
For a lack of enough fresh tomatoes, I choose a 14 oz can of diced.

The Process:
If using dried chickpeas...after soaking overnight, drain and put in a pan. Cover with cold water and bring to a boil. Boil vigorously for 10 minutes, reduce to a simmer, then continue cooking for 1-1 1/2 hours. Drain and set aside.

Or, if using the can, strain, rinse and set aside.

Set aside approximately 2 tsp of the minced garlic, as well as half of the chopped chili. Place remaing garlic and chili, along with the onion, ginger and 5 tbsp of water into a blender or food processor. Blend until smooth.

Heat a large deep frying pan and add cumin seeds and coriander seeds. Dry roast for about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool slightly. Add the oil. (The original recipe calls for adding the seeds directly to the oil. I prefer dry roasting them first to release more of their fragrance.) Return to stove top and add the turmeric, chili powder and cashew nuts, stirring until well combined. Add the ginger-garlic-onion paste and cook, stirring frequently until the water begins to evaporate. Add the tomatoes and stir until well combined.

Add the remaining scant 2 cups of water, along with the chickpeas and parsnips. Add 1 tsp salt plus ground pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and then cook, uncovered for 15-20 minutes...or until the parsnips are tender.

Return the mixture to a boil to reduce the remaining liquid to a thick sauce. Stir in ground cumin, the reserved garlic and chili, and lime juice to taste. Cook for an addition 1-2 minutes. Serve with a sprinkle fresh cilantro and toasted cashews.

The Review:

I am a huge fan of Indian flavors to begin with but I absolutely adored this dish. I did not miss the meat in the least. And the heartiness and heat of the stew is perfect for winter. The textures were plentiful...the tender yet firm parsnips, the smoothness of the chickpeas and the crunch of coriander and cumin seeds. The flavors were pretty well balanced. Early in the process the ground cashews were fairly prominent, but as the dish simmered on everything blended into a beautifully deep and rich sauce. If you like a lot of kick, feel free to up the number of chilies. I found 2 serrano to be just the right amount of lip tingle for me. And as prepared above this dish is completely vegan friendly.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Spicy Shredded Beef

Adapted from Main Courses 365, edited by Jenni Fleetwood

serves 2-3

8 oz rump or fillet of beef
1 Tbsp light soy sauce
1 Tbsp dark soy sauce
1 Tbsp rice wine
1 tsp brown sugar
6 T vegetable oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 inch piece fresh ginger, julienned
1-2 carrots, julenned
2-3 fresh or dried chillies
salt and ground black pepper to taste
fresh chives to garnish

My Modifications:
I used an 8oz sirloin tip steak for my meat.
Instead of using 1 Tbsp of both light and dark soy sauce, I opted for 2 Tbsp of dark.
I reduced the oil by half and used a combination of sesame oil and canola oil.
Onions in the grocery store nowadays are HUGE! I only used used half of one.
The chili of choice was a fresno.
I omitted the chives, salt (it was already pretty sodium heavy with the soy sauce) and ground pepper.

The Process:
With a sharp knife, slice the meat very thinly and then cut each slice into thin strips

Mix the soy sauce, rice wine and sugar together in a medium bowl. Add the meat and stir to coat. Set aside

Heat a wok or skillet on med-high heat, add half of the oil, and saute the onions and ginger for 3-4 minutes. Transfer to a plate and keep warm. Add the carrots to the wok and stir fry for 3-4 minutes. Remove, and set aside.

Add the remaining oil to the wok or skillet and add the beef with marinade as well as the chilies. Cook, stirring continuously for 2-3 minutes.

Return the onion and ginger mixture to the wok and stir until heated through. Add salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to serving dishes and top with carrots and fresh chives (if using).

The Review:
It was well liked by both Ross and myself. The dominate taste was of beef and ginger, reaffirming my choice to use only half of the onion instead of a whole. I could have sliced the beef into much thinner strips. For future thinly sliced beef ventures, I'll make more of an attempt to slice along the grain instead of across. I'm glad I omitted the extra salt; and the ground pepper wasn't really missed. The heat could have been much more substantial...I'll probably opt for a chili higher on the scoville heat scale next time, or throw in a few of the seeds and pith.

Without the carrots and by using a Splenda substitute in lieu of brown sugar, this entree could pass for phase one of South Beach. And given how quick and easy it was to prepare, we'll probably be seeing this dish again!

A New Year's Resolution

I love to cook. I love to eat. I love to try out new things.

With that in mind I've decided to attempt a new recipe or cooking technique each week in this new year, and document my culinary adventures. Given my inclination to cook most of my meals, this may be a weak resolution. After today's grocery trip, I already have five new recipes lined up for the next week and a half.

The ultimate goal is to try 100 new recipes in the coming year.

One of the challenges I will undoubtedly encounter will be adapting certain meals or recipes for various obstacles. Several food restrictions (including wheat allergies, food sensitivities triggered by medications and diabetes) are found among my co-workers. Finding treats to accommodate everyone is no easy task. But my co-workers are more than happy to share their own recipes and substitutions. Picky eaters as house guests provide a challenge all their own. While I abhor changing plans to accommodate one person, sometimes such an accommodation can lead to new and exciting discoveries. A few friends steer clear of meats, prompting me to search for alternatives to animal protein beyond tofu. And often I find myself returning to phase one and two of the South Beach. The strict limitations on fruits, carbs and sugars during these early phases have lead to the creation of new favorites to add to our meal routines, as well as a much healthier outlook on what we prepare and how we prepare it.

So perhaps these situations should not be perceived as challenges so much as opportunities to expand my culinary prowess.

Thank you for joining me on this journey.

Carpe Cibus!