Thursday, March 25, 2010

A story about bamboo shoots

This isn't a recipe post, I just wanted to tell you guys about an awesome thing I just discovered; fresh bamboo shoots are a-mazing!

I am lucky enough to live somewhere with a large asian population, and therefore a very well-stocked Chinatown. The little grocers carry everything from gooeyduck to lemongrass. A few weeks ago I came across a strange-looking item that the sign said was bamboo shoot. I have wanted to try it, espcially since I saw a recipe for kung pao chicken that called for it cut into little squares, and that seemed so much more appealing than the canned strips. Don't get me wrong, I have love for the canned strips. They are nearly calorie free and packed with fibre, and make an excellent addition to asian soup and stir-fries. But I could not turn down the opportunity to try the fresh version!

So I bought one and took it home. I was uncertain of how to handle it, and the poor thing ended up sitting in my vegetable drawer for a couple weeks. Then last week I was cleaning out the fridge and it was do or die time for my little bamboo shoot. I put it on a cutting board and weilded a large knife; no, that would not be the way to approach this creature. It needed a more delicate touch. I peeled the tough layers off the outside, using a paring knife to remove them at the stem, peeled and peeled and peeled until there was nothing left but a pale, naked, tender centre. This I chopped into little cubes, and proudly surveyed my work. Not without trepidation though; the smell was a little disturbing. Let's just say it smelled like something you don't expect or want your food to smell like. I was a little put off and scared, so I threw it in a tupperware with some salted water, like it comes in the cans, and banished it to the fridge once more.

Today I was feeling brave and pulled it out to make kung pao chicken.I threw it in with the rest of the veggies, unsure of how much cooking it would need if anything. At least it didn't smell weird anymore. After a few minutes of cooking, I sampled a peice to see how it was cooking...

and let me just say YUM. YUM-O. Deliciously tender yet crunchy, very mildly bamboo-y, it mostly just tasted like the sauce. But the texture was SO lovely. It added the perfect element to the dish, with the chicken and chewy noodles and tender veggies. I will definately be getting this again!

Also, as a side note, I recently tried fresh water chestnuts too. They are also WAY better than the canned ones, so crunchy and juicy and taste a bit like coconut. Who knew? Wht great fun to try new things, and how lucky am I to have these so afforadably available.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Coconut-Lime Meringue Cupcakes

I bet you are thinking, Wow have her photography skills ever improved since last post! Nope, I just had to borrow a picture from another, much more talented food photographer as I did not get a chance to take a picture of my cupcakes before they were inhaled by coworkers. I did have one lonely cupcake to bring home, but well there was a sudden sunshower, a lack of umbrella, and a fear of ruining hairdo so my cupcake carrier ending up subbing as umbrella and the poor last little cupcake got a little mangled in the process. Just imagine this is what my cupcakes looked like, except greener...for St. Patty's Day!

These cupcakes were a huge hit. Everyone raved about the lime curd, which was my own invention. The cupcakes were inspired by a fellow food blogger's Lemon Merigue Cupcakes, and a love of that song that goes "put de lime in de coco-nut". Lime and coconut, what a delicious combo! So I morphed together a modified lemon curd recipe from Cooking Light magazine, a recipe for Swiss meringue from Martha Stewart, and a recipe for low-fat chocolate cupcakes that I modified to coconut instead. Lots of modifying, which can end up distastrous, but these were pure success! The lime curd was the big star, so tart and tangy and a perfect foil for the coconutty cake and sweet meringue. So much taste got packed in there it pushed out lots of calories ;)...they ended up being just 147 per sweet delicious wonderful cupcake. A few people commented that the petite size was the perfect amount.

Coconut-Lime Meringue Cupcakes

For the cake batter:
1 2/3C cake flour, preferably whole wheat
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2C raw sugar
1/4C applesauce
1 egg, separated
1 egg white
1 T oil
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 C light coconut milk
1 C skim milk
2 tsp coconut extract

Preheat oven to 350F. Line 12 muffin cups with liners (I use silicone ones). Combine flour, baking powder and soda, and salt.

Beat the sugar with the applesauce, egg yolk, oil and vanilla.

Beat egg whites until fluffy.

Stir in flour mixture into applesauce mixture alternately with milk until just combined. Fold in egg whites. Pout the batter into the 12 muffin cups and bake for 22-25 minutes, or until golden on top and toothpick comes out clean.

For the Lime Curd:
1/3C raw sugar
2 tsp cornstarch
pinch salt
1/3C freshly squeezed lime juice (about 1 large juicy lime. It's hard to tell which ones will be juicy, so I'd have back-up limes just in case.)
2 egg yolks
2 tsp butter
1/2 tsp lime zest

Combine sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a heavy saucepan andwhisk in juice and egg yolks. Bring to a boil, whisking constantly, a simmer one minute (it should thicken nicely). Remove from heat, add butter and lime zest. Transfer to a bowl to cool to room temperature before using.

For the Swiss meringue:
1/4C raw sugar
1 egg white
1 tsp lime juice

Combine the ingerdients in the metal bowl of your mixer, andsuspend over a pan of simmering water, stirring until sugar is dissolved (about 3 minutes). Remove from heat and transfer to mixer stand, beating wit whisk attachment on medium for 10 minutes then on high for 10 to 15 minutes, or until glossy and high peaks form.

Assemble: Cut a shallow reservoir into the top of each cupcake, removing a 1/2 cm disc. Fill each reservoir with about 1 Tbsp of lime curd. Put meringue into piping bag and pipe onto each cupcake, or simply spoon a dollop on and form into peaks by whacking lightly with the back of a spoon. If you have a blowtorch, singe the meringue a bit, if not just leave them white. They are super-cute either way!Refrigerate until ready to devour.

Did you make it through all these steps (whew!)? Trust me, it's worth it.

Nutritional values per cupcake: 147 calories, 3g fat, 3g protein, 27g carbs, 1g fibre, 120mg sodium.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Peanut Butter and Honey Baked Oatmeal

I've never been keen on oatmeal. I remember having to eat it as a kid, to sustain us through the frigid prairie winter was ok but I preferred Fruit Loops, you know? As an adult, I have only experienced the packet-version of oatmeal, those sugary sludgey boil-in-a-cup things that I never found very sustaining at all. I wondered what all the hoopla was about oatmeal being so filling and whatnot. Then I realized those packets were not really oatmeal at all; well only as much oatmeal as, say, cheez whiz is cheese. Time to try some of the real stuff.

I've been seeing a lot of baked oatmeal recipes around lately, and that sounds better to me than the gluey potfuls I remember from childhood, so I thought I'd give one a go. I ended up using several recipes and creating a hybrid of them. My very own Franken-oatmeal. All it needs is a brain and it is ready to take over the world, muah ha ha! It's hearty and filling and warms the belly, and the brown sugar crust gives each spoonful a hit of sweetness without the whole dish being over-sweetened. And it totally passed the late-morning hungries test. I didn't even notice it was lunchtime until 12:30! That doesn't happen often for me. So two thumbs up on the Baked Oatmeal: one for taste, one for sustainability.

This recipe makes two hearty portions. If you prefer a smaller breakfast, you could easily make this into three portions instead.

Peanut Butter and Honey Baked Oatmeal

1 C wild or rolled oats
1 tsp cinnamon
1 egg
1 C milk (I used 1%)
1/2C water
2 Tbsp peanut butter
2 tsp honey
2 tsp demerera sugar

Preheat oven to 375F and spray two large ramekins with cooking spray. In a large bowl, beat egg, milk, water, peanut butter, and honey together. Add oats and cinnamon and combine well.Pour into ramekins, dividing evenly, and bake for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and turn on broiler. Sprinkle each ramekin with 1 tsp demerera sugar and broil until sugar melts and bubbles, about 90 seconds. Serve with extra milk.

Nutritional values: 430 calories, 13.5g fat, 19.6g protein, 60.2g carbs, 7g fibre, 176mg sodium.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Kung Pao Chicken with Shirataki Noodles

I first heard of Shirataki noodles some time ago, but was skeptical of them. They are an asian-style noodle that come in fettucine shape and spagetti shape, and are only 20 calories per serving (comparable to a serving of regular pasta that's 200 calories). How can they make them so low-cal? What could be in these freak noodles?? I have never been one for "fake foods", so I was not terribly interested until I discovered they are actually an all-natural food, made from the root of a plant with some tofu thrown in to improve the consistency (they are rather chewy). They are high in fibre and so keep you feeling full for a good long time. Some complaints I had heard about them were that they were fishy-smelling,rubbery, and generally unappetizing. The good press seemed to focus mainly on the calorie count, so I was not very optimistic about results. Well I have to say, I LOVE these noodles! I love the chewiness, and I find that when you follow the prep directions carefully, the odd fishy smell is completely removed and they are a blank slate for whatever flavour you put on them. I don't think I will be using them as a pasta replacement; pasta (whole wheat for me) has it's place in a healthy diet, too. But sometimes you just want a nice protein-filled dish without too many carbs but still with some bulk to it and a good vehicle for sauce.

My variation of Kung Pao Chicken is just that. If you want to make it a more balanced meal, feel free to replace the Shirataki noodles with some other noodles, like whole-wheat spagettini or rice noodles, or even omit the noodles completely and serve it over a bed of brown rice. It's really versatile that way. Oh and delicious; don't forget delicious!!

Kung Pao Chicken with Shirataki Noodles

1 lb. skinless chicken thigh meat, cubed
1 tsp cornstarch
2 tsp low-sodium soy sauce
1 tbsp Shaoxing cooking sherry or red wine
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp vegetable oil
6 dried red chili pepppers, sliced
1 Tbsp ginger, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 can bamboo shoots
1 large carrot, diced or sliced
1 stalk celery, diced or sliced
1 small onion, sliced
8 mushrooms, quartered
1 small red pepper, diced
1 package Shirataki noodles** or cooked brown rice
1/4 cup peanuts or cashews, roasted and unsalted
2 stalks green onions, sliced

2 T low-sodium soy sauce
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp seasoned rice wine vinegar
2 Tbsp water
2 tsp cornstarch
Mix together in a small bowl.

Make the kung pao chicken: Mix the chicken with 1 teaspoon of cornstarch, 2 teaspoons of soy sauce, cooking sherry, and sesame oil. Let sit for 30 minutes. Heat a wok, sauté pan, or large frying pan on high heat. When hot, spray with cooking spray and add the chicken and stir-fry until browned and cooked through. Remove the chicken the from pan to a bowl. Add oil into pan and toss in the ginger, garlic, and red peppers, stirring until the oil is fragrant. Add the veggies and stir for several minutes, then toss in chicken, bamboo shoots, and noodles if using. Pour in the sauce and continue to stir-fry until the chicken is coated and veggies are tender-crisp. Add the green onions, stir, sprinkle with nuts and serve hot.If not using the noodles, serve over rice.

You don't have to put the nuts on. Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don't.

Makes two very generous servings.

Nutritional values: For shirataki noodle version without nuts: 426 calories, 12.6g fat, 46.4g protein, 28.6g carbs, 5.4g fibre, 570mg sodium.

**VERY IMPORTANT Instructions for making the Shirataki noodles palatable: Drain package into a colander and rinse well with water. Throw noodles into a large bowl and microwave for 1.5 minutes (or put in boiling water for one minute). Drop back into colander and rinse again. When you think they are well-rinsed, rinse some more. Then put them back into the bowl, fill with fresh water, and swish around for a minute or two. Drain again and rinse some more. When you are starting to feel horribly guilty about all the water wastage, they are finally done. Drain well and drop them onto a bed of paper towels and pat dry (after all that water, you will feel guilty about the paper towel wastage too, but I can't help you with that.) Now they are squeaky clean, dry, and ready for use!

If this seems too terrible and labour-intensive to contemplate, go ahead and make some brown rice instead.