Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Which came first?

When my good friends over at the Gardenbuddies.com Food Forum suggested that we have a Revol chicken cookoff, I was excited. We had all recently purchased these really wonderful Revol roasters shaped like a chicken and people have put them to very good use. I knew right away that I would try to use it to make a dish I have never done before. Soufflé !! Yes, I was a soufflé virgin and it was about time I tried it. I thought instead of making a roasted chicken I would be creative and incorporate eggs and a soufflé was perfect. I was not sure how well it would rise in this odd-shaped dish but it was worth a shot.

For dinner we started with an appetizer salad. This was really quite simple to make. I just wrapped melon balls with slices of ham and laid them atop a bed of fresh spring greens dressed lightly with a balsamic vinaigrette. To accompany the salad I served an Alsatian riesling that was also full of melon flavors.

Sam decided to join us for a bit of salad and wine.

Let's get back to the soufflé, shall we? As I said, I have never made one before so I was a little worried about how it would turn out. I started with a basic cheese souffle recipe that I got from Lynne Rossetto Kasper's Splendid Table radio show. This is from a recent guest of hers, Sally Schneider. I modified it a little bit. In hindsight I should have used a couple more eggs to get a little more height, but these proportions certainly worked out well.

16 oz boneless skinless chicken breast
6 egg whites
2 egg yolks
3 tbsp flour
1 cup skim milk (I'm trying to make it as light as possible)
4 oz gruyere cheese grated
2.5 oz parmigiano reggiano cheese grated
salt, pepper and just a tidge of nutmeg

I started by poaching the chicken breasts in salted water flavored with bay leaf and thyme until they were cooked through but still juicy and tender. These were cooled and chopped up finely. The flour was first mixed with a bit of cold milk to make a paste then dissolved in the rest of the milk. This was heated to boiling and whisked or about a minute. The flame was turned off and the egg yolks were whisked in one at a time. A little bit of salt, pepper and nutmeg were added. The base was allowed to cool to room temperature. While that was cooling I beat the egg whites until they were stiff being careful not to overbeat them. The Revol roaster was buttered and some parmigaino was added to provide texture on the sides for the soufflé to climb up. The egg whites, base, chicken and cheeses were combined and folded very gently until they were just mixed together. There were still some white streaks from the eggs, but that is ok. I turned the mixture out into the roaster and placed it in a 375 F oven. This was baked for about 40 minutes until the soufflé was risen and nicely browned on the top.

To accompany the soufflé I roasted some sweet potato spears that I lightly coated with olive oil, salt, pepper and some smoked paprika. I also roasted green beans with lots of fresh chopped garlic and lemon juice.

The soufflé was a hit. Even this last little bit got eaten before we stood up from the table. I think the perfect accompaniment to a cheese soufflé is a nice dry Rhone white wine. So I served a Chateauneuf du Pape blanc. Unfortunately the wine was a little bit off and over oxidized. Otherwise the meal would have been perfect.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Steelhead Trout - a first for me

Dinner this evening came together so beautifully. I knew I wanted to do something with soba noodles tonight but I wasn't quite sure what. I had on my mind a cold sesame soba dish with some shrimp. But while I was at the market it occurred to me that salmon might be nice tonight. I went over to the fish counter to survey the offerings. I saw what I thought was beautiful wild salmon. Imagine my surprise when the meat counter staff person told me it was steelhead trout. Trout? I thought trout was more of a white fish. I have never seen trout look like salmon before. Take a look at this gorgeous piece of fish. You can see what I mean. I have never had it before. It smelled fresh and looked fantastic so I bought it. No shrimp tonight! It's going to be soy, mirin, ginger, and garlic steelhead trout!

I also intended to make some soup to go along with the main course for dinner. I still had a chicken carcass in the fridge that I roasted recently. So I made a simple chicken stock by simmering the carcass with celery and onions for about two hours.

This is what I ended up with after a couple hours simmering. I strained the broth off and used that as the base of my soup.

Keeping with my Asian inspiration I picked up a fresh daikon radish at the market today. I absolutely love cooked diakon. It is so tasty yet mild. After I strained the chicken stock I placed it back in the pot and added a bunch of large chunks of diakon, lots of chopped garlic, a good amount of grated fresh ginger, soy sauce, a splash of mirin and a tad bit of nuoc mon Vietnamese fish sauce. I let this simmer for about an hour more until the daikon was nice and tender. The soup was perfect garnished with some fresh green onions.

Ok, let me get back to the main dish. Yes, the fish! I bought a 1 pound filet and cut it into 4 oz servings. This was marinated with finely chopped garlic, fresh grated ginger, soy sauce, mirin, sesame oil and black pepper. I let this marinate in the fridge for about 40 minutes. The soba noodles were the inspiration for everything tonight so I should tell you how I prepared them. I cooked about 4 oz of soba noodles (2 servings) in boiling water for about 8 minutes until they were tender. These were drained and set aside in the colander for a while while I got the fish cooking. I used a hot grill pan to sear the fish on one side for about minuted then I turned it over skin side down. The pan was placed in a hot 400F oven while I finished up the noodles. I think the fish stayed in the oven for about 8-10 minutes.

Let's get back to the noodles. Once I got the fish in the oven I was ready to fry the noodles. I had a wok heated and ready. I coated the noodles with a bit of toasted sesame oil. I had ready some chopped garlic and finely julienned green bell pepper. I added a tsp or so of canola oil to the hot wok and threw everything in together. This was stirred up together and then spread out in the pan to get a little bit crisp. After a few minutes I would stir it up and then spread it out in the pan again. This helped to brown and crisp the noodles. The noodles were placed on the plate and the fish was laid on top. The dish was garnished with fresh sliced scallions.

I must say this turned out better than I expected. The crunchy sesame soba noodles and the juicy mild fish seasoned with ginger were perfect together. I must do this again. To compliment the meal I had a nice California sauvignon blanc.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Eggplant and Chicken Extraordinaire

Lately I have been eating a lot of Asian inspired dishes. But on Monday I was in a mediterranean mood. I had these two eggplants and didn't quite know what to do with them. I was thinking about the baked eggplant slices with tomato I have made before, but I wanted something a bit more substantial. I wanted a one-dish meal. I ended up with this chicken and eggplant dish. It was quite simple to make and it still is low fat and low in calories. This HUGE dish of food split into six very generous portions packs less than 200 calories per serving.

I cut up two eggplants into 1 inch cubs which resulted in about 6 cups of eggplant. I also cubed up 16 oz of boneless skinless chicken breast. This was tossed together with 1 large onion, chopped, about a half cup of chopped garlic-stuffed green olives, 1 whole head of chopped garlic, 2 cans of diced tomatoes, a couple tablespoons of dried oregano, salt and pepper. This was all placed in my large wide porcelain pan and drizzled with just a scant tablespoon of olive oil on the top. Now, normally I would have soaked the dish with olive oil but I'm trying to be light. This was baked in a 400F oven until all the vegetables and chicken were cooked through, the juices were bubbling up, and the top was beginning to caramelize. This took about an hour. You can see I served it with some of my mixed beans and grains. The garlic, olives and oregano really make this dish sing.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Tarte aux Poires en Cage

The moment that Julia from A Slice of Cherry Pie announced that this month's In The Bag challenge involved pears, I knew I had to make this pear tart in a cage. I was inspired by my good friends on the recipe forum over at gardenbuddies.com to make this. I bought the lattice cutter a couple months ago and have been dying to find an excuse to use it. Thanks, Julia, for this challenge! I'm glad I got the chance and I'm so happy with how this turned out.

The ingredients that were required for this challenge were pears, lemon and nuts. Perfect matching ingredients if you ask me. I started by peeling bosq pears and removing the seeds and core with a melon baller. The pear halves were poached in a syrup of water, sugar, honey and lemon juice until the pears were just tender, about 15 minutes. These were set aside until ready to use.

Puff pastry is the ingredient that really elevates this dessert to a higher level. Pastry sheets are cut into the shape of the pear. Half of the pastry is latticed using a lattice roller that makes for perfect slits in the pastry. The pear half pocket where the seeds and core were removed was filled with frangipane (almond paste). The pear was placed cut side down on the pastry and the lattice placed on top. The edges were brushed with beaten egg and pressed together. The whole thing was brushed with beaten egg and placed in a 350 °F oven until the pastry puffed and turned a golden brown color, about 20 minutes. Once out of the oven the pears were brushed with a glaze made from fresh squeezed lemon juice and honey to give it that shine and a wonderful flavor. As you can see in the first picture, the final dessert was garnished with toasted blanched almonds and lemon zest. Truly a dessert with an impressive presentation. I just have to make this for some guests now!

I served my tarte aux poires en cage with an almond ice milk. I would normally make a nice rich ice cream, but remember, I'm trying to cut the fat and calories these days. So, I made an almond ice milk that is sugar free and low in fat. This is simply made from 1/2 cup of blanched almonds that had been powdered in the food processor, 4 cups of fat free skim milk, 1/2 cup of splenda sugar substitute and a couple tables spoons of frangelico liquor. The texture was a bit more loose than a creamy ice cream but it tasted really almondy.

Maki sushi

I do love sushi and maki sushi rolls. I haven't made it in a long time. Tonight we feasted on Japanese cuisine. In my efforts to eat healthy I even used brown rice instead of the traditional white rice. I like the Thai brown rice I find in my local Asian market. It still has some stickiness that is important in Asian cuisine. Of course it's not the same as a traditional Japanese sushi rice but it was a palatable alternative to white rice. I seasoned it with rice vinegar and a little bit of sugar.

The ingredients for my maki rolls were imitation crab meat, cucumber, carrots, and a wasabi seasoned canned tuna. I'd love to use fresh fish but we just can't get anything here that I would eat raw.

Here is the nori with the rice and fillings all laid out.

All rolled up and ready for cutting.

I love wasabi and use a lot in my soy dipping sauce. I also prepared a soup this evening.

The soup was a very simple one. I made a simple broth with water, clam dashi powder, fish dashi powder and a splash of soy sauce. I simmered button mushrooms in the broth until they were good and tender. I then added a good amount of finely sliced leaf lettuces. I love cooked lettuce, especially in soup. It has a silky texture and a nice sweet flavor.

Stay tuned. I'll post dessert tomorrow. It is definitely worth waiting for!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Post Run Breakfast on a bitter cold day

Today is the coldest day of the year. This morning when I went out for my eight mile run the mercury registered -22 °F (-30 °C). The windchill factor was even lower at -38 °F (-39 °C). Needless to say I needed tummy warming nourishment when I got back. I had some steel cut oats already prepared in the fridge. I usually make a nice big batch on the weekends and eat it all week long. I like to follow the recipe from Cook's Illustrated. It calls for proportions of 1 cup oats to 1 cup milk and 3 cups water. The oats are toasted in a hot dry pan (you can add butter if you like) to bring out a wonderful nutty flavor. The toasted oats are added to the simmering liquid and allowed to cook slowly at a simmer without stirring for 20 minutes. Then a pinch of salt is added to bring out the flavors even more and it is stirred gently with the round handle of a wooden spoon until it reaches the desired consistency - about 8-10 minutes more. The oats come out with a nice creamy texture yet still maintains a nice chew on the grains.

While I like fruit and honey or cinnamon sugar on my oats I much prefer them savory. I like to place a poached egg on top, season with salt and pepper, and stir the whole thing up together. Today, however, I was HUNGRY from the run. So I needed more. I also wanted to do away with as much fat as possible. So I cooked up a healthy egg white omelette to go along with the oats. I sautéd together some chopped carrots, celery and lean ham. Four egg whites were whipped up with a splash of milk to a nice frothy consistency. I should mention how I cook the eggs. I like to put them into a hot pan and then pour some water around the edges using my spatula to get the water underneath the eggs. I cover it and let it steam in the pan. The rapidly bubbling water makes the eggs froth and rise to give a very nice light texture. The eggs don't get browned if there's water present. You can do this with scrambled eggs too. Maybe not the best technique for a traditional omelette but it worked great for my purposes. I folded the eggs around the ham and veggies. I love cheese but I omitted it today to keep it low fat. A tiny bit of a really flavorful blue cheese would probably take this one notch higher. However, it was quite satisfying.

Egg whites are essentially pure protein. All of the fat in an egg resides in the yolk (5 grams per egg). If you cut the yolks and have the only the whites you lower the calories and cut out all the fat. Each egg white has about 16 calories and 3.5 grams of protein. One cup of the oatmeal contains 150 calories, 2 grams of fat, 25 grams of healthy carbs and 6 grams of protein. The egg omelette I made has 174 calories, only 4 grams of fat (from the ham), 11 grams of carbohydrates, and 24 grams of protein. A healthy, low fat, carb/protein balanced meal.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Light and Healthy Asian Inspiration

Talk about low fat, good carbs and lean proteins, tonight's dinner really fit the bill. This is not really authentic Asian cuisine but it certainly has its inspiration from across the Pacific. I made a soup with onions, kale and konbu flavored with a clam dashi and poached tilapia filets in it. The only fat was a tiny splash of olive oil in the pot to sauté the onions. More on the soup in a minute. I really want to talk about this simple and delicious salad I threw together. There's a legume event going on over at The Well Seasoned Cook and I blogged about cooking up some whole grains and legumes in my last post. Now these beans and grains were just fine by themselves seasoned with a little bit of salt and pepper, but I really love to eat them cold with fresh crunchy vegetables and a tangy dressing. What you see in the bowl below is a couple cups of those cooked grains, a cup or so offinely sliced romaine lettuce hearts, a half cup each of finely diced celery, carrots, and scallions, three cloves of garlic finely chopped and a good tablespoon of minced ginger. A little salt and pepper, a splash of soy sauce, a couple tablespoons of rice vinegar and the tiniest drizzle of sesame oil was mixed in with these. The result is shown below. I garnished it with sesame seeds.

All right. Let's talk soup. I love soup and this one was pretty easy to make. I first sautéed one medium onion with a tiny bit of olive oil until it began to brown. Four or five cloves of chopped garlic were added and this was quickly cooked for about a minute to release the flavor. I added a few tablespoons of rice vinegar to deglaze the pan. In went a little bit of dried konbu seaweed and a couple cups of chopped up kale. Salt and pepper was added along with a couple tablespoons of a Korean clam dashi powder. About 8 cups of water was added and this was simmered covered for about 30 minutes until the kale was nicely softened and the flavors were all integrated.

Here in Fargo it is not that easy to get fresh fish so we have to rely on what we can find frozen much of the time. I am, after all, located in the geographical center of North America. There is no other place further from an ocean than North Dakota. Anyway, of the frozen fish I find the mild taste and nice texture of tilapia to work great in a soup. You certainly don't want to overcook it though. So, I just slip in the thawed filets right before serving and let them simmer in the broth for just a couple of minutes. I only use as many filets as I'm going to serve. I find the fish does not keep that well in leftovers. So, we eat all the fish and any soup that is left can be used later. You can reheat and add more fish or even throw in some tofu. I like to serve the filet whole in the bowl. It makes for a nice presentation. However, you could break it up into pieces as well. It was delicious and the broth perfectly seasoned this time.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Just Grains and Legumes

Ok, maybe not just grains and legumes, but mostly. I like healthy grains and legumes and I often cook up a big batch of mixed things. I like to make a lot and use it for a long time. They stay good in the fridge for a week or so and I package them up into smaller ziploc bags and freeze them. That way I can just pull out some grains to use during the next few days for salads or in other dishes. Whole grains and legumes are fantastic for their healthy complex carbohydrates and they taste so good. I was so happy to see Susan announce a Legume Love Affair event over at The Well Seasoned Cook. I'll try to use these in a number of different recipes.

On Sunday I made a big batch to use for the next few weeks. I started with the legumes. Shown below from left to right are: black eyed peas, black beans, mung beans, soy beans and adzuki beans. It's what I had in the cupboard.

Let's talk legumes. Whenever I am browsing my local health food store or my favorite Asian market I always look to see what kind of cool interesting grains they have in stock. Here are six that I used in this batch. From left to right: whole wheat berries, kamut, quinoa, spelt, coarse bulgar wheat, and Thai brown rice.

I used simple proportions for this - 1/2 cup of each of the 11 items show above. Here is a closeup picture of the legumes all mixed together.

These whole grains from the top left going clockwise are wheat berries, kamut and spelt on the bottom. These will be soaked with the legumes for about 5 hours prior to cooking.

This grain plate contains quinoa on the upper left, bulgar on the upper right and the Thai brown rice on the bottom. These will not be pre-soaked as they cook just fine directly from their dried state.

This picture shows the legumes and the whole grains soaking. These were rinsed well several times first.

I cooked everything together in my rice cooker set on the brown rice setting. I didn't measure the amount of water I added but simply added enough to have about an inch above the top of the grains and legumes. Here they are all cooked.

For Sunday dinner the grains were served simply as a side dish along with some roasted chicken, steamed broccoli and carrots, and caramelized onion and crimini mushrooms. Dinner was served with a wonderful white burgundy wine.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

I'm on the Foodie Blogroll now

Many of you probably already know about the Foodie Blogroll that the Leftover Queen, Jenn has put together. Well, now I'm registered and listed with umpteen thousand other fantastic food blogs. Some day I'll try to find time to check out some of the ones I haven't linked to yet. You can find the blog roll at the bottom of the column over on the right side. Happy surfing (but don't get lost - I need you back here!).

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Dinner Evolution

I got home from work tonight with no idea what I was going to make for dinner. Again my criteria is low fat, lean protein and good complex carbs/vegetables these days. I really have a hard time planning and rarely follow recipes. I usually just forage around the kitchen for ingredients and try to throw something together. Tonight it turned out to be curried chicken salad. I didn't set out to make this but it evolved as I was putting ingredients together.

I started by chopping up some raw broccoli into small bits. I was thinking of making some kind of salad out of it. I grabbed a carrot out of the fridge and diced that up to. Ah, there's garlic on my counter so I chopped up a clove of that and threw it in. I wanted some flavor so I went the fridge and found a jar of dijon mustard. In went a tablespoon. It needed some zing so I splashed in a tablespoon of rice vinegar. I also seasoned with some salt and pepper. I needed some complex carbohydrates. Fortunately I still had some cooked mixed grains that I have been using for everything lately. In went a half cup. I thought I had my salad all ready and I set my mind onto what kind of protein to serve with the salad. I had a chicken quarter leftover from the stewed chicken I talked about a few days ago. But how to serve it? Ah! Let's just throw it into the salad. Tasted ok but it needed a tablespoon of mayo just to hold everything together. But . . it needed something else. Bingo! Madras curry powder. Last but not least was a bit of dried cranberries. Voila! The evolution of dinner.

Well, that's not all. While I was foraging around the kitchen I spotted an eggplant just begging to be used. Now, I love aubergines. I usually slather them well with olive oil. Not that olive oil is bad for you but I need to cut the fat calories down right now. So, how to make a non-fat eggplant dish? Would it taste ok? The answer is yes! I sliced them into thick slices, laid them on a sheet pan, seasoned them with salt, pepper, dried oregano and garlic powder. I then spooned a couple tablespoons of simple canned tomato sauce on top. This was baked in a hot 400 F oven for about 20 minutes until the eggplant was soft and well cooked and the tomato sauce had cooked and caramelized a bit. This was topped with just a touch of fresh grated parmigiano reggiano and melted for just a few minutes more in the oven. Just a touch was enough to flavor it nicely. I have to say it turned out full of flavor and delicious. Who said low fat lean cooking can't taste good?

Oh, and I've lost 5 pounds so far in 2008!

Wednesday, January 9, 2008


Dinner last night was GOOD. My wife stewed some chicken leg quarters in the crock pot until the meat was falling off the bone. To the pot I think she added some carrots, celery, onions, bay leaf and thyme along with a bit of chicken stock. Again with the low fat, good healthy complex carb theme I steamed some brussel sprouts without any oil. I 'baked' a sweet potato in the microwave. Just 5 minutes and it was tender and steaming. Again, I didn't use any fat to cook it. I can't say much for the presentation, but the flavor was excellent. What really put this over the top was the little bit of sauce that was spooned over all of this. I made the sauce from the stew pot juices. I strained off all the spent vegetables and separated as much of the chicken fat from the juice that I could. This left me with about 3 cups flavorful chicken stewing broth. I put this in a pan and reduced it down almost to nothing! I was left with about 3/4 of a cup of wonderful, delicious chicken demiglas. I've never made a demiglas from poultry before. I was very very pleased with the result. Just a little bit added huge flavor to the plate.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Healthy Eating and Bento Inspiration

I have been so bloated from all the parties and rich foods of the holidays. I am looking for lean proteins, good complex carbs, low fat foods, and lots of fresh vegetables. I haven't been getting enough protein so I really loaded it up for dinner last night. I have a mixture of cooked grains mixed with fresh carrots, celery, cabbage and green onions dressed with a bit of rice vinegar. Lean chicken from the deli counter of the supermarket. And eggs! Yes, eggs. Notice they are quite pale? I used one whole egg and 3 egg whites to make these tasty, fluffy, light but packed with protein scrambled eggs. It was very satisfying.

I have been inspired by Biggie over at Lunch in a Box with all her wonder healthy bento box foods. So I jumped on the bandwagon. I had forgotten that my dear wife had purchased some Japanese lunch boxes a while ago. I took them out of storage and put them to use. You can see some leftovers here. There's some of my seaweed and mushroom soup, fresh vegetables, more deli chicken breast and leftover cooked grain salad. Thanks Biggie! Now I just have to make time to prepare more. I was scrambling this morning to get this together.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Asian Influenced

I ate a lot over the holidays. I ate too many sweet rich foods. It's time to cut back on the carbohydrates and fat and fill in with flavor. There is no better way to do this than with Asian food. You'll be seeing a lot if low fat low carb meals from me in the near future. Tonight I made a mushroom and seaweed soup served with a soy/mirin marinated grilled chicken served on a salad with a ginger soy dressing. It was delicious, low fat, low carb and absolutely satisfying.

I used two kinds of dried mushrooms. One was already shredded into thin strips and the package simply called it "dried black fungus". The other is my favorite dried mushroom, a dried shitake. These were soaked in water for a good 4-5 hours before cooking. I like to soak my mushrooms in zip-lock bags. It's easy and convenient.

If you haven't had soup made with dried seaweed you are missing out. I am inspired by many of the Korean soups (masters of soup if I may add) that use seaweed as a base. The Japanese also use dried seaweed as a soup and flavor base. I have two kinds in my soup this evening. One is Japanese - dashi kombu. This comes in wide sheets and hydrates to give a chewy thick seaweed in the end. I broke this up into small pieces. The other is a shredded seaweed. This one is much thinner and opens up into sort of very thin seaweed leaves as it hydrates and cooks. Both have a wonderful salty sea-like taste. It really is wonderful.

Here are everything combined together. The seaweed has been broken up into small pieces. The shitakes were sliced thinly. The mushroom soaking water was added to add all that wonderful color and flavor. To this I added some salt, lots of fresh ground pepper, lots of chopped garlic, a splash of soy sauce, and about 4 cups more water. This was heated to boiling and then simmered for two hours. This picture was taken before adding the water and cooking.

I made a simple salad of finely shredded romaine lettuce, green cabbage and carrots. This was eventually tossed with a dressing made from grated ginger, a splash of soy sauce, rice vinegar, mirin, sesame oil and olive oil.

Here is the salad with the grilled chicken on top. The chicken was marinated for two hours with a mixture of sesame oil, mirin, and soy sauce. It was grilled and allowed to rest for a few minutes before slicing.

The soup! It was delicious! I could eat this every day. The flavor of the shitake was most pronounced and it mingled with the seaweed flavor. I enjoyed dinner tonight!