Friday, February 29, 2008

Chicken Stir Fry

For quick meals you really can't beat a good stir fry. And you can make it even healthier by changing up the rice for a better grain. In my case I used a bed of cooked coarse bulgur wheat. My stir fry was very simple - chicken breast, red bell peppers, onions, garlic, and ginger. It was flavored with soy, sesame sauce and lots of lime juice (I like it tangy). A bit of corn starch to thicken it and make it glisten was all it needed. The accompanying side dish is just shredded cabbage seasoned with soy and sesame oil.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Chicken Curry Barley Risotto

If you've followed my cooking exploits for a while you might know that I tried to make a healthier version of seafood risotto a while back using barley. It turned out well then and I've done another barley risotto this time using chicken and Indian curry flavors. Of course you can add whatever flavors you like to a basic risotto method. This is just what I had on hand last night when I was throwing together dinner at the last minute. For this risotto I used the following ingredients.

1 medium onion, diced small
3 cloves of garlic, chopped finely
2 large carrots, diced small
1 cup mushrooms, sliced
1 cup red bell pepper, cut into small strips
14 oz boneless, skinless chicken breast, cubed
2 tbsp olive oil
2 cups pearled barley
~6 cups beef broth (made from water and beef dashi powder)
2 tbsp Madras curry powder
1/2 tsp asafoetida powder

I started by heating a large flat pan. In went the olive oil followed by the onions, carrots and mushrooms. They were seasoned with salt, pepper, curry powder, and asafoetida and cooked together for a few minutes until they began to soften. Then I threw in the garlic and barley. These were tossed together in the pan for about a minute. Then began the risotto process. I added a couple cups of beef stock to the pan. This was cooked with stirring now and then until the stock reduced. More stock was added in small amounts and stirring/cooking was continued until the barley was toothsome but tender, about 35 minutes. I then added the chicken and pepper. I made sure there was enough liquid for it to cook for another 8-10 minutes. This was cooked down until the broth was all absorbed and the chicken was cooked thoroughly.

Next time if I were to plan this I would add some lemon juice at the end to give it more zing. I might also add some green chilis to the mix to give it more fire. Of course if I had fresh cilantro that would be added to the top after it was plated up. You can't really go wrong with this. I can envision a Thai inspired version using green or red curry paste for flavor and some coconut milk/chicken stock for the broth.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Fish and Seafood Chowder

I love a good chowder and haven't had any in quite a while. So I threw together this New England inspired soup with an eye for making it light and healthy, but very tasty. I started with a medium onion chopped finely. This was sweated in a hot pan with a splash of olive oil and some salt and pepper. Once the onions began to turn translucent I threw in a good healthy dose of chopped garlic and a couple cups of finely diced cabbage along with two finely diced potatoes and a cup of frozen corn. After sautéing for a few minutes I added 3 cups of skim milk and 3 cups of water. I also seasoned the broth with some clam dashi powder to give it more of a seafood flavor. I also sprinkled in a tsp or so of Old Bay seasoning. I let this simmer for about 15 minutes until the vegetables were thoroughly cooked. At the end I added 1 can (~15 oz) of pink salmon, 8 oz of imitation crab meat, about 20 peeled raw shrimp and 6 oz of chopped up pollock filets. This was cooked for an additional 8-10 minutes just until the fish was cooked through. Even though the chowder was low fat with all the fish and seafood it had a wonderful texture and an even more wonderful hearty flavor. It was very satisfying.

Monday, February 25, 2008

It's all about MeMe

Yes, I've been tagged. Astra Libris of Food for Laughter fame has tagged me with a MeMe. You know the drill on these things. One blogger tags you with something where you have to ask questions then you get to tag five others to do the same thing. Kind of like a blogger chain mail but more fun. We get to find our more about everyone. Now, you all have to put my name on a list and send me $5 to continue the chain. Oh wait, wrong chain letter. Let's get back to ME, shall we? Interesting questions.

What were you doing 10 years ago?

Oh boy, I can hardly remember what I was doing yesterday. Now I have to think about 10 years ago? Let's see - February 2008. I had just moved from California to Fargo in July 1996 and was right in the middle of my second year as an Assistant Professor. My lab was set up and running and my first graduate student was working my research group. We had survived the worst winter on record in North Dakota and the flood of the millenium. My son was born just six months before and we were in our first house. Life was good.

What were you doing 1 year ago?

After 10 years I was still in Fargo. I was an Associate Professor and had won the college teaching award. Last year at this time I had (and still have) a thriving research group looking for new anticancer compounds. I was preparing for a two week trip to France in May which turned out spectacular. I was also enjoying my new kitchen remodel that we completed a few years ago.

Five snacks you enjoy:

I have to pick five? That's hard. Let's see what I can come up with.

1. Raw vegetables. Yes, I like carrots, celery, broccoli, cauliflower - all the typical vegetable platter raw vegetables.
2. Dill Pickle potato chips. I love the tangy taste of these. I can't buy them because I'll sit down and eat every last one as soon as the bag is opened.
3. Mixed nuts. Good for you but calorie and fat dense. I have to be careful with my portions.
4. Chocolate. Love the stuff. Especially dark chocolate.
5. Red wine! Is that a snack? It is to me!

Five things you would do if you were a millionaire:

A tough question. I've never imagined myself as a millionaire, so it's hard to decide. A million dollars is not a lot these days. I guess I will think about what I would do if money were not an object for concern.

1. Start a winery.
2. Buy a new car.
3. Take a long cruise with my family.
4. Really outfit my kitchen with every gadget and dish I like.
5. Give to every charity that asks.

Five bad habits:

I don't have bad habits. I'm perfect!

1. I like to argue and play Devil's Advocate.
2. I leave my dirty socks on the bedroom floor.
3. I procrastinate.
4. I don't call my father often enough.
5. I don't hear what people are saying when I'm concentrating on something else.

Five things you like doing:

This one is easy.

1. Running.
2. Cooking.
3. Gardening.
4. Photography.
5. Enjoying wine.

Five things you would never wear again:

Hmm, that would imply that I have worn them before. This MeMe business must have been started by a woman! Men don't think about what they wear.

1. Red heart boxer shorts.
2. Black 'Member's Only' jacket.
3. Cowboy boots.
4. V-neck sweater.
5. Velcro tennis shoes.

Five favorite toys:

Another easy peasy question. Of course I have lots of kitchen toys, but I'm not sure if they are my favorites compared to these.

1. iPod Touch.
2. iPod nano.
3. Macbook air
4. Apple TV
5. Canon Rebel XT.

Can you tell I like Apple products?

Now it's the hard part. I have to pick five other bloggers to tag. The problem is there are way too many? How do I decide who to tag? Ok . . here's five that I think will have fun with this.

First - Kevin at Closet Cooking. He makes some fantastic food and I want to see how another guy will answer these silly questions.

How about Anne over there in Sweden? She is such a prolific blogger. I can't keep up with all the wonderful stuff on her blog.

I'd like to call out Christine who is much more than a Fledgling Cook!

Miss Bliss the frolicking foodie hasn't been blogging that long. Time to share with us who you are!

And last, but certainly not least, Nora with Life's Smörgasborg. She has some very interesting food from down under, and I think she's a runner too!

Oh, there are so many more I could have called out for this. Sorry if you weren't picked. I love all your blogs.

Fish Tacos

I actually have never had fish tacos before and I haven't made them before. I just kind of winged it the other night when I was looking for something quick, light and healthy to eat for dinner. I found some frozen pollock filets in the freezer. My fridge was rather bare so I wasn't sure what to do with them. I had cheese, lettuce and some cherry tomatoes. There was also a package of tortillas there. AHA! Time to try this dish. I didn't really follow a recipe and threw it together pretty quickly, but it came off ok. I started by seasoning the fish with cumin and searing it in a hot cast iron pan. I made a simple spicy tomato relish by chopping the cherry tomatoes with some pickled jalapeño peppers. All this was simply wrapped in a tortilla with lettuce and a bit of cheese. I didn't have cilantro (which I love) otherwise that would have been added in as well. While I love sour cream, it doesn't love my waistline so I forwent that too. Overall it was a very quick and satisfying meal. Next time I'll plan it better and marinate the fish in lime/cumin for a while before cooking it.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Tofu and Bulgar Cabbage Rolls

I was inspired by Jenn the Leftover Queen who recently posted her Golubki (Polish Cabbage Rolls). I had a hankering for some cabbage rolls. But I also wanted to make it low fat and healthier so I stuffed it with a bulgar wheat and tofu mixture. I have to say it turned out pretty good although next time I'd probably add something a bit more flavorful like just a touch of a strong blue cheese. Here's the recipe I created:

16 cabbage leaves blanched to soften
1 large onion
5 cloves garlic
1 tbsp olive oil
1 cup chopped Italian parsley
1 tbsp rice vinegar
1 package Mori-Nu light firm silken tofu
2 cups cooked course bulgar wheat
1 8oz can tomato sauce

I started by carefully taking the cabbage leaves apart and blanching them in boiling water to soften. Next time I think I'll steam the whole cored head as it would be easier to remove the leaves. I heated a pan, added the olive oil and sautéed the onions, garlic and most of the parsley. I reserved some for garnishing on top. This was cooked until softened. This mixture was added to the bulgar and tofu. I just mashed up the tofu with my hands with all the other ingredients. I also added salt and pepper and a bit of vinegar to the stuffing. These were rolled in the softened cabbage leaves, placed in a baking dish, and topped with the tomato sauce. Parsley was sprinkled on top and it baked for about 40 minutes at 375F.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Smooth Sustenance

I admit to eating a lot of liquid breakfasts. After a nice long run in the morning there's nothing better than a big fruit and protein smoothie to rejuvenate those sore muscles. I usually use frozen fruits because they taste good all year long. My basic formula is to use milk, fruit, protein, and sometimes other flavors. Yesterday I had a nice long 15 mile run so I loaded it up with chocolate and peanut butter too. Here's the recipe I used.

Strawberry Protein Smoothie

1 cup skim milk
1 cup frozen strawberries, slightly thawed
1.5 scoops vanilla flavored whey protein
1 tbsp Ovaltine chocolate powder
1 tbsp creamy peanut butter

Blend until smoooooooooth and enjoy.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Happy Birthday to Me

No! I'm not looking for gratuitous birthday wishes, so please don't. :) I want to share with you what I wanted for my birthday dinner. I had planned to pull out a bottle of 1995 Brunello di Montalcino that I had in my cellar for a few years now. I knew it was getting a bit on in age (just like me) so I it was time to open it. I was thinking all day long about making a creamy rosemary chicken pasta to go along with it. I thought something herbal and savory would be great. When I got home from work my wife had thought to plan an asian fish dinner. I thought "Ginger Soy Fish with Brunello? Um, nope - won't work!" She didn't mind that I went back to plan A. Dinner turned out great and I even managed to keep it on the lower fat side. I started by taking about a cup of non-fat milk and a tablespoon of flour and whisking that together well. To this was added a few tablespoons of chopped fresh rosemary. I heated this on the stove while whisking until it was bubbling. I cooked it for about a minute or two until it became a nice thick white sauce. It was pretty thick as it was going to be thinned down with some chicken broth later. I cooked some whole wheat spaghetti in a pot of salted boiling water. While the pasta cooked I sautéed some boneless skinless chicken breast that had been sliced into small pieces along with some olive oil and fresh garlic. When it was just cooked but still moist and tender the chicken was taken out of the pan. In went more garlic and about a cup of cut up asparagus. This was fried for a couple of minutes and some chicken broth, about a half cup or so, was added. This was simmered just until the asparagus was softened. The thickened white sauce was added and cooked together for a few seconds. In went the chicken and then the pasta. To top it off about 2.5 oz of freshly grated parmigiano reggiano was tossed in and the pasta was plated up. It was creamy and delicious. The rosemary flavor was just perfect. I think this recipe is a keeper! If you want a more rich version you could use real cream instead of thickened skim milk. You could also add some butter to the sauce to give it more richness. But I certainly didn't need it.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Soup and Salad - Mediterranean Inspiration

I've been on kind of a Mediterranean kick the last couple days. Soup and salad usually go together but I actually made these on different nights. This evening I made a really wonderful soup. The other day I roasted an eggplant in a hot oven until it was soft and tender. I was thinking maybe baba ganoush would be on my menu soon. But there it sat in the fridge neglected. Tonight I decided to make a soup out of it. I started with a hot pot and a couple tablespoons of olive oil. In went a couple of chopped up onions, salt and pepper. These were sautéed until they were just starting to caramelize. Next I added a good dose of chopped garlic, about 6-8 cloves worth. These were cooked for about a minute or so with the onions. In went a can of diced tomatoes, 2 cans of chicken broth, the flesh of the roasted eggplant, and some seasonings. I added the juice of a lemon, about a teaspoon each of dried thyme and dried oregano, and a healthy pinch of spicy red chili pepper flakes. This was simmered for about 20 minutes until all the flavors were mingling together and the veggies were all well cooked. I wanted it to be on the creamy side so I added one can of evaporated nonfat milk. This is a good healthy alternative to adding cream. Of course cream would be over the top better, but this was pretty good. The soup was puréed with my hand blender. All I can say is YUM! The herbs and lemon along with the eggplant and onions. Delicious!

Last night started everything off with this Greek inspired salad. This was also very satisfying. I started with a bed of chopped romayne and green leaf lettuces. These were dressed with a lemon, oregano and olive oil dressing. On top are some sliced cucumber, sliced carrots, artichoke hearts, celery, sliced chicken breast, kalamata olives and lots of feta cheese. Another drizzle of the lemon dressing and a dusting of sumac and the salad was ready to go. It reminded me of the lemony greek salads from a local mom & pop shop I used to get when I was a graduate student.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Whole Grain Sourdough goes perfect with Chicken Soup

On a cold winter day there's not much better than a hot bowl of chicken soup and a big hunk of homemade bread. More about the soup later. Let's talk bread. I haven't made any in quite a while and I was missing it. My sourdough starter has been sitting in the fridge neglected for a while. Earlier this week I got some out and started feeding it with whole wheat flour. As you saw in my last pizza post, the starter was going great after only a day or so. Power to the yeast! Those buggers really are hard to kill.

I like to make a pretty wet preferment before I actually add all of the flour for the bread. I don't really know why I do this but it works. I add most of my flour at first and let it ferment for at least an overnight stint if not longer. Then I mix in a bit more flour to get to the dough consistency I want. I believe this gives the yeast a fresh boost of food for the dough to rise. I wanted to make a 100% whole wheat bread with whole grains. This is a challenge because 100% whole wheat breads usually don't rise that well and end up being very dense. Again, this is because there is less gluten and the sharp edges of the whole wheat chaff cuts the gluten strands that do develop in the dough. That's why commercial whole wheat breads are usually made with at least 50% white flour. Anyway, here is my preferment after sitting for 12 hours overnight. It was made from about 1 cup of my sourdough starter, 2 cups of whole wheat flour, 2 cups of water, 1/2 cup each of whole kamut grains, whole spelt grains, and steel cut oats. This was just mixed well together, covered with plastic and allowed to ferment.

The next morning I added 1.5 cups more whole wheat flour and 1 tbsp of salt. I always add my salt after the preferment so as not to inhibit the yeast. After the first ferment there's a good healthy colony growing and it is much less likely to be inhibited by salt. This dough was kneaded by hand gently for about 5 minutes until the newly added flour and salt were well incorporated. The dough was shaped into a ball and placed in a bowl covered with plastic until almost doubled. I let it sit for about 2.5 hours. It could have risen more, certainly. The dough was shaped into a wide oblong shape and allowed to rise for another 1.5 hours. Here is the dough ready to go in the oven. I have scored the top. I was a little impatient. This could have risen even more. The dough is still a bit on the wet side.

I like to bake my bread using a covered iron pot like all of the no-knead recipes suggest. This helps keep the steam in. So, I let the dough rise on a piece of parchment paper and then it's easy to lift and place directly in the heated pot without deflating the dough. It was baked at 500F for 30 minutes with the cover, then an additional 15 minutes at 450F without the cover. Here's the result just out of the oven. It is a nicely shaped loaf. You can tell it has much less oven spring than a white flour bread. I think next time I'll let it rise even more before baking.

The crust is perfectly browned and crisp.

Here's the inside. I was pretty happy with this. It was not big and airy. As a matter of fact it was kind of dense but certainly not a brick! Inside it was soft and moist. The whole grains were crunchy. It had a very nice whole wheat taste - more intense than a commercial whole wheat bread. It was perfect dunked into the chicken soup.

Ok, so much for the bread. I know you're interested in my soup as well. For this soup I used 6 chicken leg quarters. I cooked the chicken and made the broth in my trusty pressure cooker. All I did was take about 2 quarts of water, a good amount of salt, the chicken, and lots of seasonings. I threw in bay leaves, cracked black pepper, a cinnamon stick, dried oregano, dried thyme, some sezchuan peppercorns, a couple of cut up carrots and some celery stalks and leaves. I always keep a bag of celery trimmings in my freezer just for this. This was brought up to pressure and cooked for about 20 minutes. After cooling the broth was strained out and the chicken was deboned. I defatted the broth. To make the soup I softened some onion, carrots, and brussel sprouts in a big pot. I added a cup or so of frozen peas. The broth was added along with the chicken pieces. This was simmered for about 10 minutes just until everything was cooked and all the flavors integrated. Some more salt and pepper to season to taste and it was ready. By the way, the very subtle hint of cinnamon from the broth was wonderful with this.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Better than Domino's Pizza

There's nothing better than homemade pizza. Pizza is a simple food. And simple food is extraordinary. The trick to making great pizza is to just lightly dress it with toppings. If you load them on the crust cannot bake properly and you end up with a soggy mess. I like to add just a little bit of something that is really really flavorful. This could be some outstanding ham or some really sharp flavorful cheese. Last evening I made a pizza with just artichoke hearts and kalamata olives. The olives are packed with salty flavor that really makes this pizza. I just used a jarred spaghetti sauce that I flavored with some dried oregano and basil. This just lightly coated the crust. Mozzarella cheese lightly sprinkled on top brought it all together.

The number one most important thing about pizza is the crust. My standard crust consists of yeast or a sourdough starter, all purpose flour, water, salt, and olive oil. The oil makes for a softer dough. This pizza, however, was made with 100% whole wheat flour and a whole wheat sourdough starter. I am making a whole grain bread this weekend (to be posted later) so I had a starter that I was feeding. I used about 1/2 cup of the sourdough starter and a couple cups of whole wheat flour. This was mixed together with some water to make a wet dough. I let this rise in the refrigerator over night. The dough was taken out around 3:00 in the afternoon to let it continue rising at room temperature. Whole wheat flour makes for a dough that is not as stretchy as a white flour dough because there is less gluten and the whole wheat hulls tend to cut the gluten strands. So you have to be careful with this. I patted this out into a pizza shape and topped it up with the toppings described above. This went into a 500F oven on my pizza stone to bake until nicely brown and bubbling - about 8 minutes.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Kimchee Chigae

In Korea the word chigae (jigae) means stew. There are many kinds of chigae depending on the type of ingredients used. I believe the Koreans are masters of soups. They have a different word for soup (guk or kuk) which has more liquid than solid ingredients. If there's more stuff in it it is chigae. I really love kimchee chigae myself. It is best made with nicely sour well fermented kimchee. I made some kimchee almost three months ago and I have quite a bit left that is tasting very nice. Perfect for this warming stew on a cold day. Traditionally it is made with kimchee, tofu and either pork or beef. I left out the meat but flavored this with some beef dashi powder. I wanted more substance so I also added cut up daikon radish. I don't know if that is traditional or not but I like it. The stew is quite simple to make. I simply took a big pot with some sesame oil and fried some green onion and a couple cups of chopped up well fermented kimchee. To that I added a couple of cups of cut daikon, about a quart of water, a good dollop of gojuchang sauce and some beef dashi powder. This was simmered for about 20 minutes until all the flavors were integrated together. Near the end I added some cubed firm tofu and simmered it for a few minutes more. It was spicy and delicious! Makes for great leftovers too.