Sunday, March 4, 2007

A Spicy Chinese Dinner and a Healthy Pilaf Lunch

A few days ago, Jack and I traveled to The Strip District in Pittsburgh. No, it’s not what it sounds like! It is a strip of land bordering the Allegheny River where warehouses receive produce and other merchandise from ships and trucks and then distribute. Actually, not a lot of ships are involved with this any longer, but trucks certainly are (judging from the traffic mess we encountered). Back (oh, way, way back!) in the early-80’s when I lived in the city, this area, which I was already familiar with from Saturday-morning trips to buy fresh produce at the retail stores, began a transformation. More retail shops, not only produce and specialty food, but other merchandise such as furniture, decorative items, etc., started to appear. Then the few restaurants (mostly there to feed hungry truckers in the wee hours) multiplied. Nightclubs followed, street vendors arrived, and now the place is busy all week long, day and night, with offerings no longer meant just for the wholesale or truck-driver trade. Saturday mornings is a zoo best left to those with incredible patience. And it seems as though Friday afternoons draw the office worker crowd from nearby downtown for lunch (as best I can figure by the plethora of suits-and-ties on men sitting at outdoor tables, in mild weather, eating huge fried fish sandwiches). In my experience, The Strip is best enjoyed on a Monday-to-Thursday basis, but not within 2 weeks of Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Easter! It’s a real experience.

My favorite places are Penzey’s, Pennsylvania Macaroni Company (huge selection of Italian products), and Wholeys ( the best selection of seafood anywhere, in my opinion). I wander through Balcony Cookware and dream of an all- Le Crueset kitchen. For a treat (that I don’t have to make myself!), I buy a cherry-almond biscotti from Enrico Biscotti Company. For lunch, you cannot beat Kaya, a Caribbean-theme restaurant with an always delicious, very adventurous, upbeat menu.

One of the bargains I found on this latest trip was snow peas. In the grocery store for $3.99/ pound, at an open-air stall in The Strip I found them for $1.59/pound. So when I was deciding what to serve for dinner last evening I decided that I needed to use these snow peas. And how better to enjoy them than in Chinese food? I bought a bag of blanched almonds at PA Mac (mostly for Easter baking), so I decided to incorporate some of these into the recipe as well. The result was Almond Chicken with Vegetables.

I like to make Chinese stir-frys because it is so easy to reduce toe amount of meat to a minimum and increase the vegetables. The only deterrent is the high sodium content. So I use low sodium soy sauce, and as little as possible. Oil, too. The meals we eat in Chinese restaurants usually have puddles of sauce, topped with a layer of cooking oil. So I use as little oil as I can get away with, and keep a small cup of water at the stove as I am cooking so I can drizzle some in if the ingredients in the wok begin to stick.

This is a lower sodium, lower fat recipe with an abundance of vegetables and just enough chicken to have a piece every bite or two. Jack says that it’s one of his favorite meals. Unfortunately, with all the recipes I have access to daily and place in my “to try” file, it’s difficult to remember to make this! Until I have snow peas to “remind” me…

* Exported from MasterCook *

Almond Chicken with Vegetables

Recipe By: Vicci

Servings: 2

Preparation Time: 0:40

Amount Measure Ingredient -- Preparation Method

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1/2 cup low sodium chicken broth

1 tablespoon hoi sin sauce

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 teaspoon chili garlic sauce

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes -- optional

1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch

1 tablespoon canola oil

2 tablespoons whole almonds -- blanched

2 teaspoons gingerroot -- minced

1 large garlic clove -- minced

8 ounces boneless skinless chicken breast -- 1/2" cubes

6 ounces broccoli florets

1/2 large red bell pepper -- 3/4" pieces

1 medium onion -- halved horizontally, each half cut into 4 wedges

4 ounces snow peas

1 teaspoon sesame oil

Mix first 6 ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.

Fold a paper towel in half and place on a small plate. Heat a wok over medium-high heat. Drizzle 1 teaspoon canola oil around the bottom of the wok. Add almonds and stir continuously until browned on both sides. Remove from wok and place on the paper-towel lined plate. Set aside.

Drizzle another teaspoon of oil into the hot wok and add gingerroot and garlic. S

tir once and a

dd chicken cubes. Stir continuously for 3-4 minutes or until chicken is cooked through. Remove from wok onto a small plate and set aside.

Drizzle the final teaspoon of oil into the wok and add the broccoli, red pepper, and onion. Stir for one minute, and add 2 tablespoons of water. Immediately cover, and turn down heat to medium-low. Allow to steam for two minutes. Remove cover, turn heat up to high, and add snow peas. Stir for another minute. Turn heat back to medium. Give the sauce a stir (the cornstarch may have settled on the bottom of the bowl) and pour into the wok. Stir, glazing the chicken and vegetables with sauce, until thickened (about 30 seconds). Stir in almonds. Drizzle with sesame oil. Serve over steamed rice.

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Per serving: 414 Calories (kcal); 19g Total Fat (2g Saturated); (40% calories from fat); 38g Protein; 25g Carbohydrate; 66mg Cholesterol; 876mg Sodium

Food Exchanges: 1/2 Grain (Starch); 4 1/2 Lean Meat; 3 Vegetable; 0 Fruit; 3 Fat; 0 Other Carbohydrates

On our way back home from The Strip, we stopped in at my favorite grocery store, the East End Food CoOp. Yes, there’s a Whole Foods and a Trader Joe’s nearby, both less than a 10-minute drive, but the CoOp was my first “healthy grocery store”. They have

an excellent café, but my main focus on that day was the bulk foods section. I stocked up on bulgur wheat, steel-cut oats, barley, brown rice, whole wheat couscous, wheat bran, oat bran, and dried beans and peas. These are the items that cost a fortune packaged in small packages at the grocery store, but since I have a freezer to store everything in (especially in the summer when those nasty pantry moths invade) I can buy in quantity.

Since, being Sunday, we slept in and had a late breakfast, we decided to skip lunch and not eat until dinner. Around 2pm, however, I became a little hungry. Wanting to use one of the grains which I had bought the other day, I looked through a cookbook that I don’t use often enough, The Mayo Clinic Williams-Sonoma Cookbook, and found a recipe f

or a barley pilaf which appealed. It took about 40 minutes to put together, and satisfied our appetites enough to get through to dinner (which, since it is Sunday night, will be pizza). I followed the recipe exactly as directed except that I substituted red bell pepper for half of the green bell pepper. It was very good-- hearty, chewy, flavorful, and brimming with soluble fiber (7g per side dish serving). The only addition I might make next time is a little thyme and a pinch of cayenne.

* Exported from MasterCook *

Barley, Bell Pepper, and Almond Pilaf

Recipe By: John Phillip Carroll

Servings: 6

Preparation Time :40:00

Amount Measure Ingredient -- Preparation Method

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2 teaspoons olive oil

1 small onion -- chopped

2/3 cup red bell pepper -- chopped

2/3 cup green bell pepper -- chopped

1 cup pearl barley

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 cup low sodium vegetable broth

2 cups water

2 tablespoons almonds -- toasted, chopped

In a large frying pan over medium heat, heat the olive oil. Add the onion and bell pepper and sauté until vegetables are wilted, about 4 minutes.

Add the barley and ground pepper and sauté for 3 minutes.

Stir in the broth and water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer until the barley is tender and the liquid is absorbed, about 25 minutes. Stir frequently and even more often toward the end of the cooking time when the liquid begins to evaporate.

Divide among plates and garnish with almonds.


"The Mayo Clinic Williams-Sonoma Cookbook"



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Per serving: 172 Calories (kcal); 4g Total Fat (Trace Saturated Fat); (17% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 31g Carbohydrate; 0mg Cholesterol; 93mg Sodium; 7g Fiber

Food Exchanges: 2 Grain (Starch); 1/2 Lean Meat; 1/2 Vegetable; 0 Fruit; 1/2 Fat; 0 Other Carbohydrates

NOTES: This makes 6 side dish servings or 2 generous main-dish servings

Tonights Pizza du Sunday:

Garlic infused olive oil, light mozzarella, spinach, tomatoes, red bell peppers, mushrooms, Parmesan, herbs on a whole-wheat crust. We ate the whole thing!!!