Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Turmeric Chicken with Coconut Milk and Asparagus

Recipe: Turmeric Chicken with Coconut Milk and Asparagus

Okay, guess what the pervasive fragrance in our house is these days?

Last year we had a period of very warm weather at the end of March and the lilac bushes began to open their buds, but when it snowed and the winter winds returned during the first part of April they froze and fell off. Last year, this tree gave me just a few lilacs.

I think that Mother Nature is trying to make up this year!

Twenty-four years ago I planted this shrub. It was the first year in our “new old house”, and I just had to have a lilac bush. The scent of lilac has always reminded me of my Gram, who had a huge bush in her yard. I have photos of me, as a baby, sitting under it and also several photos of Gram standing beside it.

To me, smelling lilac is almost like having my wonderful, dreadfully-missed Gram back with me.

All of the spring-flowering trees and shrubs and bulbs have hit their peak now. The yard is awash in white, lavender, scarlet, burgundy, pink, and lime-gold. It’s breathtaking.

Alas the weeds are also flourishing, and although I’ve tried to keep up it really is impossible. Today I will go to Lowe’s and buy a 2-gallon jug of Roundup concentrate, which should make the job easier on the large planting areas in front of the house. I dread to find out how much it will cost. It has been 2 or 3 years since we bought the last jug and I’m sure that, along with everything else, the price has jumped.

In the last week, I have been harvesting about a half pound of asparagus from the garden every day. I never did like asparagus much, but shortly after we moved into the farm we were visiting my parents and my Dad was showing me his garden. He had planted an asparagus patch a few years earlier and as we went by he snapped off two spears and handed one to me. I really didn’t want it, but I always try to play The Good Daughter as often as I can, so I ate it. Then went back for another, and another. Wow, what a different taste from the store-bought asparagus! Straight from the garden, asparagus has a nice, sweet taste that is quite unlike its straight-from-the-produce-aisle cousin. The following year I planted my own asparagus patch and had to wait for a few years for the plants to become established but we eventually were harvesting a pound or so every day.

I amassed quite the collection of asparagus recipes!

As expected, the asparagus lost its vigorous growth several years ago and I replanted new roots. These matured and are probably 3 or 4 years from needing to be replaced again.

Yesterday’s harvest:

One of my favorite recipes for using the garden asparagus is for pasta primavera, which I don’t have a recipe for, just sautéing vegetables and adding a little lowfat half-and-half for creaminess, then serving over whole wheat fettuccine.

Dinner last night was a Thai-inspired Turmeric Chicken with Asparagus over Rice Noodles.

This is one of my favorite asparagus-containing dishes, although the mix of flavors hides the taste of the asparagus somewhat (so I use store-bought asparagus in the recipe quite often). I adore Thai food and this is the epitome of everything I enjoy in that cuisine—lemongrass, coconut, spices… all covering pieces of asparagus and chicken and soft rice noodles. I have to restrain myself from eating it too quickly!

I hesitate to post the photo because it’s a bit bland, although if I hadn’t forgotten to sprinkle the cilantro on it, it would have looked better. To be honest, I was proud of myself that I actually remembered to add the coconut extract at the end of the cooking time because I often leave out that step. So I forgot the cilantro. So goes my brain. This is delicious, much more so that the photograph depicts.

* Exported from MasterCook *

Turmeric Chicken with Coconut Milk and Asparagus

Recipe By: Vicci

Servings: 2

Amount Measure Ingredient -- Preparation Method

---------- ---------- ---------------------------------------

5 ounces rice noodles -- wide, similar to fettucine

2 teaspoons fish sauce

1 1/2 teaspoons soy sauce

1 teaspoon brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon chili garlic sauce

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 tablespoon canola oil

8 ounces boneless skinless chicken breast -- sliced into 1/4" wide pieces

1 large garlic clove -- minced

1 small onion -- sliced vertically

1 large lemongrass stalk -- finely mince the white part of bulb only (about 2 tablespoons)

8 ounces asparagus -- ends trimmed, cut into 2" long pieces (split the thick pieces)

1/4 cup light coconut milk

1/2 cup fat-free half and half

1/2 teaspoon coconut extract

2 tablespoons chopped peanuts

1/2 large lime -- cut in half; for serving

Prepare rice noodles according to directions. Drain, soak in cool water to prevent sticking. Set aside.

Mix the fish sauce through ground turmeric in a small cup. Set aside.

Heat wok over a high flame. Drizzle in the canola oil, tilt the wok to distribute the oil evenly; add the chicken. Stir-fry for 30 seconds, then add the garlic, onion, and lemongrass. Stir fry for 2 minutes, or until chicken is opaque. Add the asparagus and stir for another minute. Add 1/4 cup of water and stir to get the browned bits from the bottom of the pan.

Turn the heat down to medium; add coconut milk and fat-free half and half. Bring just to a simmer*, add the soy sauce mixture. Cover and turn heat down to maintain a very gentle simmer. Cook for 2-3 minutes, or until asparagus is just tender. Sprinkle coconut extract over and stir in.

Serve in shallow bowls. Sprinkle with peanuts. Serve with lime wedges to squeeze over all.

*simmer, simmer, simmer, simmer! :) As I have mentioned before, both the fat-free and the lowfat half-and-half will separate if they come to a boil so watch it carefully!

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Per serving: 601 Calories (kcal); 15g Total Fat (2g saturated); (22% calories from fat); 34g Protein; 82g Carbohydrate; 66mg Cholesterol; 679mg Sodium

Food Exchanges: 4 Grain(Starch); 4 Lean Meat; 1 1/2 Vegetable; 0 Fruit; 23 Fat; 1/2 Other Carbohydrates

Monday, April 28, 2008

Southwestern "Bruschetta"

Recipe: Southwestern "Bruschetta"

On Saturday evening we went to a party at the home of our friends Karla and Frankie. Another friend, Don, who moved way out west to Wyoming was visiting for a few days, so we used it as an excuse to get together. I enjoy going to Karla's house. It's a modern, clean design with a nice deck overlooking the river where we were able to sit and enjoy the unusually warm weather. The guests were fun, the food delicious, and the drink... strong. :)

Karla had a southwestern theme going, and I decided to make a variation on bruschetta as my contribution. I had found a recipe, but decided to go in a slightly different direction. This turned out to be very good. The bread was brushed with garlic oil and toasted on one side, topped with a mixture of avocado and tomato, sprinkled with cheese and cilantro.

* Exported from MasterCook *

Southwestern "Bruschetta"

Recipe By : Vicci
Serving Size : 20 (2 pieces)

Amount Measure Ingredient -- Preparation Method
-------- ------------ --------------------------------
1 whole French baguette -- about 15" long-- sliced into 40 3/8" thick rounds
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 large garlic cloves -- minced
1 1/2 cups chopped tomatoes
1/3 cup finely chopped onion
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 teaspoon Mexican oregano -- crumbled
1/2 teaspoon chipotle pepper powder -- optional
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 medium avocados -- about 8 ounces each (before peeling and removing pit)
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
4 ounces Cotija cheese -- crumbled
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro -- optional

Preheat broiler.

In a small saucepan over low heat, saute the garlic in olive oil until very light brown. Remove from heat. Brush baguette slices with the garlic oil. Place under the broiler and broil until light brown (should take less than a minute-- watch carefully!). Remove to a rack to cool.

Toss the chopped tomatoes through salt in a medium bowl. Pour mixture into a wire strainer, set over a bowl, and drain at room temperature for 45 minutes to an hour. Peel and remove the pit from the avocados. Chop finely, place in a bowl, and toss with lime juice. Allow to stand for 5 minutes, tossing once or twice. Pour the avocado mixture into another wire strainer and drain for 15 minutes. Mix both tomato mixture and avocado mixture together. If not using immediately, cover and refrigerate for up to 2 hours. Allow to come to room temperature before using.

To assemble, top each baguette slice with a scant tablespoon of the tomato/avocado mixture. Arrange on a serving plate and sprinkle crumbled cotija cheese over all. Sprinkle with additional chopped cilantro, if desired.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Per serving: 72 Calories (kcal); 7g Total Fat (2g saturated); (76% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 3g Carbohydrate; 5mg Cholesterol; 138mg Sodium
Food Exchanges: 0 Grain(Starch); 0 Lean Meat; 0 Vegetable; 0 Fruit; 1 Fat; 0 Other Carbohydrates

The tomatoes are thoroughly drained so the bread will not get soggy, and if you make the topping ahead of time you may want to store it (for no longer than a couple of hours or the avocado, despite the lime juice, may begin to brown a little) in a container with a few layers of paper towels at the bottom to absorb excess moisture. Also, the bread can be toasted ahead of time-- just cool and tightly wrap in plastic.

On a totally different line, here is what is poking up between the patio stones:

Don't they have the most adorable little faces? :)

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Tilapia with Thai Curry Sauce

Recipe: Tilapia with Thai Curry Sauce

In 1958, a person living in the United States had a life expectancy of 69.6 years. The average new home cost just a shade under $12,000, tuition at Harvard was $1,000 per year, eggs were 28¢ a dozen, and gasoline went for 24¢ a gallon. And I was born. Fifty years ago.

I know that I can’t turn the clock back, and there’s really nothing that I can do about it, so I’ve tried not be all gloomy and maudlin. For the most part, unless I start thinking too much, I’ve been able to handle it in a fairly sane manner. No gnashing of teeth or wailing inconsolably for me, I just have to deal with it.

Jack knows that I am terrified to be the center of attention so he quickly turned away any suggestions of a big celebration which were given by well-meaning friends and relatives. Instead, he planned a wonderfully quiet few days which were shared by the two people who were there with me those 50 years ago, my parents. They surprised me by showing up at our lake house, we went out to eat, and talked and laughed and enjoyed each others’ company. My parents went through some old slides of my first 7 years, made them into prints, and put them together in a book. These were photos with pictures I am unfamiliar with (because as much as we look through old photo albums, we never get the old Kodak carousel out for a spin), wonderfully hilarious photos, and a perfect way to celebrate my birthday. We went out to eat 3 meals in a row (unheard of, really, since I am usually not very happy with restaurant food but, this time, there was not a single complaint). Mom made me a chocolate-raspberry cake, Dad decorated it, and it was delicious. All in all, it was a very enjoyable weekend.

We planned to return back to the farm on Monday, but decided to stretch it out until Tuesday. We returned several hours ago. I unpacked and, upon seeing some ready-to-harvest asparagus in the garden, planned to make a simple pasta primavera for dinner. Now I have some spare time and since I haven’t posted here in nearly a week I should do so. I did make a great pizza crust on Sunday for dinner (a 10-hour rather than an 18-hour no-knead crust), but I need to refine it a bit more so it will be a future post. Breakfast this morning was lowfat vanilla scones with strawberries, but the ingredients are still written on a scrap of paper so that also will be a future post. Going backward… dinner last Wednesday night was terrific, although I didn’t have time to write about it. Until now!

I love tilapia. It’s a very mild fish which readily absorbs flavors and has a soft-but-slightly-firm texture that we enjoy. I had some coconut milk and spinach to use up, and cilantro, so I broiled the tilapia, served it over spinach-rice, and covered all with a Thai style coconut-curry sauce.

This was soooooo good.

I normally use basmati rice with Thai dishes, but I was too lazy to go to the basement pantry to refill the kitchen rice jar from the 25-pound bag, so I used parboiled rice. I think that this type of rice, which is sturdier and chewier than the delicate basmati is, was perfect for the bold flavor of the sauce. The tilapia also has a delicate texture, so I believe that the basmati rice might have made this dish texturally too “soft”.

The sauce is a mixture of light coconut milk blended with lowfat half-and-half (coconut extract is added just before serving to really punch up the coconut flavor), sautéed vegetables, both curry powder and curry paste, soy sauce, and brown sugar. Its bright gold-yellow color comes from the Penzey’s sweet curry powder which I used, and looked great with the sprinkling of dark green cilantro on top. A squeeze of lime over top, and you will swoon. We did.

* Exported from MasterCook

Tilapia with Thai Curry Sauce

Recipe By: Vicci
Servings: 2

Amount Measure Ingredient -- Preparation Method
---------- ---------- ----------------------------------------
2/3 cup parboiled rice
3 ounces baby spinach -- steamed, cooled, squeezed (or use frozen, thawed, squeezed chopped
1/2 cup light coconut milk -- divided
1/2 cup lowfat half & half
1/2 tablespoon brown sugar
2 teaspoons low sodium soy sauce
1 teaspoon sweet curry powder
3/4 teaspoon red curry paste
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon canola oil
2 1/2 ounces bell pepper -- colored preferred; finely chopped (about 3/4 cup)
2 ounces sweet onion -- finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 teaspoons minced ginger
3/4 teaspoon coconut extract
10 ounces tilapia
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
1/2 large lime -- cut into 2 wedges

Cook the rice according to package directions, omitting fat and salt. While the rice steams, prepare the spinach. When the rice is tender and the water has evaporated, drizzle 2 tablespoons of the light coconut milk over the rice, stir, add the spinach, and stir gently until mixed. Cover to keep warm.

Mix the first 8 ingredients (the remaining light coconut milk through cornstarch) in a small bowl until smooth. Set aside.

Drizzle the olive oil in a small nonstick saucepan and heat over a medium flame. Add bell pepper and onion and cook, stirring often, for 3 minutes. Add garlic and ginger and cook for an additional minute. Give the coconut milk mixture a stir (the cornstarch probably settled to the bottom) and add to the vegetables. Continue to cook over a low flame until the mixture begins to simmer. Remember that the lowfat half and half will separate if the sauce comes to a boil (it will not spoil the taste of the dish, but it won't be pretty). Stir as it thickens a bit then turn the heat as low as possible. Continue to barely simmer and stir often for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the coconut extract.

Preheat a skillet or broiler and cook the tilapia until done.

Divide the rice between 2 large plates, topping with the cooked tilapia. Pour sauce over, sprinkle with cilantro, and serve with lime wedges.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Per serving: 216 Calories (kcal); 8g Total Fat (4g saturated); (31% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 31g Carbohydrate; 10mg Cholesterol; 285mg Sodium
Food Exchanges: 1 Grain(Starch); 0 Lean Meat; 1 1/2 Vegetable; 1/2 Fruit; 4 Fat; 0 Other Carbohydrates

NOTES : This has a long list of ingredients, but the sauce (or only the ingredients, if preferred) can be prepared ahead of time and refrigerated.

The coconut milk is supplemented with lowfat half and half which drastically cuts the fat and calories. Because the coconut flavor is desired, adding the extract at the end of the sauce's cooking time will ensure that it doesn't get "cooked away".

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

No Knead Pizza Crust

Recipe: No Knead Pizza Crust

Look! Two posts in one day!! :)

I have recently received 2 requests to please publish the no-knead pizza dough recipe which I mentioned in a late-February post. I always do what I'm told.


Anyway, this dough takes about 21 hours from start to when you can add toppings. Yes, the tradeoff to not kneading is the waiting! But time allows the gluten to develop slowly, giving this dough an incredible texture and flavor. Be patient. It will be worth the wait.

The recipe makes a rather thick 15" crust. If you like thin crusts on your pizza, roll it out to be larger, or divide the dough into two pieces.

I love crust (of course, since I love bread!) and always make a nice, thick crust around the perimeter. After a few pieces, Jack will usually save his crusts for me, preferring to eat the rest before filling up too much. It's a symbiotic relationship we have in that way-- he prefers the actual toppings, I slog through the toppings to get to the crust! So we trade...

The pizza above is Jack's favorite Thai Chicken Pizza and soon I will remember to write down the sauce ingredients so I can post this recipe as well.

* Exported from MasterCook *

No Knead Pizza Crust

Recipe By: Vicci
Servings: 4

Amount Measure Ingredient -- Preparation Method
-------- ------------ --------------------------------
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspooon active dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 ounces lukewarm water

In a medium bowl, mix the dry ingredients thoroughly. Add the water and mix with a wooden spoon until the flour is no longer visible and is incorporated into the dough. This may take a little time and effort. Flour your hands well and play with (knead) the dough for about 30 seconds (you won't be actually "kneading it" in the traditional way, just moving the dough around a bit with your hands to ensure a thorough mixing). The dough is quite sticky.

Place the dough in a medium bowl (no need to oil or prepare the bowl). Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise is a coolish place (about 65-68F) for 18-19 hours.

Sprinkle the dough with 2 tablespoons of flour and "knead" it again (keeping your hands well-floured), making certain that the flour is totally incorporated into the dough. Place in another medium bowl, cover with the same plastic wrap, and allow to rise in a cool area for 2 additional hours.

Prepare a pizza sheet by spraying it well with cooking spray. Lift the pizza dough onto the sheet and deflate it further. Sprinkle some flour on top and form into a 15" diameter crust. Cover again with plastic and allow to rise in a warm place for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 450-475F. Remove plastic from crust and add toppings to pizza; place in the oven. Bake for 7 minutes, turn sheet 180 degrees, and bake for another 2-3 minutes or until bottom of the crust is lightly browned.

Start to Finish Time:

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Per serving: 257 Calories (kcal); 1g Total Fat; (2% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 54g Carbohydrate; 0mg Cholesterol; 268mg Sodium
Food Exchanges: 3 1/2 Grain(Starch); 0 Lean Meat; 0 Vegetable; 0 Fruit; 0 Fat; 0 Other Carbohydrates

Green Goddess Salad Dressing

Recipe: Green Goddess Dressing

I have rediscovered an old favorite salad dressing. April’s edition of Canadian Living featured a Boston Lettuce Salad with Green Goddess Dressing and I realized that I haven’t had that type of salad dressing in years. Penzey’s makes a Green Goddess Dressing base, and I bought a small container a few years ago but I pitched it because it was incredibly salty (although I love most of the many, many other herbs/spices/mixtures which I have purchased there).

Green Goddess Salad Dressing is credited as having been created in 1923 as a tribute to an English actor, George Arliss, who was appearing in San Francisco in a stage play entitled "The Green Goddess". Green Goddess dressing was brought to the masses by Kraft in the 1970’s, and I remember eating dinner at my parents’ house with a bottle of it in the center of the table. I really enjoyed the flavor, very fresh herb-y and creamy, but never realized that the dominant taste was due to the copious amounts of parsley. As a freshman in college, in my tiny refrigerator in my tiny dorm room, I always had a bottle of Green Goddess. My best friend Karen and I would return back at the dorm, starving, in the wee hours of the morning (those late nights at the library, you see…), cut a head of iceberg lettuce into wedges, then soak the lettuce with this dressing. Life was good. :)

The classic recipe for this salad dressing always includes the following ingredients in one form or another: anchovies, mayonnaise, vinegar, green onion, garlic, parsley, tarragon and chives. Sometimes the anchovies are in the form of anchovy paste, and often the tarragon flavor comes in tarragon vinegar. Some cooks add sour cream, others substitute yogurt.

As usual, I was compelled to cut the fat content of this recipe. That was easy enough by subbing the lowfat versions of sour cream and mayo, but the dressing turned out to be very thick and not at all pourable. So I thinned it with some lowfat half & half, which did the trick. The flavor was redolent of fresh parsley, as I remembered, and it was creamy and rich-tasting as well. As a bonus, the total fat grams went to 3grams from 13, the saturated fat from 3g to 1g, and calories from 135 to 46. Jack really enjoyed this and, remember, he isn’t really a “salad person”!

* Exported from MasterCook *

Green Goddess Dressing

Servings: 6

Amount Measure Ingredient -- Preparation Method

--------- ---------- ---------------------------------------

1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley

1/4 cup light sour cream

1/4 cup light mayonnaise

3 tablespoons lowfat half & half

2 teaspoons thinly sliced green onions -- (or 1 1/2 teaspoons minced chives)

2 teaspoons white wine vinegar

1 teaspoon minced garlic

½ teaspoon anchovy paste

3/4 teaspoon dried tarragon -- crumbled

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper

In a food processor, pulse the parsley a few times, then add the remaining ingredients. Process until smooth. Refrigerate for at least 6 hours for flavors to meld.

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Per serving: 46 Calories (kcal); 3g Total Fat; (60% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 3g Carbohydrate; 8mg Cholesterol; 154mg Sodium

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

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Grilled Salmon Salad with Blueberry Vinaigrette

Recipe: Grilled Salmon Salad with Blueberry Vinaigrette

What can be better than the first few perfect spring days? Outside the pear and plum trees are just a day or two from bursting into fluffy white and pink blossoms, pink and white hyacinths line the flower bed which will later feature zinnias or marigolds, clumps of yellow and white-and-yellow daffodils are nodding their trumpets in the breeze… I simply cannot get enough of it!

My blog entries suffer when the weather is beautiful. With 50+ acres, there is always something that I want (need) to do outside except in the very coldest months. Meals are not nearly as well-planned as they are on those cold, rainy, snowy days (weeks! months!) when there's really not much else that I am interested in doing. When I've been working outside all day, meals are put together quickly, without the added steps of measuring (when it’s 7:30pm and I’m starving, well, I just don’t want to take the time). And I can’t post recipes without measurements, right?

Today it is cool and rainy, so house cleaning and bread baking are my top two things to do. However, I do have an incredible grilled salmon salad recipe to share.

I know that many people use their outdoor grills all year round, even in the northeast. But I’ve always been a bit funny about doing “seasonal” things. To me, eating cantaloupe in January is just plain wrong, as is grilling a dinner in February. I can’t make myself eat grapefruit in August, or make a nice, hearty soup then, either. I do so enjoy traditionally seasonal foods when they are in season, and seasonal recipes as well. To me, they just wouldn't be as "special" if I were to prepare them year round.

Our first grilled meal of the year is always an occasion to celebrate. Last October I soaked and scrubbed the grids of our natural-gas grill, vacuumed the burnt stuff off of the fake briquettes, wiped the entire grill down with a vinegar and water solution, stuffed steel wool in any exterior openings to keep spiders out, and covered it securely for the winter. This past Wednesday, with the temperatures in the mid-70’s and the sky a gorgeous blue color, the cover and steel wool plugs were removed. Dinner was hurriedly put together since I had spent a long time trimming spirea bushes. I made grilled salmon with a chipotle rub, rice, and grilled bell peppers and tomatoes. Very basic. I used a large salmon filet and refrigerated about a third of it for the next day’s lunch.

It is a rare occasion when I can get Jack to accept salad as a meal. To him, salad is something to go ­with the meal, a sort of an afterthought. I’ve tried for almost 25 years to dispel this way of thinking, but I’ve only succeeded in a very small way. Occasionally, if a nice piece of grilled chicken or fish can be placed on top of the lettuce and vegetables, a salad can make do for lunch. Never, ever for dinner though!

This salad was perfect for a beautiful spring afternoon.

I didn’t have a lot of salad-type ingredients on hand since I planned to go grocery shopping the next day, but there was enough. I used Romaine lettuce, which Jack prefers because of its crunchy texture, baby spinach, cucumbers, and additional blueberries. The previously-grilled salmon was warmed a bit in the microwave, then chunked over the greens. I decided to boost the nutritional value of the salad by adding a blueberry vinaigrette. We all know that salmon is packed with heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, and that blueberries have great antioxidant benefits, so to put both together in a dish makes it an delicious, incredibly healthy meal. And wild salmon has about 18% less calories than farm-raised.

Previously, I have only made this vinaigrette with fresh blueberries, and I am pleased to say that frozen work just as well. I use plain lowfat or nonfat yogurt to add a creamy texture and keep the olive oil down to the very minimum. If I don’t have shallots on hand, I will use about 2/3 of the amount of onion, 1/3 of garlic. And dried thyme can be subbed for the fresh (at a small taste difference), but use only about a third of the amount of dried.

The blueberry vinaigrette is also excellent on grilled chicken salads, and in a salad of mixed greens and goat cheese. In fact, if Jack liked goat cheese, it would have been added to this salad, too.

* Exported from MasterCook *

Blueberry Vinaigrette

Recipe By: Vicci

Servings : 4

Amount Measure Ingredient -- Preparation Method

--------- ---------- ------------------------------------------

1/3 cup fresh blueberries -- (frozen may also be used)

1 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar -- I prefer white balsamic, although a very good, mild dark
balsamic will be very good, too

3 tablespoons plain lowfat yogurt

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon minced shallot

3/4 teaspoon dijon mustard

1/2 teaspoon brown sugar

1 teaspoon fresh thyme -- minced

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper -- (may also use black pepper)

Process or blend all of the ingredients until most of the mixture is smooth, but some pieces of blueberry remain.

Transfer mixture to a large bottle and chill overnight to meld flavors.

This will keep for 1 week in the refrigerator.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Per serving: 64 Calories (kcal); 5g Total Fat; (72% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 4g Carbohydrate; 1mg Cholesterol; 154mg Sodium

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

A note about wild salmon versus farm-raised. I’ve read many articles ranging from those in the local newspaper to Eating Well magazine, and it does seem as though wild salmon edges out farm-raised in many ways. What sealed the wild salmon decision for me, however, is that it is a nice deep pink-red color (no dyes added, like in the farm-raised) and that it just doesn’t have a strong, permeating smell while it is being cooked (which farm-raised salmon does). Wild-caught salmon is more expensive, but we decided to stock up when it does go on sale, and just deal with the cost.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Spicy Black Bean Soup; Ramblings of Spring

Recipe: Spicy Black Bean Soup

I love black beans, in everything from southwestern-inspired salads to the Cuban dish of black beans and rice to black bean soup. I have found that, although I still enjoy canned black beans in a recipe, the cooked dried beans have a superior flavor and texture. Because of this, every few weeks I soak and cook a pound of dried black beans. If I can’t use them up within a few days, I will dump them into a plastic freezer bag, seal, shake them a bit while they’re lying on a baking tray, the put the tray in the freezer. When the beans are frozen, I’ll open the bag, break the clumps of beans up a little, let some air out, then close it tightly. Freezing the beans in this way will make it much easier to dip a measuring cup in to take out an exact amount, rather than having a solid lump of frozen beans to deal with.

Recently I was checking out some new blogs and found a recipe for black bean soup garnished with a blend of roasted red peppers and sour cream. This reminded me of a soup which I made for a dinner party a couple of years ago which featured black bean soup ladled into a bowl side-by-side with butternut squash soup (which, when done carefully, made a beautiful presentation) garnished with a puree of roasted red pepper in the center.

I realized that I have not made black bean soup since last fall, and decided that I would make a pot to use for a couple of lunches this week. I used my regular recipe, but added sour cream to the roasted red pepper puree idea. This soup is wonderful. It is thick and hearty, flavored with
turkey bacon (which could be eliminated if a vegetarian version is desired), with bits of vegetables, and that roasted red pepper/ sour cream blend on top is a perfect addition. When I cook black beans, I add 5 or 6 whole black cardamom pods which give the slightest “smoky” flavor without adding meat. Although, because I wanted to, I did add turkey bacon to the soup.

I had bought two dozen huge red bell peppers late last summer and spent a few hours roasting them on the outdoor grill, then steaming and peeling them. Layered in freezer containers, all I needed to do when a recipe required roasted red pepper throughout the winter is to let the container thaw for a bit, take out the semi-thawed peppers, and cut off what was needed. Very easy and it’s a snap, then, to make things like this roasted red pepper sour cream at the last

One last note before the recipe. On the blog where I found the idea for the roasted pepper sour cream, the author made a point of suggesting the use of full-fat sour cream because it’s only a tablespoonful per serving and that she prefers to use “the real thing, not a factory version”. I disagree.

First, the brand of sour cream which I use is all natural, made from skim milk. Some brands add gelatin to thicken the cream, and it tastes odd to me. Daisy Light Sour Cream has a good mouth-feel and is sweet and tangy.

Second, I ran the numbers in the nutritional data from Mastercook and found that the soup using the full-fat sour cream would contain 2g more fat, 1g saturated, than using the light sour cream. “Well”, you may ask, “what’s the big deal? It’s only 2 stupid grams of fat!”. Yes, but especially as you get older and your metabolism slows, every little bit counts. It’s all cumulative. If I buy a 16-ounce carton of full-fat sour cream, I will use it (even if that takes a month) and I’ve ingested 75 grams of fat rather than 37. It all adds up. I try not to be obsessive, but I do
watch what we eat very carefully. I have to. Dear heaven, I’m going to hit the half-century mark later this month! *sniff*

* Exported from MasterCook *

Spicy Black Bean Soup with Roasted Red Pepper Sour Cream

Recipe By: Vicci

Servings: 10

Amount Measure Ingredient -- Preparation Method

--------- ---------- ----------------------------------------

1 pound dried black beans

5 whole black cardamom pods -- optional

1 tablespoon olive oil

6 slices turkey bacon -- halved lengthwise then sliced into 1/2" wide pieces

1 1/2 cups chopped sweet onion

4 large garlic cloves -- minced

1 cup chopped celery

1 1/2 cups chopped carrot

2 tablespoons ground cumin

3/4 teaspoon ground chipotle pepper -- (can substitute minced canned chipotle- start

with 1 teaspoon

plus about a half teaspoon of the adobo sauce which it is canned in)

3/4 teaspoon dried thyme

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

15 ounces canned diced tomatoes -- undrained

7 cups low sodium vegetable broth – divided

chopped fresh cilantro, as needed

2/3 cup light sour cream -- (I use Daisy light sour cream because it all natural

cream, no additives)

1/4 cup roasted red peppers -- chopped finely

2 tablespoons skim milk

1 small garlic clove -- crushed

1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper

1/4 teaspoon salt

Rinse the dry beans and pick over to remove dirt and other debris. Place in a large saucepan and cover with a lot of water (I use, as a guide, at least twice the amount of water as there are beans as measured in the pot). Allow to stand for 12 hours or overnight. Drain, cover with fresh water, and bring to a boil. Add cardamom pods and simmer, covered, until tender (about 3-4 hours, depending on how old the beans are). Stir and check frequently to always maintain at least 2" of water above the beans. Drain, rinse, and refrigerate or continue with the recipe.

Heat the olive oil in a 5-quart nonstick Dutch oven. Add the turkey bacon and cook, stirring, for 3 minutes or until they just begin to crisp a bit. Add the onion, garlic, celery, and carrot and cook, stirring often, until the vegetables have softened (about 5-6 minutes).

While the vegetables are cooking, place 2 cups of the cooked beans in the food processor and add 8 ounces of the vegetable broth. Puree.

Add the tomatoes to the vegetables, then stir in the pureed beans until well mixed. Pour in the remaining vegetable stock and bring to a boil. Stir in the cumin, chipotle pepper, black pepper, and salt. Add the remaining beans, stir, and return to a boil. Turn the heat to low an, uncovered, for at least 2 hours (up to 3 hours).

Meanwhile, mix the sour cream, roasted red pepper, milk, garlic, pepper, and salt in a small bowl.

Top each serving of soup with a rounded tablespoonful of the sour cream mixture. Sprinkle with cilantro.


"10 cups"

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Per serving: 279 Calories (kcal); 5g Total Fat; (16% calories from fat); 21g Protein; 39g Carbohydrate; 13mg Cholesterol; 791mg Sodium

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

NOTES : I used cooked, dried black beans rather than canned black beans because I think that they have a much better flavor and texture. Canned black beans will work, as well. As a general rule, a 15-ounce can of canned beans contains 9 ounces of drained beans. A pound of cooked dried black beans weighs 32 ounces. Although a more exact substitution for the pound of cooked dried black beans would be 3-1/2 cans, 3 cans may certainly be used.

The cardamom adds a smoky flavor to the beans. This is optional.

Last Spring, my crocuses boomed a full 2 weeks earlier than this year, but they are now popping out all over. As are the tiny daffodils and even a few of the larger daffodils. The hyacinths look as though they’ll be smellin’ up the place this week sometime. How wonderful is this thing called SPRING??? Even as it rained earlier today, robins were hopping all over the yard, pulling their meals from the ground. I’ve been tossing the lint from my clothes dryer out under the tree near the birdfeeder for their use in making super-soft nests. And, even though it was a little chilly this afternoon, I raised the window just a bit so I could hear the birds sing.

Winter is over. After 81 agonizingly slow days, I can now wear my sneakers again. Joy to the world! :)

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Chicken Korma

Recipe: Chicken Korma

Both Jack and I love Asian food. I grew up in a rather small town, there wasn’t even a McDonald’s until I was a sophomore in high school, let alone any kind of ethic food that wasn't Italian! In college, a roommate often purchased some kind of canned Chinese food (it had a separate can of crunchy noodles attached to the can of vegetables in sauce) but after the first time, I would decline eating that particular meal.

After graduating from college, I worked in NYC for a bit and it was there that I was introduced to real Chinese food. When I moved back to western PA (27 years ago!), I bought cookbooks and learned how to make my favorites.

It wasn’t until about 10 years ago that I ate at my first Indian restaurant. It wasn’t a very adventurous meal, but I became smitten. It was a few years before I could convince Jack that this was a cuisine worth exploring (he previously had a couple of uninspiring meals at not very good Indian restaurant and was turned off of that type food from the beginning). I had discovered a wonderful store called Penzey’s, and had placed a large order. I purchased a cookbook by Madhur Jaffrey. We do have a couple of favorite Indian restaurants locally, but the closest is a 40-minute drive away. Consequently, I make most of our Indian meals at home. The internet has been an incredible source of recipes and information. A few years ago, I discovered how delicious curries are, and the rest is history.

Last week I found a treasure in the book section of a discount store. Curry, Fire & Spice: Over 150 great curries from India and Asia by Mridula Baljekar. I am overwhelmed by the amount of information in this book. Descriptions and photos of the culture and cuisine of India, Thailand, Burma, Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Philippines, as well as each region’s cooking ingredients, equipment and terms. There are also sections on rices, breads, chutneys, pickles, and salads. I start to read, then get hungry!

The first recipe I tried the other night was Chicken Korma. Apparently “korma” is a cooking technique—it means “braising”. There are several different types of Korma, depending on the region where the recipe originated, and this one is from Delhi.

I was very impressed with this dish. Jack proclaimed it “company-worthy” and I agreed. The creamy sauce was thickened with an aromatic mixture of ground almonds, garlic, and ginger; the chicken was tender, and additional toasted almonds added a satisfying crunch.

The vegetable bin was getting low, and the only vegetables I had on hand were bell peppers, kale, carrots and celery. So I decided to add carrots and frozen peas to the korma. I do have a wonderful spiced green bean recipe from one of my Madhur Jaffrey books that will go perfectly with this dish the next time. My mouth is watering just thinking about this meal!

The recipe included yogurt and light cream. I substituted fat-free plain yogurt and lowfat half & half and it turned out wonderfully. In fact, since the lowfat (and the fat-free) half & half has a tendency to separate once it comes to a boil, I’m always a bit leery of using it in cooking. This time I kept an eye on the mixture, stirred constantly as it came to a simmer, and it turned out perfectly. I also used a nonstick wok and was able to cut the oil by half.

The following is my adaptation of Mridula Baljekar’s recipe. I did make the entire recipe (4 servings) of sauce but used less chicken since it was just for the two of us. I did this originally to have “extra” sauce for the peas and carrots, but I think that I’ll make it this way every time no matter if I add vegetables to it or not.

Which reminds me, I think that steamed spinach leaves would taste very good in this, too.

* Exported from MasterCook *

Chicken Korma

Recipe adapted from: Mridula Balejkar's "Curry, Fire and Spice: over 150 great curries from India and Asia"

Servings: 2

Preparation Time :0:30

Amount Measure Ingredient -- Preparation Method

--------- ---------- ---------------------------------------

3/4 ounce blanched almonds

2 large garlic cloves

1 piece fresh ginger root -- 1"

2 teaspoons canola oil

10 ounces boneless skinless chicken breast -- cut into 1-inch cubes

3 whole green cardamom pods

1 small onion -- finely chopped

1/4 teaspoon salt

2/3 cup plain nonfat yogurt

3/4 cup fat-free half and half

1 tablespoon sliced almonds -- toasted

1 tablespoon chopped cilantro -- or to taste

Process almonds, garlic, and ginger root with 2 tablespoons of water until it forms a paste. Set aside.

Heat the oil in a nonstick wok and cook the chicken cubes for 6-8 minutes, or until opaque and cooked through. Remove from wok to a plate and set aside.

Place the wok back over the heat and add the cardamom pods. Fry for 2 minutes (add a bit more oil, if necessary). Add the onion and stir for 4 minutes or until softened. Stir the almond, garlic, and ginger paste into the onion mixture; add cumin and season with salt. Cook for another 5 minutes, stirring frequently.

Remove the cardamom pods and discard. Turn the heat under the wok to low. Add the yogurt to the onion mixture, one tablespoon at a time, and stir until the yogurt has all been absorbed. Add the chicken to the wok, cover, and simmer for 4-5 minutes or until the chicken is heated through and tender.

Stir in the half & half and cook over a very low flame, stirring often, until the mixture starts to simmer. Stir constantly and simmer for 2 minutes.

Divide hot rice between 2 plates.

Spoon chicken mixture over rice, garnish with almonds and cilantro.

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Per serving: 424 Calories (kcal); 15g Total Fat (2g saturated)S; (32% calories from fat); 44g Protein; 25g Carbohydrate; 84mg Cholesterol; 512mg Sodium

Food Exchanges: 0 Grain(Starch); 5 Lean Meat; 1 1/2 Vegetable; 0 Fruit; 16 Fat; 0 Other Carbohydrates