Saturday, 24 March 2012

SmartCooks Tasty Quinoa Salad with Parsley, Celery, and Dried Apricots

March 2012 

SmartCooks here.  

Superfood Spring Salad with Quinoa, Celery and Dried Apricots.  Cooking Light and Fresh.   

Quinoa is the staple for this salad, and I mixed up a glorious batch of white, black and red found at my local health food store called The Wheat Berry.  It's pricey to buy pre-packaged so the store stocks it in bulk bins, at about half the price of packaged products.  

For storage, I found some inexpensive glass jars at the Dollar Store and transferred the bulk quinoa from the plastic bags to the jars -- all labelled and dated of course.  (And, no, not alphabetized in the pantry unlike some people I know... BH :) 

Lean, Protein-Rich Quinoa

The most common brands of quinoa are red, white and black grains.  For this salad, you can use any colour OR try mixing two or three colours together for a visual flavour hit. 

Cooking quinoa is simple if you keep an eye on it.  The trick is not to let it become a mushy, glutinous, cooked mass but to get it al dente and crunchy for a salad.  White quinoa needs the least amount of cooking and is the mildest in flavour which makes it great for salads.  Red is slightly stronger in flavour and needs a few minutes more cooking and black is strongest.  For good directions, check out The Good Vegan for cooking instructions.  Personally, I mix and cook all three colours together and watch it carefully for doneness.  Rinsing is key if buying in bulk.  

A Word about Parsley

The foodies and scientists keep discovering superfoods (like quinoa, for example).  Recently, I've read articles touting the many virtues of the humble table garnish aka Parsley, which has been elevated to superfood status and accredited with miraculous healing properties.  Bad on me for throwing it away all the time.  

Parsley (from a Greek word meaning 'rock celery') is the world's most popular herb. It thrives in most gardens, including in my back deck planters where it stubbornly clung to life last year while every other herb shrivelled to dust in the brutal summer heat. A sprig of parsley on the plate provides much more than decoration. It contains volatile oils that scientists call 'chemoprotective' i.e. potentially neutralize some types of carcinogens. Parsley is also rich in anti-oxidant nutrients and vitamins, especially vitamins K and C. Where was a bushel a day 10 years ago when I needed it? Just kidding...

A Word About Celery

Almost Zero Calories.  How much better does it get than that? 
Celery contains vitamin C and several other active compounds that promote health and may be useful in cancer prevention. It is a good source of vitamin C, which helps the immune system. In studies, celery also has the potential for reducing high blood pressure, for lowering cholesterol levels and acting as a diuretic. It's an all-round good vegetable.

Can't Overlook Dried Apricots

You know spring is almost here when apricots pop up in recipes. They are small, golden orange fruits, with velvety skin and flesh: not too juicy but definitely smooth and sweet. Some people think of the flavor as being somewhere between a peach and a plum, fruits to which they're closely related. They originated in China, arrived in Europe via Armenia and then in California in the late 1700s where they have flourished since.  Apricots are a good source of Vitamin A, fiber and beta-carotene and for helping to prevent some of the degenerative aging effects on eyes.  

Last but Not Least, Pumpkin Seeds

Native Americans used pumpkin seeds as both a food and for medicinal purposes, especially kidney problems and to treat urinary and gastric illness.  Current medical resources regularly list medicinal uses for pumpkin seeds, such as to promote prostate health in men and as a bone density and arthritis aide. Current studies in Asia, Africa and Russia continue to research their benefits in the treatment of parasites, depression and kidney stones.  
Quinoa Salad with Parsley, Celery and Apricots 

1 cup water
1/2 cup uncooked quinoa (red, white, or black), rinsed well
3/4 cup fresh curly parsley leaves
1/2 cup thinly sliced celery
1/2 cup thinly sliced green onions
1/2 cup finely chopped dried apricots
3 T fresh lemon juice
1 T olive oil
1 T honey
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 cup unsalted pumpkin seeds, toasted
1. Bring water and quinoa to a boil in a medium saucepan. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes or until liquid is absorbed and grains are still al dente.  Spoon into a bowl; fluff with a fork. Add parsley, celery, onions, and apricots.

2.  To toast the pumpkin seeds, place them in a large, heavy-bottomed, dry skillet over medium seat.  Shake the seeds constantly as they are toasting to prevent burning.  When the seeds begin to get golden, start to pop open and become fragrant, they are done.

3. Whisk lemon juice, olive oil, honey, salt, and black pepper. Add to quinoa mixture, and toss well. Top with pumpkin seeds.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

SmartCooks Says 'Heat Wave and BBQ'ed Korean 'Ginger-Marinated Bulgogi-style Chicken'

March 2012

SmartCooks here

Wow, like double Wow.  Ginger-Marinated Bulgogi-Style Chicken cooked on the barbecue on the back deck while taking in the gloriously golden sunset.  This is March in Ottawa, remember?    

First, a Salute to the Weather

We're having a heat wave, in Ottawa, in March!  Go figure.  A colleague and I escaped the office at noon and went for a walk, in short sleeves and sunglasses!  After checking out the heart-thumping circuit workout going out at Greco's Lean and Fit Program on Sparks Street, we continued on our way up Parliament Hill, passing roller-bladers, joggers, walkers, construction workers and sun seekers. 

We ducked under the temporary (and now useless) Snow Barriers blocking the marvellous views up and down the Ottawa River and basked in the Plus 25 degree temperature.  It's, like, March 21 here in Ottawa!  Normally, we're a blustery plus 4 degrees with snow, freezing rain, ice, etc... This is unheard of... We'll never convince politicians and public that climate change is an issue.  Everyone will say 'bring it on'.  

Intellectually, I know this won't last BUT while it does, I decided to dust off the barbecue and grill a classic Korean dish I have been eyeing for quite some time, cooked Bulgogi style.  

Korean Bulgogi

'Bulgogi' literally means 'fire meat' but does not refer to the spiciness of the meat but rather to the manner of cooking, either traditionally in a fire pit or, more common today, grilled (either indoor or outdoor). 

Bulgogi usually consists of thinly sliced beef (that's the specialty) but can also be made with  chicken or pork, marinated in ginger and soy sauce.  Recipes are numerous and depend on household or restaurant tradition.  In many Korean restaurants, it is cooked right at your table (this includes the Korean Palace Restaurant in Ottawa!) .  Apparently, bulgogi is listed as number 23 on the World's 50 most delicious foods!  

I went for a lower-fat option of Ginger-Marinated Bulgogi-style Chicken from the Food and Wine's 4-week, low-calorie, health-conscious menus currently being promoted on their website. The dish was refined for Food and Wine by Cooking with the Single Guy for The Tasting Table and America's Test Kitchen -- three great cooking resources to check out. 

Ginger-Marinated Bulgogi-Style Chicken

Three suggestions for this dish. 

First, marinade the chicken for a minimum of two, but no more than four, hours before grilling it.  The reason for this has to do with optimizing the effect of the soy sauce on the chicken.  Marinading longer than four hours will apparently make the meat too salty.  So this may make the dish more of a weekend venture depending on schedules.   

Second, try serving the bulgogi chicken with lettuce. It's a Korean tradition to take a lettuce leaf, add rice (if using), bulgogi meat, a chili paste sauce, and one or two condiments (called 'banchan'). Etiquette is to fold the bulgogi lettuce wrap and eat it in one bite! So don't overload the wrap. 'Banchan' can range from cucumbers, or pickled cucumbers, yummm) or kim chi.  (I haven't had the nerve or time to try Tigress in a Pickle version of kim chi yet.  See picture left).  Cellophane noodles, enoki mushroosms, bean shouts, and baby bok choy also make excellent additions to the meal. 

Third, this recipe uses honey instead of sugar.  IF you wish a sweeter marinade, use some sugar (e.g., caster sugar) instead. 

Final suggestion.... This is very easy.... Marinate.....  Grill.....   Enjoy.  Wish for more spring! 

1/3 cup low-sodium soy sauce (or light soy sauce called 'shoyu')
2 T toasted sesame oil
1 T honey (alternatively, use sugar)
1 T unseasoned rice vinegar
1 tsp freshly ground pepper
3 scallions, thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 T finely grated fresh ginger
2 T toasted sesame seeds
1 1/2 lbs chicken breasts or cutlets, pounded 1/3 inch thick
Vegetable oil, for brushing
To serve:  lettuce and banchan such as cucumbers, kimchi


In a resealable plastic bag, combine the soy sauce, sesame oil, honey, vinegar, pepper, scallions, garlic, ginger and 1 tablespoon of the sesame seeds. Add the chicken and turn to coat. Seal the bag and refrigerate for at least 2 and up to 4 hours.  

Light a grill or preheat a grill pan. Oil the grates. Remove the chicken from the marinade and brush lightly with oil. Grill over moderate heat, turning once (likely no more than 2-3 minutes), until lightly charred and cooked through, 5 minutes. Sprinkle with the remaining 1 T of sesame seeds, thinly slice and serve with condiments ('banchan') of choice.  

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

SmartCooks Discovers 'Umami'-rich Vegetable Meat Loaf

March 2012

SmartCooks here.  

Vegetable 'Meat' loaf.  'Umami' indeed.  Made in Perfect Meat Loaf pan. Adapted from Cooking Light.  It all comes together beautifully in this dish.  Meat lovers may just be fooled into second helpings!

First, 'Umami' or 'Savoriness'  

When I plan meals, I gravitate toward recipes that are 'umami-rich'.  Umami has recently (i.e., post my education days) been added as one of the five basic tastes (the others are sweet, sour, bitter, and salty).  

Science around the sense of Umami hit the West around the year 2000.  Umami is the Savory taste, and is a name given by a Japanese scientist.  The word has two distinct words:  'Umai', which means Delicious; and 'Mi', which means Essense.  So I look for light foods high in Delicious Essense

The best way to explain it is via taste.  Try this:
Sweet: 1 cup water with 2 tsp of sugar
Salty: 1 cup water with 1 tsp of salt
Sour: 1 cup water with ½ tsp of cream of tartar
Bitter: ½ tsp unsweetened baking chocolate - do not mix with water but chew and coat the mouth with it
Umami: 1 cup water with 1 T dried shiitake mushrooms – boil it and then let it cool

Umami, savory, complex flavours. 

Now Back to Umami Vegetable Meat Loaf

This dish takes a bit of prep work but it is very straightforward and worth the effort.  Preparing  some of it the night before or on weekends are definite options.

I know I've profiled this before in a previous blog posting, but the Perfect Meat Loaf pan works, well, perfectly! for this recipe!  (Not to sound like a K-tel TV commercial BUT this pan, with its lift-out inner sleeve, is quite a find.) 

The original recipe called for ketchup, which, frankly, I find boringly bland and the essence of 'unhealthy'.  But if works just fine in both the 'meat' loaf and topping.  To vary it, I tried a bit of pure sauce tomato (which is thicker) and that worked fine too. 

Then, another time, for a bigger flavour kick, I used a bit of Sriracha sauce instead of ketchup, and preferred that taste over either ketchup or tomato sauce.  Although Sriracha sauce (a.k.a. 'rooster sauce') has only been on the Western scene since the 1980s, its unique flavour and combination of red chili peppers, garlic, and salt, is quickly taking the culinary world by storm (this household included). It is widely used in Thai, Vietnamese and Chinese cooking and readily available in Ottawa at Asian stores like T&T Supermarket and the Asian Supercentre in Orleans.
Your choice!

Finally, the recipe calls for Panko breadcrumbs, which is the Japanese version of breadcrumbs made from crustless bread.  It looks more like flakes than crumbs because of the coarse grind.  Panko breadcrumbs stay crispy longer, absorb less grease, and mix well with seasonings. In a pinch, regular breadcrumbs found at Bloblaws can be used.  But, if possible, try looking for Panko breadcrumbs at either an Asian store, or at Herb and Spice stores. 

Meat Leaf:
1 large red pepper
1 large green pepper
2 lbs cremini mushrooms, coarsely chopped
1 T olive oil
1 cup 1/2 inch asparagus pieces
1/2 cup chopped red onion
1 cup Panko (Japense breadcrumbs)
1 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
2 T chopped fresh basil
1 T ketchup, tomato sauce or Sriracha
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
4 ounces fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
Cooking spray like Pam
Perfect Meat Loaf pan i.e. 9 x 5 inch loaf pan  

Meat Loaf Topping:
2 T ketchup, tomato sauce or Sriracha sauce  
1 T vodka or low-sodium vegetable broth
1/4 tsp Dijon mustard


1.  Put the oven on the broiler setting.  Cut red and green bell peppers in half lengthwise; discard seeds and membranes. Place them, skin sides up, on a foil-lined baking sheet; flatten them out.  Broil 12 minutes under broiler or until blackened.  Place them in a paper bag; fold, close tightly and let stand 10 minutes. Peel off the skin (this should be easy now) and finely chop. Place peppers in a large bowl. 

2.  Reduce oven to 375 degrees.  Toast the walnuts on a baking sheet for 5-10 minutes until they brown. Alternately, toast in a frying pan or skillet on the stove for about 5 minutes (picture right).  Then reduce oven to 350 degrees. 

3.  Place one-quarter of the mushrooms in a food processor, pulse 10 times or until finely chopped.  Transfer chopped mushrooms to a bowl.  Repeat this 3 times with remaining mushrooms. 

4.  Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.  Add olive oil to heated pan; swirl to coat it.  Add mushrooms to pan and sauté 15 minutes or until liquid evaporates, stirring occasionally.  Add mushrooms to the bowl with the bell peppers.  Wipe out the skillet with paper towels.  Add asparagus and onion to skillet; sauté 6 minutes or until just tender, stirring occasionally.  Add the onion/asparagus mixture to the bowl with the mushrooms and peppers.  

5.  Put Panko breadcrumbs in an even layer on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes or until golden.  Add breadcrumbs to bowl and then the walnuts, basil, ketchup (or tomato sauce or Sriracha), Dijon mustard, salt, pepper, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and eggs. Stir well. 

6.   Spoon the mixture into a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan (or Perfect Meat Loaf Pan) that has been coated with cooking spray like Pam; press gently to pack it in.  Back at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until the thermometer registers 155 degrees.

7.  For topping, combine 2 T ketchup (or tomato sauce or Sriracha) and remaining ingredients in a small bowl; and then brush the mixture over the meat loaf.  Bake an additional 10 minutes.  Remove from oven, let stand 10 minutes.  Cut into approximately six slices.  


Thursday, 15 March 2012

SmartCooks Treat with Black and Bleu Caesar Salad

March 2012

SmartCooks here.  Janis Joplin.  It was her birthday recently and, had she lived beyond 1970, she would have been almost 70 years young this year.  'Twas not to be so she and her music lives on forever in our hearts.

For some reason, I was listening to her music a few weeks back and did some research on favourite foods (... but last I checked Southern Comfort is not yet a food group...). But I came up with some curious little factoids about her short life, including a Southern Texas restaurant where she got her start, and one of its signature menu items  called "Black and Bleu Caesar Salad". 

Janis Joplin 

First, a bit of foodie folklore about Janis Joplin.  When asked once why she used drugs, Joplin is famous for singing: "You can't eat yogurt and sing the blues."  

Don't think she found much yogurt at Threadgill's Restaurant, where she got her start on the Wednesday evening open mic sessions and where she developed her brassy style, bluesy rock and roll singing voice and taste ... for Southern Comfort in particular.

Threadgills is a legendary Austin, Texas restaurant that was converted from a gas station and was among to first establishments to obtain a liquor licence post-Prohibition.  It became a quintessential beer joint until the 1960s, when it re-invented itself as a diner and southern music restaurant, inviting folkies, hippies and beatniks to its own unique Wednesday night bluegrass and country jam sessions.  

A young Janis Joplin quickly became the star attraction, singing Joan Collins, Joan Baez and 1920s blues singer Bessie Smith songs.  Janis never forget Threadgill's and its owner, Kenneth Threadgill, returning there in July 1970 after a five-day Festival Express music extravaganza train trip across Canada. (A difficult movie to watch with all the drinking, debauchery, and drugs.) She died a few months later.  

Today, one of the semi-private dining rooms (pictured right) at Threadgills is dedicated to her memory, and various memorabilia and a jukebox filled with music.  The restaurant continues to thrive today.   

Black and Bleu Caesar Salad

Warning:  This recipe is NOT a low calorie, low fat, low anything salad.  Threadgill's has always featured food fare like 'chicken-fried porterhouse steaks' and 'fried catfish' and 'fried shrimp'.  Fried is everywhere.  Threadgills, in particular, and Texas-American food in general, are not high on my list of must-try food places for low-fat, low-calorie, mostly vegetarian fare I been cooking and eating.

So, consider this a treat in memory of Janis Joplin... here's a take on the Caesar salad, tweaked to be as healthy as possible, especially by doing the salad dressing, croutons and spice mix. It can be both a salad and a meal.
Depending on the size of your portion you may get 100% of your daily value of fat, protein, sodium and carbs.... so eat sparingly. 

One final suggestion, I suggest you make this tweaked Canadian version while listening to 'Another Piece of My Heart' (below).  Enjoy!


For the Salad:
1/4 cup grated parmigiano-reggiano
3 ½ cups chopped romaine lettuce
3 slices roma tomatoes 
1 (6 ounce) sirloin steak
2 T margarine, melted 
1 -2 T Cajun seasoning (ingredients below)  
¼ cup crumbled blue cheese
1/4 cup cooked diced bacon
1 1/4 cups large croutons (ingredients below)
Dressing (ingredients below)
2 1/2 T salt

For the Cajun seasoning:
1 T dried oregano
1 T paprika
1 T cayenne pepper
1 T ground black pepper

For the Croutons:
3 T olive oil
4 garlic cloves, mince
2 tsp chopped fresh thyme
1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
3 3/4-inch-thick country bread slices, crusts cut off, bread cut into 3/4-inch cubes (about 4 cups total)

For the Caesar Dressing:

1/4 cup vegetable oil 
2 T grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese
1 T white wine vinegar
2 tsp Dijon mustard
2 tsp anchovy paste
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp each salt and pepper
1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
3 T light mayonnaise


1.  Make the Cajun seasoning by mixing the spices in a small plastic bag and shaking.  Label and store any leftover seasoning in the spice cupboard.  

2.  Make the Caesar dressing by putting all the ingredients in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth.  Can be stored in refrigerator for up to 5 days. 

3.  Make the croutons by preheating oven to 325°F. Heat 3 T oil in heavy medium skillet over medium heat. Add garlic, thyme and rosemary; saute until fragrant, about 1 minute. Remove from heat. Add bread cubes to skillet with garlic-herb oil and toss to coat. Spread out bread cubes on rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake just until croutons are golden, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes.

4.  Assemble the salad by putting the romaine lettuce in a large bowl and sprinkling about half the parmigiano-reggiano cheese and half the croutons over romaine; add dressing and toss well.  After tossing, sprinkle with remaining cheese to create a "snowcap" effect.  Add tomato slices on one side and refrigerate.

5.  Brush one side of sirloin with melted margarine; sprinkle to taste with Cajun seasoning. Place seasoned-side down in skillet.  While first side is cooking, brush second side with melted margarine and sprinkle with additional seasoning.  Cook for about 2 minutes; turn and cook 2-3 minutes more, or to desired degree of doneness.  Cut into 1/2-inch slices. 

6.  Fan sliced steak over salad; top with blue cheese, bacon and remaining croutons.

Monday, 12 March 2012

SmartCooks Cooks Djej Besla, a Moroccan Chicken and Onion Tagine

March 2012 

SmartCooks here.  Djej Besla.  Chicken and Onion Tagine.  

I first found it in Saveur magazine, saw that it was getting a lot of positive buzz and comments, and saved it for the proper event.  Sunday I hunted around in the overflowing [this is getting ridiculous] spice cupboard for saffron threads.  Check. Perfect.  

The original recipe suggests using chicken thighs and drumsticks.  I substituted a lower fat version i.e., boneless, skinless, hormone-free breasts, cut into pieces the size of a drumstick or thigh. 

I'm committed to using lean, hormone-free, fresh meat (and pesticide-free produce in general) after reading up on the amount of estrogen (among the other junk) in today's food and the possible links to various cancers like breast cancer.  

So, off to Saslov's I went for hormone-free chicken breasts.  (Editorial comment:  The price for hormone-free products remains ridiculously high; I can't figure out why they aren't more readily available at supermarkets and affordable for people feeding themselves or their family on a budget.  Grrrr.)   

Djej Besla is typical of the cuisine of northern Africa, especially Morocco and Algeria. The olives and spices are also typical of Mediterranean dishes.

A Word About the Spices 

Djej Besla uses turmeric, saffron, paprika, ginger and cumin.  All apparently powerful medicinal-type spices, with anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and all-round 'good for you' nutrients in them.   Not much to say on ginger (already sold on its usefulness) but I looked up the others.  

Turmeric.  I've read numerous articles about the possible health-enfacing benefits of what this 'golden' spice, a staple in most Indian, Asian and Middle Eastern cooking.  Turmeric contains 'curcumin', apparently an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory compound that is being studied for its possible beneficial effects in treating cancer and Alzheimer's.  So I can't go wrong.  

Saffron threads are the most expensive spice in the world, given that the 'threads' are actually the dried stigmas of the saffron flower. Each flower contains only three stigmas; it takes 75,000 flowers to produce just one pound of filaments.  Luckily, I need only 1 teaspoon!  Saffron has medicinal properties ranging from anti-oxidant to prevention of infection.  
Paprika... the recipe didn't specify the type -- hot, sweet, smoked, plain, Hungarian, Spanish?  To be on the safe side, I went for a Hungarian sweet paprika, the national spice of Hungary.  I zipped it up just a tad with a dash of a hotter Spanish paprika.  Paprika is high in vitamin C and apparently plays a role in regulating high blood pressure and other beneficial side effects.  

Cumin has been used in foods to help enhance immunity and to aid digestion as it improves the absorption of nutrients throughout the body.  

Cooking Tagines

Tagine refers to a dish slow-cooked inside a cooking vessel.  Typically, a tagine is a rich stew of meat, chicken or fish and vegetables or fruit.  It also cooks vegetables very well.  A tagine cooking vessel, like the one pictured left, is optimal, if you own one or want an excuse to go to Grace in the Kitchen and purchase one.  There's lot of instructions on-line on cooking methods with one.  

I opted for a stovetop Dutch oven (pictured left), either a 6 or 8-quart one depending on the amount being cooked.  Small Dutch oven worked just fine for me.

Djej Besla, Chicken and Onion Tagine Recipe 

(Serves 4-6) 

1 T kosher salt, plus more to taste
6 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
2 tsp cumin seeds, crushed
1 tsp paprika, sweet Hungarian or hotter, depending on taste
1 tsp ground turmeric 

1 tsp ginger
5 T olive oil
4 boneless, organic, skinless chicken breasts 

1 tsp crushed saffron threads
4 medium yellow onions, cut into 12 wedges each 
1 lemon, thinly sliced crosswise, seeds removed, small, organic, work best
1 ¼ cups pitted green olives
1/3 cup finely chopped cilantro 

Dry white wine (about 1/4 of a cup) 
Fresh pepper
Couscous, quinoa or brown rice, to serve 


1.  Cut chicken breasts into pieces about the size of a chicken thigh or small drumstick. Cut lemon into thin slices (about 1/8" thick) or use a mandolin. Use small, organic, lemons and remove any pits and the ends. Either pit the olives OR, better, buy olives already pitted.

2.  Make a spice paste:  Using the flat side of your knife, chop and mash salt and garlic together on a cutting board into a smooth paste; transfer paste to a large bowl and stir in cumin, paprika, ginger and turmeric. Check spices and add more if desired. Stir in 3 T oil, and then add chicken breasts; toss until evenly coated. Cover bowl with plastic wrap, and marinate in the refrigerator for 4 hours or overnight if desired.

3.  Heat remaining oil in an 8-qt. Dutch oven or large tagine over medium-high heat. Working in batches, add chicken, and cook, turning once, until golden brown on both sides, about 10 minutes; transfer to a plate and set aside.

4.  Add saffron and onions to pot, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 15 minutes. Return chicken to pot and add 1 cup water (or a mixture of 1/4 cup of dry white wine and 3/4 cup water), and bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium-low, and cook, covered, until chicken is cooked through, about 30 minutes. Add the lemons in the last 10 minutes of cooking.  Add more water if necessary.

5.  Remove from heat, and scatter olives and cilantro over chicken; serve with your favourite style of couscous, quionoa or brown rice.


Tuesday, 6 March 2012

SmartCooks Gets Souped Up!

March 2012

SmartCooks here.

Soup's on... 

Curried Zucchini Soup.  

Tasty, spicy, warm, satisfying.  Made with organic produce and organic vegetable stock.  Store, freeze it, take it for lunch at the office, heat it and inhale the aroma.... can't help but beat the March blues.  

Thankfully, I have been finding March super busy.  Work continues apace with a couple of presentations, one in particular dealing with International Women's Day at a 'brown bag' lunch to employees at my workplace.  I agonized over that one, wondering how much of my background I really wanted to share with PCO staff.  I decided to come clean.  What the hell... I even included a photo of myself in a demonstration on Parliament Hill... hehehehehe  

To distract myself further from winter, a work colleague and I signed up together for Greco's Lean and Fit Program, (the studio is almost literally at our work doorstep), a 10-week circuit training (kind of tabata rapid fire 3-minutes per station x 7 stations x 3 circuits in 45 minutes... Phew), with meal recording and monitoring.  Great to do this with another colleague sufferer.  

I added two sessions a week of personal training with a nice young guy/trainer (he claims he's mean but I don't believe him) doing PNF Stretching which hurts like hell but is working big-time on my flexibility and range of motion. Put Greco's together with Goodlife Body Attack classes (just can't get enough) and throw in some swimming... and I am managing to fill the hours in a given day just fine.  March will go by in a flash.  

But getting through March also requires comfort food.  Curried Zucchini Soup fits the bill.  I make a special effort to make it completely organic -- both the stock and the produce for the soup and even the spices when I can get them organic.  If you're in a hurry, of course you can use any low-sodium vegetable stock. If you're not in a hurry, try it. I sometimes double the recipe and freeze the stock so that I always have some on hand.  A vegetable chopper or mandolin saves a lot of work! 

Curried Zucchini Soup with Vegetable Stock 
(Makes about 8 cups)

Vegetable Stock Ingredients
2 T sunflower oil
1/2 cup finely chopped onion (light) 
1/2 cup finely chopped leek
2/3 cup finely chopped carrots
4 celery stalks, finely chopped
3/4 cup finely chopped fennel
1 small tomato, finely chopped
10 cups water
1 bouquet garni (or parsley, thyme, rosemary, bay leaf) 
Garlic and/or 2 potatoes optional

Soup Ingredients:
(Serves 4)

2 tsp butter
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 lb zucchini, sliced
2 cups vegetable stock
1 tsp (or more depending on taste) medium curry powder
1/2 cup no-fat sour cream, if desired
Salt and pepper


For the Stock:

Heat the oil in a large pan.  Add the onions and leek and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes, until softened.  Add garlic (if using) and the remaining vegetables, including potatoes if using, cover, and cook for 10 minutes.  Add the water and bouquet garni, bring to a boil, and simmer for 20 minutes.

Strain the stock into a bowl, let cool, cover, and store in the refrigerator.  Use immediately or freeze in portions (or ice cube trays) for up to 3 months.  

For the Curried Zucchini Soup:

Melt the butter in a large saucepan, over medium heat.  Add the onion and cook for about 3 minutes or until it begins to soften.

Add the zucchini, stock, and curry powder, along with a large pinch of salt.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and cook gently for about 25 minutes, until the vegetables are tender.

Allow soup to cool slightly, then transfer it to a food processor or blender.  Alternately, use a hand stick blender in the pot (my preference!).  Process until smooth, with some green flecks.  

Stir in the sour cream, if using.  Warm but do not boil.  Ladle into warmed bowl, and garnish with a dollop of sour cream or basil.