Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Canada Weekend One-Dish wonder of Cold Rice Noodles with Chicken and Peanut-Lime Sauce

SmartCooks here.

It's summer in Ottawa and the Sparks Street Mall just below my office window is hopping, a great place to people watch.  Teachers are shepherding gaggles of kids who are being schooled in Parliament Hill history.  I remember it well.  My Grade 8 visit here is one of the reasons I decided to move to Ottawa after high school.  I was always intrigued by the intricacies of the Westminster model and the workings of Parliament and Senate. Boring, wasn't I?

To counterbalance the heavy aura of tradition, there's also a less formal scene in full swing, with stage crews BUSY setting up the main stage for Canada Day activities.  

In the days leading up to July 1, I and those working around the Hill get to hear impromptu sound checks and mini-concerts from many of the singers and groups who will be on the Hill on Canada Day.... like Feist, Marie Mai (check out her video, left), Jully Black, Roch Voisine.  

Add to that the "Changing of the Guard" ceremonies with the 'all-playing, all-marching' band every day at 10:00 a.m.  A little surreal (oops I just heard a lot of sirens ... it seems one of the guardsmen slipped and impaled himself on a bayonet, lost a lot of blood and is in serious condition in hospital... good grief... that's a first)

I can't forget the yoga class on the Hill at noon today (Wednesday).  So the eclectic hodge-podge is complete. Ottawa in the summer at its very best. Ohmmm...  

All to say that no one, especially me, feels much like spending a lot of time in the kitchen every day cooking so.... I tried a recipe that is best served cold, is scrumptious, has a deligtful mixture of cool lime, lemongrass and herbs, mixed in with a bit of heat from chilies and smoothed out with peanut sauce.  It can last a few days and meets all the nutritional and caloric requirements I want these days. 

Cold Rice Noodles with Chicken (or Tofu) and Peanut-Lime Sauce) is one of the best dishes I've made. 

I was inspired to try this by reading two posts -- one at Smitten Kitchen and the other was David Tanis in the New York Times Kitchen City Column who has a blog and recipes that always seem to be just at the right moment (picture left is from there). 

Be Warned:  Be Prepared!

Two words to the wise before doing this dish -- advance preparation'.  Carve out a chunk of time to prepare this and assemble all ingredients on the counter.  This is not a hard recipe, but having all the ingredients nearby is essential with this lengthy list. 

Making it results in a lot of dishes, up to a dozen as my photo at right from my session can attest.  I kept the leftovers in their containers to pop in the fridge and pull out again for the next one-dish meal. 

I started and stayed with the New York Times version of the recipe and didn't collapse the number of sauces (as Smitten Kitchen did).  I used Smitten Kitchen ideas for additional vegetables and added julienned red pepper (top left) that worked for me.  Additional vegetables could have been lightly cooked green breans or julienned zucchini.  

The recipe can be eaten cold or warmed up.  Tofu can be substituted for chicken.  I used boneless, skinless, organic chicken thighs (instead of my usual breasts) and spent quite a bit of time cutting off any fat but the end result was worth it. 

The number of Thai (left) or serrano (right) chilies is entirely up to your heat tolerance.  Smitten Kitchen cuts back on the number quite a bit, given that the author (Deb) has a toddler in the house.  I went with the amount suggested by the NYT and I did not find it too hot; the lime juice and herbs helped with the coolness.
My biggest surprise was using Asian fish sauce, which I tend to avoid and instead substitute low-sodium soy sauce.  This time I mixed so if the recipe said 3 T of Asian fish sauce, I used 1 T of fish sauce and the other 2 low-sodium soy sauce.  The taste worked for me; depends on preference.  Strict vegetarians would use soy sauce. 

Final note.

I plan to cook this ahead of the Canada Day weekend festivities, sit with my one-bowl meal on the back deck to watch the Snowbirds flying overhead at noon, and maybe even enjoy it on a rooftop watching the Canada Day fireworks on Parliament Hill!  

Happy July 1 Canada Day!


Cold Rice Noodles with Chicken (or Tofu) and Peanut-Lime Sauce 
(4 people)

(Assembly photos are Smitten Kitchen)

For the Chicken Marinade:

6 boneless skinless chicken thighs (or breasts), about 1 1/4 lbs
4 large garlic cloves, halved
1 1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and sliced
1 4-inch length of lemon grass, tender centre only, thinly sliced
2 T Asian fish sauce
1 T low-sodium soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
3 T brown sugar
1/8 tsp cayenne

For the Dipping Sauce:

3 T Asian fish sauce (substitute low-sodium or gluten-free soy sauce)
3 T brown sugar
6 T lime juice
1 garlic clove, finely grated
6-8 small Thai chilies, thinly sliced, or 1 or 2 serrano chilies

For the Peanut Dressing:

2 T Asian fish sauce
2 T unseasoned rice vinegar
6 T lime juice
2 T low-sodium soy sauce
1 1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and sliced
4 T natural peanut butter, unsalted if possible
2 tsp sesame oil
Pinch of cayenne

Other Ingredients:

8 ounces dried rice vermicelli (or other noodles like soba)
2 small cucumbers, seedless, cut in 1/4 inch half moons
1 medium carrot, cut in thin julienne slices
1 red pepper, cut in thin julienne slices
3/4 cup mung bean sprouts or other sprouts (e.g., radish)
Any additional vegetables (your choice, julienned)
4 T slivered scallions
1/4 cup crushed or chopped roasted peanuts
Handfuls of herbs:  basil, mint, cilantro (ideal), torn or roughly chopped or whole if small
Lime wedges (for serving)


Make the Chicken marinade:  Put the chicken thighs (or breasts) in a low-sided bowl.  Purée the garlic, ginger, lemon grass, fish sauce, soy sauce, sesame oil, brown sugar and cayenne in a blender or small food processor.  Pour the marinade over the chicken and toss to coat.  Let it marinate at least 15 minutes in fridge. 

Make the Dipping Sauce:  Combine the ingredients in a small serving bowl, whisking to dissolve the sugar.  Leave for 15 minutes.  Keep any extra sauce refrigerated for a few days only.  

Make the Peanut Dressing:  In a blender or small food processor, purée all ingredients to a smooth sauce.  Pour into a serving bowl.

For the rest of the ingredients, do the following:

1) Noodles:  Bring a large pot of water to boil, then turn off the heat.  Add the rice vermicelli and soak for 7-8 minutes (or according to package direrctions).  Drain when noodles are still al dente, and cool under running water.  Fluff and leave in strainer to drain well before transferring to bowls.

2) Chicken:  Remove chicken from the marinade and grill on the BBQ, an indoor grill pan, or under the broiler until nicely browned (3-4 minutes per side but check).  Let cool slightly, then chop into 3/4 inch pieces and put in a bowl.

3) Vegetables:  In a small bowl, mix 2 T of the dipping sauce with the cucumbers, carrots, red pepper, and mung bean (or other) sprouts. Use additional dipping sauce if additional vegetables are used.     

Assembing your one-dish wonder!

Divide the cooked, cooled, drained noodles among 4 bowls. 
Top each bowl with the cucumber/carrot/sprout/red pepper/other vegetables mixture and chopped chicken. 
Spoon 2 tsp dipping sauce and 2 T peanut dressing over each portion.
Add the herbs. 
Sprinkle with scallions and crushed peanuts.
Serve with lime wedges and pass small bowls of the two sauces around. 

Monday, 25 June 2012

Aside #24: Eat to Live

SmartCooks here.

I haven't been posting as much in the past month or so ... lots of reasons but one is that it's been a month of trial and error with low-fat, nutritionally balanced menus, much of it vegetables and raw foods.  

This means more farmers' markets greens  and tofu.  I definitely have not, nor likely will I, give up whole grains, dairy and lean protein meats, but I have become much more conscious about adding in more vegetables and fruits in as raw a form as I can. 

Truth be told is that I am wild about any type of green.  There's a book called Wild About Greens with recipes for kale, collards, arugula, bok choy and other leafy veggies.  It has some gorgeous recipes like 'Quinoa with Baby Bok Choy and Asparagus' and 'Pasta with Asparagus, Argula and Sun-Dried Tomatoes'.  

I've planted pots of about two dozen herbs on my back deck and am adding them into daily salads heavily sprinkled with micro greens, sprouts and seeds (e.g., radish, sunflower etc).  

I prefer raw food, which has led to dishes of uncooked, unprocessed and organic food.  I don't go nearly as far as the totally devoted raw foodists where all meals all the time are all raw aka Woody Harrelson (Aside:  he apparently ate raw foods only on the site of 'The Hunger Games', which is soooo ironic given that his character in the movie -- Haymitch -- ate and drank anything and everything.)  

Overall, I'm focussed on a more conscious mission to figure out which foods work best in which combinations for maximum nutrition benefits and overall health and weight maintenance.  There's a downside which I'm also trying to figure out, i.e., prep time can be considerable, heavy concentrations of greens interfere with some medications, and raw foods, especially jalapeños, seem to lead to digestive upsets.  But I'm not giving up yet.  

I've gone back to eating tofu a few times a week, especially after reading Herbivoracious tips on making tofu 'freaking delicious'.  The studies on soy seem all over the map -- some say that the isoflavones in tofu are bad for estrogen-receptor-positive breast cancer while other studies show the opposite i.e., help prevent breast cancer.  

I've opted for moderation.  Apparently it's fine to eat 3 servings (half a cup) of soy a day.  I'm not even doing that much -- more like half a cup 2 or maximum 3 times a week.

Eat to Live:  Dr. Joel Fuhrman   

I came across a blog called Fat-Free Vegan that has one rule for recipes on the site is that they are low in fat, with no added oil or margarine.  It includes an archive with 4,500 fat-free and very low fat vegetarian recipes.  I've tried a few very good ones.  

Digging around on that site is a category "Eat to Live", which took me to a site written by Dr. Joel Fuhrman, who wrote a book Eat to Live:  The Revolutionary Formula for Fast and Sustained Weight Loss.  He's written others as well.  

The ideas are a bit dated now but part of his thesis is that eating the wrong foods can cause 'toxic hunger' and the desire to over-consume calories; whereas a diet of high micronutrient quality causes 'true hunger' which decreases the desire to overeat.  Interesting.... 

He goes further in other works to suggest that eating the 'right' foods can help prevent disease, especially cancer.  His anti-cancer soup has been tried by dozens of bloggers, all of whom report that it is time-consuming and messy to make but a batch lasts for days in the refrigerator and is quite good.

Call me skeptical about some of his claims (my nature) but what resonates are some of his tenets, namely those in his six-week plan to reshape eating habits:

- eat unlimited amounts of all raw vegetables, cooked green vegetables, beans, tofu, fresh fruit and eggplant, mushrooms and other non-starchy vegetables, both cooked and raw;
- limit amounts of whole grains to maximum 1 cup per day, and varying amounts of raw nuts and seeds, flaxseed and limit breads and cereals; and 
- off-limits include dairy and animal products, fruit juice, salt, sugar and eating between meals.  

There's lots of recipes on the site e.g., "Cashew Carrot Salad", "Kung Pao Vegetables", and "Thai Vegetable Curry" (pictured above).  Ellen DeGeneres, who also has a blog about being a vegan and eating unprocessed foods, obviously takes some of her recipes from Dr. Fuhrman.  

So, is the good doctor another charlatan out to make money in his various membership levels costing various amounts of money monthly?  Who knows.... but what I do know is that a lot of it resonates with my current state of being and the recipes I've tried are all delicious.  I take it all with a grain a salt... ummm, make that a grain of Herbamare.  


Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Filipino Chicken Adobo

SmartCooks here.  

Summer arrived officially at 7:09 p.m. today, June 20, 2012.  Its arrival coincided with the start of a trio of 'Triple H' days -- hot, hazy, humid -- in the Nation's Capital.  The weekly Wednesday noon yoga session held on Parliament Hill was a good intro to the bikram (hot, sweaty) style of yoga.  

Basically, not weather for cooking except perhaps a light meal late in the day .... so chicken jumped to mind and the perfect opportunity to continue my global tour of national signature chicken dishes.  Today the Philippines Chicken Adobo joins the ever-growing list of low-fat chicken dishes from China, Thailand, Malaysia, Morocco, Sri Lanka, Korea and Japan. 

Origins of Chicken Adobo dishes:

Chicken Adobo is the traditional, national Filipino Chicken dish.  It is amazingly simple to prepare, basically chicken braised in soy sauce, vinegar, and garlic.  Rasa Malaysia does a wonderful of showing off the final dish (compliments of 80 Breakfasts), with its sweet-and-sour aroma.  

'Adobo' is a Spanish word for seasoning or marinade.  Some history texts say that when the Spanish arrived in the Philippines in the late 16th/early 17th century, they found a cooking process that involves cutting up a whole chicken, marinating the meat in vinegar and garlic, browning in oil and garlic, and simmering for an hour or more until soft in the marinade.  Dishes prepared this way became known as 'adobo'.   

Adobo style cooking was a preferred method for cooking because the cooked meat kept well without refrigeration as the vinegar helps to inhibit the growth of bacteria.  

Making Chicken Adobo* (Note vegetarian option below) 

Various cooks extol the versatility and adaptability of this dish.  For example, some use primarily dark meat from chicken legs and thighs, while others use all parts of the chicken. I prefer chicken breasts (heresy but MINUS the skin), recognizing that I may lose some of the depth of flavour but, for me, it's the leaner, lower fat protein that I use. 

If you use chicken legs and thighs, I suggest taking the extra time to remove as much fat as possible.  The slow cooker is also an option and there are recipes for cooking it this way at the Perfect Pantry.  

There is no exact science in terms of the ratio of vinegar and soy sauce to be used.  Generally, cooks suggest 60/40 (i.e, 60% vinegar and 40% soy sauce).  Recipes experiment with vinegars.  Most suggest white vinegar; some use unseasoned rice vinegar or apple cider vinegar.  If red wine vinegar is used, a richer, deeper taste results.  I prefer low-sodium soy sauce but again it is up to individual preference (and sodium sensitivities).

I have also adapted the recipe by adding ginger, pearl/sweet onions or star anise into the sauce.  Bottom line, variations are your choice! 

Chicken Adobo:
1/2 cup white vinegar or rice or cider vinegar 
1/4 cup reduced sodium soy sauce 
3-4 lbs of chicken (any combo of chicken legs, thighs, breasts) 
1 tsp whole black peppercorns
3-4 cloves garlic, depending on preference can do more, slightly pressed  
1 yellow onion, cut into 8 wedges 
1/2 cup water (may need slightly more) 
2 bay leaves
2 T olive oil 
Fresh pepper 

Three basic steps: 
1) Marinating:  Prepare the chicken by cutting off any visible fat and pricking the meat to let the marinade penetrate the meat.  In a large bowl, mix the soy sauce, vinegar, black peppercorns, garlic, onion, bay leaf and chicken pieces, then marinate for 2-3 hours in the refrigerator.  Remove chicken pieces and set marinade aside.  
2) Browning:  Heat olive oil in a pan and sauté marinated chicken pieces until the chicken is light brown.  Discard any fats that emerge.  
3) Cooking:  Put the chicken, marinade and water into a pot, cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, remove cover, and simmer for 40-50 minutes until the chicken become tender (can pull it away from the bone easily),  and sauce is thickened and reduced.  

The dish improves by resting for a bit.  Season with salt and fresh pepper as desired.  Can garnish with scallions.  Enjoy with quinoa or rice.  

* Vegetarian Option:  Tempeh Adobo 

Since adobo is a method of cooking involving the pillars of vinegar, soy sauce, garlic and pepper, it can easily be done with a variety of vegetables and/or tofu and tempeh.  One recipe, for example, used 6 cups of cut up eggplant and adjusted cooking times.  

Another recipe mimicked the 'chicken' look by using a tempeh block.  That recipe can be found here.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

All-Occasion Rhubarb Crumble Cake

SmartCooks here. 

I've been looking for another cake-ish dessert that I would feel comfortable making, serving, taking to potlucks, and, of course, eating.  It will always be something with fruit; I have never been fond of making or eating the double chocolates whatever.  Given a choice, dessert is all about fruit -- on its own, crisped, crumbled, scattered, triple berried .. whatever.  It's all good.  

So, after some research, I have found an all-occasion Rhubarb Crumble Cake, inspired by Smitten Kitchen.  That now makes two cake-ish desserts in my repertoire (Apple Charlotka was previously posted).  Certainly still a long way from the BH cake-making expert level.  Fondant anyone? :)

Smitten Kitchen clearly loves making 'every day cakes', as Deb Perelman calls them. She has posted many delightful recipes and photos for single layer cakes/crumbles ranging from Raspberry Buttermilk cake (blueberries, blackberries, etc work equally well, May 19, 2009) to Blueberry Boy Bait Cake (July 6, 2009), ? not sure genesis of name but it is a very handsome cake indeed).

Memories of Rhubarb

Rhubarb appeals to me because it represents early memories from my childhood.  Our first house was in central London, Ontario, on a small (and it now seems very small) street just off a busy road.  We lived there from pre-school up until senior years of high school, We moved first to the small house pictured left (hey siblings it's for sale!) and then, as the family grew, we moved next door into a larger house (with an apple tree!).

What I remember most about the first house was the rhubarb patch behind the garage, which was on the left side and now seems to be gone).  It was a small hidden area with lots of rhubarb.  

I knew every inch of that patch; voracious reader that I was I would take a stack of books from the local Bookmobile! Library, hide out among the rhubarb away from siblings and housework and read and nibble on raw rhubarb stalks.  When the rhubarb was ready I'd pick a bunch and my mother would make stewed rhubarb or rhubarb pie.  Nothing better.  

Rhubarb was everywhere in the old neighbourhood.  Most impressive was the house behind ours with a very large patch, tended by an elderly couple who grew everything they needed -- vegetables, rhubarb, corn, gorgeous flowers and even some fruit.  Kids being kids.... we'd hit baseballs or whatever into their garden and crawl through the fence to retrieve them.  When that happened, one of them would come flying out the back door or off their back verandah brandishing a broom and screaming at us -- loudly -- to get out.  Terrified we would retreat (but not for long).  Years later as ill-health forced them out of gardening, I apologized to them for our behavior.  They were just trying to protect their investment in their food crop.  

All-Occasion Rhubarb Crumble Cake

I experimented with using different kinds of sugars and flours in an effort to lighten it up calorie- and health-wise.  The end result was both tart and sweet so I think I succeeded.  

For example, instead of using white, refined flour in the cake and topping, I substituted a mix of almond and whole wheat flour.  It worked fine.  I also used a light hand on the sugar, and a heavy hand on lemon zest and juice.  No problem.  

Ingredients for Cake:
(Inspired by many, including Smitten Kitchen, Martha Stewart and Lucy Waverman, adapted by me)

1 1/4 lbs red, ripe rhubarb, cut into 1/2-inch lengths on the diagonal
1 1/3 cup granulated sugar, divided
1 T lemon juice
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 tsp finely grated lemon zest
2 large eggs
1 1/3 cups flour (white or whole wheat or experiment)
1 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp table salt
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/3 cup low-fat sour cream

Ingredients for Topping:
1 cup flour (white or whole wheat or experiment)
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/8 tsp table salt
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
4 T unsalted butter, melted


Make the cake: 

Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat the bottom and sides of a 9x13-inch baking pan with Pam cooking spray, then line the bottom with parchment paper, extending the lengths up two sides. 

In a small bowl, stir rhubarb, lemon juice, and 2/3 cup sugar and set aside. 

In another bowl, beat butter, remaining sugar and lemon zest with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at at time, scraping down the sides after each addition.  In a third small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, 3/4 tsp table salt and ground ginger. Add one-third of this flour mixture to the butter/sugar/lemon zest batter, mixing until just combined. Continue, adding half the low-fat sour cream, the second third of the flour mixture, the remaining sour cream, and then the remaining flour mixture, mixing between each addition until just combined.

Pour batter into prepared pan in an thin layer. Pour the rhubarb mixture over the cake, spreading it into an even layer.

Make the topping:

Stir together the crumb mixture by whisking the flour, brown sugar, table salt and cinnamon together, then stirring in the melted butter.  Scatter evenly over rhubarb layer. 

Bake cake in preheated oven for 50 to 60 minutes until top becomes golden and tester comes out clean.  Cool completely in the pan on a rack.

Cut into 2-inch squares.  Cake will keep for a few days at room temperature, or in the fridge, or it can be frozen (I did!).