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Sunday, March 22, 2020

Coconut yellow curry with vegetables and chickpeas

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It's been more than a little while, friends.  Like many of you, I find myself with a bit more time on my hands right now.  There are countless think pieces and philosophical musings out there right now and I'm not going to add to that.  I don't really have anything to add - I'm not sure what I could say that hasn't been said or written at this point.

But I thought that what I can do is maybe help some people who are currently having to cook a lot more often than usual, and having to be more creative with what they have.  I usually have a few ideas there and while I've been sharing tips on my Facebook page, I've been getting recipe requests through my Insta DMs so I thought that when I create an actual recipe, I might post it here.  The pics are probably going to be from my phone, so they won't look great, but I will promise you that if I post a recipe here, it's because it works and it's flexible and tasty.

Enough with the blather.  You're here for the food.  So here it is.  This curry happened because I had a cauliflower that was on the verge of going bad and I happened to have yellow curry paste sitting around. I like Aroy-D curry paste - while you can order it for an exorbitant price from Amazon, I can also tell you that your local asian grocery store probably has it at a fraction of the price and could likely use your business right now (in a socially-distant and responsible way).  The paste is $15 on Amazon, but I paid $4 for it at Best Price Oriental Market in Kanata.

Coconut Yellow Curry with Vegetables and Chickpeas

2 T oil
2 shallots (could substitute onions)
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 T chopped ginger
1/4 c yellow curry paste (I recommend Aroy-D)
3 potatoes (could substitute sweet potatoes or other root vegetables), chopped in 1" pieces
1 cauliflower (could use broccoli or other veg), chopped in bite sized pieces
1 can chickpeas, drained (could use any other bean, tofu or meat)
2 T fish sauce (could use soy sauce)
1 T lime juice (could use lemon or try a few drops of vinegar to get the acidity)
1 t lime zest
2 T brown sugar (could sub any other sweetener like honey, maple, white sugar)
1 can coconut milk
basil (fresh is best but dried works in a pinch - I used a combo of frozen and dried)

1. In a large pan over medium heat, heat up the oil.  Add the shallots and fry for 2-3 minutes.  Then add the garlic and ginger and fry for a couple more minutes (try not to let it brown too much, but if it does, don't worry).

2. Add the curry paste and saute.  It will stick a bit and that's okay.

3. Add 1.5 cups water and deglaze your pan.  Add a pinch of salt, then the potatoes and cauliflower.  Cover the pan and cook for 10-12 minutes, checking occasionally to stir.  Once the potatoes and cauliflower are cooked, add the chickpeas and the can of coconut milk.  Stir and heat.

4. Taste.  At this point, it might be a little bland.  And that's because you need to balance the flavour.  Now is your chance to add salt and umami with the fish sauce, add some acidity with the lime juice and lime zest, and a bit of sweetness with the brown sugar.  I've recommended amounts, but you should use your own tastebuds to season to YOUR liking.  This is not an especially spicy curry.

5. The other thing is that the curry might also be a bit watery at this point.   So I like to let the sauce reduce for another 10 minutes or so.  This works pretty well with potatoes and cauliflower, but might not work so well if you used something like green beans or broccoli.  Add your basil (although if you're using dried, I'd add it earlier in the process, so it has a chance to rehydrate and flavour your dish.

6. Serve over rice (or quinoa or whatever).

Everyone in our family liked this dish - yellow curry paste is nice and flavourful without being spicy, so it's a good one for kids (although my minis still love green curry, they can't eat much of it because it's so spicy).  Success of this dish will depend on proper seasoning (i.e., finding that balance of salt, flavour, acidity and sweetness), so start with a little bit of your seasonings and then add more so it taste the way that YOU want it.

I hope this helps someone find a little inspiration.  And if you have questions about substitutions or ingredients, don't hesitate to comment or to find me on Facebook.

Monday, January 16, 2017

why you need halloumi (cheese) in your life

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If you enjoy cheese in any way, shape or form, you need halloumi in your life.

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Salad topped with pan-fried halloumi and pesto dressing.  Tasted even better than it looks.
Halloumi hails from Cyprus and is a semi-hard, unripened, brined cheese.  It's typically made from a mixture of sheep and goat milk, but most of what I find here in Canada is made from cow's milk.  What sets halloumi apart from other cheese is it's uniquely high melting point.  It can be fried, or grilled without melting, and the cow's milk cheese I buy here is basically like a slightly firmer cheese curd.

It's salty, mild and delicious.

We have a fabulous local restaurant called Amuse (Ottawa peeps - check it out!  Awesome west-end eats), where I recently ate an appetizer that had pan-fried (and then flambéed) halloumi.  It was so good that I was inspired to create a variation at home. With fewer carbs because I think if I entered cheese and garlic bread into MyFitnessPal, it would explode.  :p.

I made a salad topped with pan-fried halloumi, which I then dressed with a pesto dressing (my favourite Costco pesto + white wine vinegar) and it was FABULOUS.

I shared a photo of the salad (above), and I got a lot of questions about it, so I thought I would put up a brief post with a couple of ideas of how you could use halloumi (note that due to halloumi being a protected Cypriot product, you will sometimes find it marketed under similar names like halloom - Ottawa folks - I bought mine at Food Basics.  Most well-stocked grocery stores should have it if you poke around a bit).

Here are a few ways to enjoy your halloumi:

- pan-fried in a bit of oil, then served over salad (note that I particularly loved this with a pesto rich and delicious)

- pan-fried, then flambéed with a bit of ouzo, then served over crusty garlic bread, with chopped heirloom tomatoes (similar to the fabulous Amuse appetizer....or better yet, head straight to Amuse and just have them make it for you!)

- on skewers - I did this over the summer and it was a huge hit with our family - the cheese holds up well to grilling, and a light brush of marinade is all you need.  You can skewer just cubes of cheese, or mix it up with vegetables (that's I how usually make all our skewers - a mix of vegetables and protein)

I have also pinned a couple of ideas that I haven't yet tried, like this Winter Caprese Salad with beets and halloumi and this Warm Lentil dish with fennel and halloumi.

Have you tried halloumi?  What's your favourite way to eat it?

Friday, January 13, 2017

healthy peanut butter chocolate smoothie (vegan)

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A year and a half ago, I caved and finally got myself a high end blender (a Blendtec) and since then, I have been blending up a storm (599 storms, actually, according to the handy counter on the front of the blender).  Obviously it's great for soups and sauces but I really really love what it does for smoothies.

I'm really picky on my smoothie texture (NO CHUNKS.  EVER.) so I found that a high powered blender was necessary to get the results I wanted.  I've perfected a number of smoothie recipes in the last 18 months or so, and I wanted to share one of my favourites with you today.  Another of my favourites is the Oh She Glows green monster - I don't even like bananas, and this smoothie recipe is great.

For me, a morning smoothie (or meal replacement smoothie) needs to meet certain criteria:

1. Above all, be full of healthy, wholesome ingredients.  No added sugar.  No juice.

2. Be filling - I like to make sure my smoothies weigh in at 250-300 calories, so there's enough energy in there to get me to lunch time.

3. Have a solid amount of fibre and protein - I do this through adding various seeds.  Generally, my protein intake is fine, so I don't add protein powders.  I find that between the fruit and the seeds, most of my smoothies have at least 10g of fibre, which is awesome.

4. Relatively low in sugar (I like to keep them at less than 20 grams of sugar if I can, including that from fruit).

My smoothies are not a dessert-type smoothie.  This is pure, tasty nutrition.  Some of them are hits with the kids and some are not.  The recipe below is one that's been a hit with pretty much everyone who has tried it.  If you haven't made this type of smoothie before, you'll likely have to scramble for some of the ingredients (powdered peanut butter, hemp hearts and chia seeds), but the good news is that if you decide to get into regular-ish smoothie making, the ingredients will serve you well and last quite a long time.

I like hemp hearts and chia seeds because they have some great nutrition, but also they are a bit softer than alternatives (like flax seeds or psyllium husks), so they blend into a smoother final product.  I can often find them on clearance at Winners or HomeSense.

You can easily substitute regular peanut butter for the powdered, but it will substantially change the calorie content, if that's a concern to you (2 T of powdered PB has 50 calories, while 2 T of regular PB has 200 calories).  If you're looking to bulk up the caloric content, totally go for regular PB!

Healthy Peanut Butter Chocolate Smoothie (vegan)
serve 1, but easily doubled

1 c unsweetened almond milk
2 T powdered peanut butter (like PB2, Tru-Nut or other brand)
1 T cocoa powder
1 T chia seeds
1 T hemp hearts
2 pitted dates, roughly chopped (alternative: use a frozen banana instead of dates for a chunky monkey smoothie!).  If your dates are small, or you have a real sweet tooth, try 3 dates - I find 2 is perfect, but I don't like really sweet smoothies
splash vanilla extract
1.5 c baby spinach
6-8 ice cubes

1.  Place all ingredients except the ice cubes in your blender.  Blend until smooth (on my blendtec, I use the 'smoothie function' and then about 15-20 seconds on high speed.  Dates don't blend super easily, so I find they need a bit more time to get smooth.  If you're using banana instead, it should blend pretty quickly.  It will probably take a minute or so to blend your smoothie.

2. Add ice cubes, and blend again on high speed for 15-20 seconds for a more milkshake-type consistency.

3. Enjoy.

To speed things along in the morning, I'll often pre-measure my dry ingredients into the blender at night (i.e., the hemp, chia, cocoa powder and PB powder).  I am not at my best before coffee* so this works well for me.

* massive understatement.  I cannot handle pre-coffee life.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

epic easy homemade balsamic dressing

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So it's January, and many among us are trying to eat a healthier, more wholesome diet.  And this usually means adding the odd salad (either as a side, or as a meal unto itself).  I actually love giant salad meals, and bulk them up by adding seeds, nuts, beans, tuna, eggs, cheese, etc.

The thing that can often trip you up with salad is the dressing.  So many purchased dressings are full of low-quality, filler ingredients.  Now that lil Z is reading, one of the things we do together is look through nutritional labels, and even at 8, she understands that a long list of ingredients, full of things she can't pronounce, probably isn't the best choice.

Case in point, we took a look at the label on her favourite ranch dressing and sure enough, sugar figured prominently, as did all sorts of fillers and other ingredients.

When I don't have time or energy to make my own dressings, I really love the dressings from my local Farm Boy because they have very simple ingredients and taste great (the no-sodium Greek and the Mediterranean are my favourites, but they are all fabulous).

But when I have my act together, this is by far my favourite salad dressing recipe.  It whisks up fabulously, stays emulsified, and best of all, it tastes amazing with fresh crisp vegetables.  It doesn't take long to make and doesn't require too many ingredients.  It also scales up well (if you really loved it, you could make a bigger batch and keep it in a jar in your fridge) so you could make it ahead, or make it for a crowd.

The quality of your initial ingredients does make a difference - make sure you use a vinegar and an oil that you actually really like, as those are the flavours that will come out in this dressing.

Epic Easy Homemade Balsamic Dressing
(single batch is good for a side salad for four people)

1 T balsamic vinegar
sea salt
3 T extra virgin olive oil (one you really like the flavour of)
1 T dijon mustard (you can go more generous on this if you like mustard, but I find you need at least 1 T for emulsification)

option: 1 t grainy mustard/moutarde à l'ancienne
option: 1 T minced shallot
option: change up the vinegar and oil for a different flavour profile, but do be sure to keep the 3:1 ratio of oil to vinegar

1. Measure the balsamic vinegar into a small bowl or cup.  Add a sprinkle of sea salt (I use a salt grinder, but I'd estimate I add about 1/4 t).  Give it a quick stir to dissolve the salt (it won't dissolve in oil).  Add some fresh cracked black pepper.  If you're adding shallot, add it now.

2. Add the oil and the mustard(s).  Use a fork or small whisk to combine until it thickens and is emulsified.  If you're doing a larger batch, go ahead and use a mason jar and shake it.

3.  YUM.  Give it a taste and see if it needs more salt or other seasoning.  If it's a bit thick, you can add either some vinegar, or water to thin it out.

Once you've mastered the basic vinaigrette, feel free to experiment with flavoured oils and vinegars, but again, make sure they are flavours you like (i.e., don't use a stale or yucky-tasting oil because you won't like the result).  I don't use super high-end products, but a nice fruity olive oil is totally worth it here.  :)

Friday, January 06, 2017

Instant Pot Mushroom Risotto with Lobster (and IP lobster stock recipe)

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Over a year ago, I posted a list of my kitchen faves and wants, and on that list was an Instant Pot.  I was fortunate to receive one for Christmas last year from hubs, and I've really been enjoying it ever since. (Also, cool side note: the creators of Instant Pot are from Ottawa, like me!  Gotta love unexpectedly supporting a local business).

While I might be the queen of kitchen gadgets, this is one gadget that doesn't sit on the shelf for very long.  For the last year, I've been experimenting with hard boiled eggs (4 minutes on high pressure is perfect!), roasts, beans, overnight oatmeal, stews, curries, etc.

I love this thing - in fact, I'm going to use it again tonight, and give this honey-bourbon chicken recipe a try (I'll serve with some quinoa and roasted frozen broccoli).

I recently read about making risotto in the instant pot, and that really appealed to me.  I'm always multi-tasking in the kitchen, so I don't often make risotto, as it takes way too much attention at the stove, for far too long.  I had read that you could make deliciously creamy risotto in the instant pot, so I decided to give it a go.

I did a twist on this mushroom risotto recipe, and it turned out really well!  I changed the quantity, and I think in the future, I might reduce the liquid by about a 1/2 cup, and when I do the larger volume in the pot (1.5 c rice, vs the original recipe's 1 c), I would reduce the cook time to 4 minutes, just to reflect that the larger liquid volume takes longer to build pressure, and that in turn cooks the rice for a bit longer than necessary.  I've put those changes in the recipe below.

This tastes great, and best of all, no stirring.  I wouldn't say it's really any faster than stove-top risotto, but it is a lot more convenient.  I made my own lobster stock and I found that really added a nice flavour to the risotto, but it's by no means necessary - normal stock (veg or chicken) would work very well.  And this recipe very easily becomes vegan by just skipping adding butter at the end and using veg stock.

I'll separate out the recipe for the lobster stock, so anyone who isn't making their own stock can just ignore that portion.

Sobeys had lobsters on for $8.99/lb, so I picked up a couple of lobsters there (and had them steamed in store, which Sobeys does for free - yay!).  They were not huge lobsters, and I knew they wouldn't be enough to feed all four of us dinner, so risotto was a great way to serve something indulgent and pricey, without having to spend a fortune (the two lobsters came to about $20).  Hubs was kind enough to take the lobster meat out of the lobsters for me.

Instant Pot Lobster Stock

lobster carcasses (I had 2, but more would probably be more flavourful), meat removed
1-2 onions, quartered (don't bother peeling)
1 shallot, halved (don't peel)
3-4 garlic cloves (crush lightly with a knife, but don't worry about peeling)
1 carrot, very roughly chopped (don't peel)
2 ribs celery, roughly chopped (include the leaves, if you have them)
1 bay leaf
1/2 t thyme
fresh black pepper
salt to taste

1. Add all ingredients to the instant pot (or other electric pressure cooker, or just a large pot on the stove).

2. Add enough water to cover, up to about the 3.5L line.

3. Cook on high pressure (use the Manual function) for 30 minutes.  You can do a natural release or a quick release, depending on how rushed you are.  If you're doing it on the stove, just simmer for 2-3 hours on low.

4. Strain contents.  Taste.  I found mine was a little bit bland (with just two carcasses), so I added a small spoon of Better than Bouillon vegetable base, to just up the salt/umami quality and it was perfect then.  If you have more lobsters, this probably would not be an issue.

Instant Pot Mushroom Risotto
(adapted from Make Real Food)
serves 4-6 (depending on your serving size)

1 T olive oil
1 onion, chopped
8 oz mushrooms, chopped
1 t thyme
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1.5 c arborio rice (or other short grain italian-style rice)
1/2 c white wine
4.5 c broth or stock (I used lobster stock) - ideally room temp or warmer
juice of half a lemon
1/4 c nutritional yeast (or parmesan....but I have to confess that nutritional yeast is super tasty in this recipe!)
2 T butter
flat leaf parsley

1. Using the Sauté function, heat the Instant Pot on high, then add the olive oil.  Sauté the onion and mushrooms for a few minutes, then add the garlic.

2. Once the mushrooms have released their liquid (and the liquid has evaporated), add the rice and stir well.  Then add the white wine and stir until it's mostly evaporated.

3. Add the broth, then seal the instant pot.  Switch the IP to manual (high) and set to cook for 4 minutes.

4. When the time is up (if this is your first time using an instant pot, note that it takes a while to come to seal, then the pressure needs to build, and THEN it starts counting doesn't really cook in 4 minutes total!).

5. Once the timer is done, grab a light tea towel, and carefully do a quick pressure release.  My experience with starchy things like rice and pasta is that they often sputter and make a bit of a mess.  I usually put oven mitts on before I do a QR, then release with a wooden spoon.  If I see any mess, I toss the tea towel over top to catch it.  It works pretty well, though be sure to use a nice light towel.  This didn't make as much of a mess as I was expecting, but it did sputter a bit.  Also, quick release isn't instantaneous - I think mine took about 3 minutes to come down.

6. Remove the lid once the pressure has released.  Stir in the lemon juice, butter and nutritional yeast/parmesan.  Stir in a nice handful of chopped chives and parsley.  Serve with more fresh herbs over top.

While my risotto was cooking, I reheated my lobster in a steamer, just for a few minutes.  I then tossed the warm lobster with some butter and sprinkled some chives on.  I served the risotto with the lobster on top, topped with more chives and parsley.  I love the fresh burst from the herbs.

This was so good!!  It could serve 6 as a an appetizer/side dish portion, or 4 as a hearty main dish.  I confess to trying to be on track with My Fitness Pal these days, so I stuck with a 1/6th portion, but I know I would have been happier with a bit more.  :)

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