Friday, January 24, 2014

STEW ON THIS! - Part 1




Baby, it's cold outside!

Plagued by sub-zero temperatures and icy winds that cut through even the sturdiest coats, hats, mitts, and long johns, many of us will spend our free winter time hungry and hibernating until the spring thaw. (For those of you who refuse to wear the aforementioned clothing items in freezing weather for whatever reason, I am begging you: COVER UP! IT'S FREEZING! No blogger wants their readers dead from frostbite, so please hear my plea). In this weather, what many of us are craving are not the leafy salads health experts insist we eat after a holidays full of roasted meats or tofurkey, alcohol, and desserts. We want something hot, hearty, heavenly - don't worry, I'm out of H words now - something that will chase away the winter chill...

...And nothing does that better than a steaming bowl or two of stew!

According to my research, a stew is a dish of meat and/or vegetables slowly cooked in a closed pot or pan.  As far as I'm concerned, this definition is broad enough to include any simmered dish, from a traditional beef stew, to a chili, to a curry!  That being said, for the next two weeks, I'll be showing you to make stews inspired by the flavors of the Philippines, Thailand, India, the UK, and even North America!

These recipes are not for the calorie counters and low carb nuts. Those people will probably spend the rest of the winter shivering from poor nutrition.

No...

This is for those of us that know that a little meat on the bones (no offense to any vegetarians or vegans out there) is important to get us through January and February without freezing to death.

For those low cal and/or low carb nuts now ticked at me, I say: STEW ON THIS!


Beef Stew


Every country seems to have a version of Beef Stew, but the flavors we know are typically associated with old recipes from the UK and France. One Irish pub in Montreal even boasts that their recipe dates from the 1800s. When one thinks of this stew, one thinks of chunks of beef and root veggies simmered in flavorful broth thickened with potatoes and flour, and I don't intend to disappoint. However, I notice that some stews don't have much taste to 'em beyond salt, pepper, beef, and the occasional hit of Guinness, beer, or wine.  So I looked at a bunch of recipes and tried to come up with my own. While this recipe serves four to six, if you live alone or there are less of you, you can keep what's left in the fridge for 3 to 4 days, or for 2 to 3 months in the freezer.

Ingredients

1  Pound of Stewing Beef - this is usually from a tougher cut of beef, so it requires a little TLC before finishing the stew, hence the long cooking time

1  Cup of Red Cooking Wine - Use whatever's cheap or leftover

2 1/2 Cups of Beef Broth (about half a 900 ml box)

1/2 of Flour

3 Tablespoons of Tomato Paste - Optional. This, along with the starch from the potatoes, is what's going to thicken your stew. Some people like their stews liquidy, others like it thick, so it's up to you.

3 Strips of Bacon (optional) - this is going to add a ton of flavor and fat, but if you can't use pork products for religious or health reasons, use 1 tablespoon or two of canola or vegetable oil instead

2 Tablespoons of Butter or Margarine

6 Small Potatoes  - Sliced into half inch pieces

2 Pieces aka Cloves of Garlic, peeled and sliced, with the tough woody bit at the end removed.  To peel the garlic, put the clove on its side, put the flat part of your knife on top, and CAREFULLY, WITHOUT CUTTING YOURSELF, whack the flat of the blade firmly with your palm, crushing the garlic beneath. The peel will come right off after that.

1 Pack of Regular Mushrooms - Sliced - Beef and Mushrooms are a match made in heaven. Even if you don't like mushrooms, give them a shot in this stew. You will thank me. The small, cheap white ones you get in the tubs in grocery stores will do just fine. 

3 Ribs aka Stalks of Celery - sliced

2 Medium Onions - Peeled and Sliced

5 Medium Carrots - Sliced

3 Parsnips - Sliced - Parsnips look a lot like carrots... except that they're white, and a bit sweeter. Try them.

1 Handful of Green Beans - give them a rinse under the sink, cut each end off, and then cut them in half

1 Bay Leaf - This is an herb that is inedible, but it does add a load of flavor. Throw one into the simmering stew and take it out just before serving

3 Tablespoons of Oregano or Basil

Salt and Pepper - to taste

If Ya Wanna Get Fancy...

Parsley - Any variety is fine, though the dish above was garnished with the Italian Flat Leaf variety

Equipment

1 Mixing Bowl

1 Big Pot with Lid

1 Wooden Spoon

1 Slotted Spoon

1 Large Knife and Cutting Board - for chopping up your veg and bacon

Measuring Spoons

Dump your stewing beef in a bowl, add some salt and pepper and the flour and mix it with your hands until the beef is evenly coated.

If you're using bacon, cut it into tiny pieces using your trusty knife and cutting board. Heat your pot to medium heat and dump in your bacon. Stir the bacon around with a wooden spoon until the fat cooks out of it and the bacon is brown around the edges, see the image below. You can then dump in your beef and cook it until it's brown on all sides. This process is called "browning". Scoop the meat out using a slotted spoon and put it in your trusty mixing bowl or any receptacle that can hold something hot and set it aside.



If you're using oil instead of bacon, heat the oil in the pot on medium heat and dump in the floured meat and cook it until it's brown on all sides. As you would if using bacon, scoop the meat out using your trusty slotted spoon, and put it in a bowl or any receptacle that can hold something hot, and set it aside. 

Check your pot. If there's enough fat leftover to coat the pan after browning the meat, with the pot still on medium high heat, dump in your chopped onions, mushrooms, carrots, parsnips, and celery. If not, put a little oil in the pot, and then dump in your veg. Add some oregano, salt, pepper, and the bay leaf and stir the vegetables around until they're soft and the onions are translucent, about 4 minutes. Dump in your garlic, and cook it for another minute or so.

Add your beef back into the pot, along with your wine and beef stock. Give it a quick stir, raise the heat until the liquid is bubbling, and then put the heat on low, cover it, and leave it to simmer, stirring every 5 or 10 minutes, for at least a half an hour or until the meat is chewable.

Add your potatoes and continue to cook until they're slightly underdone. To test one, scoop it out, and without burning yourself, taste it. If it's a little crunchier than you'd like, good, you can now dump in your beans. When the beans are tender, you're good to go... unless of course, the stew isn't thick enough for your taste. If it isn't dump in the tomato paste and stir until it's thickened.

Add butter or margarine and stir until it's melted. This will give the stew added richness and make the broth shiny. Find the bay leaf using your trusty spoon and take it out.

You can now scoop your stew into bowls and serve as is, or, if ya wanna get fancy, you can top with a little washed, chopped parsley.


Vegetarian Thai Green Curry


Green Thai Curry gets its name from the color of the curry itself. Not knowing much about green curry beyond the taste, I did a little homework, and was able to come up with my own recipe, based mostly on my knowledge of Asian cooking techniques, and without any fancy machinery. The spiciness of this dish is entirely up to you, depending on how much Thai curry paste you use. While a lot of the ingredients contain stuff you can get at Asian markets, remember that any town with an Asian population will probably have an Asian store or market. Try Google or the Yellow pages to find one near you. If there aren't any, try the grocery store, they may have exactly what you need for this, albeit at a slightly higher price. This dish will serve 3 to 6 depending on appetites, and serves even more as a side dish. It will keep in the fridge for 3 to 4 days, so if you have too much, you can always take it to work the next day. That being said, let's get started:

Ingredients

From the store

1 to 3 Teaspoons of Green Thai Curry Paste - This is a paste consisting of  garlic, lemongrass, green chillies, Thai ginger, coriander root and other flavors. The amount you use will depend on how strong and spicy you like your curry. You used to only be able to get this in Asian markets, but as Thai food gets more and more popular, you can now find it in most major grocery stores In case you don't know what to look for, here's a photo of a popular brand.



1 Can of Coconut Milk (400 mls) - If you can get to an Asian Market, buy it there, as major grocery store chains, while they do now carry coconut milk, often overprice it.

1 Teaspoon of Thai Fish Sauce (Optional) - This is a traditional Thai ingredient made from dried fish. Whether you like it or not, it is also a key flavoring in many Thai dishes. However, if you can't use this for religious reasons or any other dietary restrictions, or you're simply put off by the fishy smell, don't use it! If you're feeling brave and want to give this a go, try to get it at an Asian Market, Asian markets will have bottles of varying size and price.  Here is a picture so you'll know what to look for.  This sauce can also be used diluted with a little sugar and water as a dip for spring rolls, or in marinades.

  

1 Medium Zucchini, cut lengthwise and then sliced into 1 inch pieces

1 Eggplant, cut into 1 inch cubes, or two Asian eggplants (they're smaller and skinnier than the variety we know) sliced into 1 inch pieces

1 Thumb sized piece of Ginger, sliced - Not sure what ginger looks like?  Here is a picture

2 or 3 Leaves of Fresh or Thai Basil - Thai basil is a bit darker in colour and stronger in flavor than the basil we know, if you can't find it, use regular fresh basil instead.

From the Fridge

2 Cloves of Garlic, peeled and sliced

1 Peel of Lemon OR Lime or both - most Thai recipes call for Lemon Grass, but citrus (lemons and limes, along with oranges and grapefruits, and kumquats, are citrus fruit) peel, combined with the Ginger does the job just fine.


From the pantry

2 Teaspoons of Soya Sauce

2 Tablespoons of Canola or Vegetable Oil

2 Teaspoons of Sugar - ideally brown

Equipment

1 Pot

1 Wooden Spoon

1 Whisk

1 Knife and Cutting Board - for chopping your vegetables, garlic, ginger, and for peeling your citrus fruit

Measuring Spoons

1 Mixing Bowl

Heat the oil in the pot on high and dump in the ginger, garlic, and lemon or lime peel or both and stir them around until you smell the garlic. Dump in your chopped eggplant and zucchini and stir with a wooden spoon for about 5 minutes,  making sure that all the vegetables come into contact with the hot oil. When they have softened slightly and the zucchini has brightened in colour, turn off the heat.

Dump the veg into a mixing bowl and set aside.

Pour the coconut milk into the pot heat on medium. Add the curry paste, soy sauce, and fish sauce, and sugar, and stir with your whisk until the curry paste dissolves.  Bring to a boil and dump your vegetables back into the pot.

Lower the heat, cover the pot and simmer it until the vegetables are tender, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Dump the basil into the pot and simmer for a minute more, to let the basil's perfume come out.

Serve as is or on top of some rice and enjoy!

Stay tuned for the next installment when I'll be giving you my take or more hearty cold weather recipes! 

-Samantha R. Gold

Questions? Comments? Requests?

Bring it on!

I can be reached at:  for.the.culinarily.challenged@gmail.com

Trolls will be unceremoniously deleted and dismissed.










Sunday, January 5, 2014

Back To Work Blues



Dear Readers,

Happy New Year!

I was going to do the first article of the New Year on onions, but since a lot of us are going back to work after Non-Denominational Holidays, I decided to break the mold. After a vacation of a week or more, when you have to face the dreaded reality of going back to work, the LAST thing you want to do is slave away in the kitchen. It's therefore awfully tempting to go out in the freezing cold to a restaurant, or get fast food or take out, when you should be eating something a little healthier.

This article is going to be about dinner and lunch solutions that are not only a little healthier, but quick to prepare. Perfect for your busy lifestyle and post holiday blues.

Sammy's Cheater's Lasagna



Lasagna is a great winter and fall dish. It's hearty, cheesy, and while it can be very fattening, there are ways to do it that are more healthful, quicker, and easier.  I'm no nutritionist, but I DO know that dairy products like cheese can be found in low fat varieties, and that dairy products, fruits (like the almighty tomato), and veg (like spinach) are all good for you. This recipe contains all three. While you can eat it with a salad or garlic bread, a slice of lasagna is just fine on its own, be it fresh or reheated. I call this "Cheater's Lasagna" because there's no boiling of noodles or sauce making involved, and as a result, the total prep time before it goes in the oven is only about 10 or 15 minutes.

Here's How You Do It:

From the Store

2 Containers of Low Fat Cottage cheese OR if you have the funds, Low fat ricotta cheese

1 Package Italian Blend shredded cheese

1 to 2 Cans or Jars of your favorite tomato or meat sauce OR from the fridge or thawed from the freezer, 1 batch of homemade sauce

Equipment

1 Baking Pan

Measuring spoons

1 Measuring Cup or Measuring cups

1 Fork

1 Mixing Bowl

2 Regular Spoons

1 Fork

Oven Mitts

1 Strainer

Aluminum foil

From the Fridge

IF you're using ricotta cheese, you'll need 2 Eggs, as it's quite thick - the eggs will thin it out

Pesto

From the Freezer

1 Package or 5 cubes of frozen chopped spinach - this can be thawed in a bowl by pouring some hot water over it and leaving it for a few minutes, leaving it overnight in the fridge, or in the microwave for about two minutes in some water - either way, you will need to drain the spinach after thawing, using the strainer

From the Pantry

Salt and Pepper to taste

1 Box OVEN READY Lasagna Noodles - These are great time savers. The noodles hydrate all by themselves using the moisture from the cheese and sauce, no there's no boiling required. Simply layer them dry with your cheese and sauce and they will come out of the oven with the exact same texture and tenderness as the kind you boil!

Olive Oil

Start preheating your oven at the temperature recommended on the box of oven ready lasagna noodles. I say this because different brands will require different oven temperatures, so stick to them.

In a bowl dump in your cottage cheese, or ricotta cheese and eggs, if using the ricotta. Add 1/2 a cup of the pre-packaged grated cheese, your thawed, drained spinach, 1 tablespoon of pesto, and some salt and pepper. Mix it with a fork until all the ingredients are combined, and the spinach looks like it's more or less evenly distributed among the cheese. See the image below.



Believe it or not, you are now ready to assemble your lasagna.

Put a tablespoon of Olive Oil in your baking pan and add a few tablespoons of sauce, enough to coat the bottom. If you're using meat sauce, you probably won't need the oil - see the image below.


Add 1 layer of uncooked oven ready lasagna noodles.


Using a regular spoon, add 1 layer of the spinach and cheese mixture.



Add 1 layer of oven ready lasagna noodles, and another layer of the cheese mix. Top with 1 more layer of lasagna noodles, and then cover the top noodles with your sauce. Cover with cheese, and add about 6 of 1/8 of a teaspoons pesto in different areas on top of the lasagna. Cover the lasagna with foil and bake for 45 minutes. When the time is up, remove the foil and if you like your cheese a bit brown around the edges, bake for another 15 minutes, otherwise, you can take it out.

Let the lasagna rest on your counter for another 10 to 15 minutes so that individual slices don't fall apart when you serve it.   



Serves 4 very hungry people, or 6 normally hungry people.

Spinach, Egg and Orange Salad



I should say right off the bat that this isn't MY recipe. It's my mother's. I consider her a culinary genius because she helped me develop a taste for spinach at a young age with this salad. This is simple, easy, fast, and it has protein and veg, perfect for anyone on one of those ludicrous low carb fad diets (and yes, they ARE ludicrous).

Here's How You Do It

From the Store

1 Orange, preferably seedless

1  Box Fresh Washed Spinach (5 oz)

Equipment

1 Knife

1 Cutting Board

1 Small Pot

1 Large Bowl

1 Measuring Cup OR a clean, clear glass Jar

1 Set of Tongs or 2 Forks

From the Fridge

2 Eggs

1/2 of a small Onion

From the Pantry

Salt and Pepper

Olive Oil

Acid of Choice - This can be any vinegar you wish, or you can use orange or lemon juice or a mixture of them

Sweetener of choice - optional -  some people like sweet salad dressings, some like sour, so the addition of this is up to you. If you decide to use orange juice, don't bother with the sugar, as it's sweet enough.

Hard boil the eggs according to my directions in Lowered Eggspectations Part 1.

While the eggs are boiling, peel the oranges and slice them. Do the same with the onion, and set both aside.

When the eggs are ready, peel and slice them lengthwise.

Now's the time to prep your dressing. Some people like a well dressed salad, others only like a little bit, so the amount depends on you. To prep the dressing, put a little salt and pepper in the measuring cup or jar, and then add your acid of choice, and if, using, your sweetener. Add twice as much oil as you added acid, and mix it with a fork or by screwing the top of the jar on tightly (please get your minds out the gutter), and shake it well. Taste your dressing. If you find it too oily, add more acid. If you find it too sour, add some sweetener, OR if you want it keep it savory, add some more oil.  Add more salt and pepper to taste if you wish.

Now you can assemble the salad.

Dump the spinach in the salad bowl and add the dressing. Toss the salad with a pair of tongs, or two forks, and then lay the egg, orange, and onion slices over the top in the salad bowl, or on individual plates.


You can now take it to the table await the oohs and ahs.

Serves 6 as a side dish, OR 2 as a meal.

Soy Orange Salmon with Orange Cranberry Couscous



I know it sounds weird, but this dish turns out surprisingly well. Buy salmon when it's on sale, but don't buy unless it's fresh. How you do you tell? Your filet should look good for one, the flesh should be firm, and there should be no overly fishy smell.  If you're really lost, look at the date it was packaged on (if it's already packaged). It should have been packaged same day if possible. I chose couscous as an accompaniment because it's extremely quick to prepare, and you can add healthy things to it that will also add loads of flavor and texture. Don't like craisins (dried cranberries), or sunflower seeds ? No problem! Try using your favorite nuts, and your favorite dried fruit. Total prep time for this? 25 minutes, and that includes baking time.

Here's How You Make It:

From the store

1 Small Pack of Sunflower Seeds

1 Small Pack of Dried Cranberries or Craisins

1 Filet of Salmon - 430 grams will feed 2 people, if you're really not sure how much to get, ask the fish guy at the grocery store or fish market - he or she will be able to tell you

1 Bunch Fresh Flat Leaf aka Italian Parsley

1 Orange

Equipment

Aluminum Foil

Plastic wrap

1 Baking Sheet

1 Mixing Bowl

1 Fork

1 Measuring cup

1 Coffee Mug

1 Box Grater

1 Small Bowl

1 Knife and Cutting Board

Measuring spoons

1 Kitchen Timer

From the Fridge


Mayonnaise  or Jarred Salad Dressing (i.e. Miracle Whip)


From the Pantry

1 Cup Instant Couscous

Pepper

Salt

Soy Sauce
Preheat your oven t0 350 F (180 C) and in a pot or kettle, put some water on to boil (about 2 cups).

Put a thick layer of foil on your baking sheet. Rinse your fish under the tap, and then dry with a clean tea towel or a piece of paper towel. Put the fish on top of the foil on the baking sheet.



Take your orange and carefully grate the very outer skin or zest into a bowl. See the image below. You'll be using half for the fish, and half for your couscous. Put half into the coffee mug and add about 1/2 a teaspoon of pepper, and 1/2 a teaspoon of salt. Mix it well with a fork and add 2 1/2 tablespoons of mayonnaise (this will make the fish extra moist), and 1 Teaspoon of soy sauce. Mix it well with a fork and spread it over the fish. Put it in the oven and set your kitchen timer for 12 to 20 minutes depending on how you like your fish done, or until the juices of the fish have turned a milky colour. 12 minutes will make the fish medium rare, 20 will make it well done.




While the fish is baking, prep your couscous. Put 1 cup of couscous in a heat safe mixing bowl or decent sized regular bowl and carefully, without burning yourself,  measure out 1 cup of the boiling hot water. Pour it on the couscous. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave it alone for about 5 minutes.
 
In the meantime, rinse your parsley, dry it with a clean tea towel or paper towel (or just shake it to get rid of excess water) and chop up the leaves using your carving knife. Discard the stems. Set it aside.

Take the same orange whose zest you used for the fish, cut it in half, and squeeze the juice from the whole orange into the bowl with the remaining zest. Add 5 Tablespoons of Olive Oil, and some salt and pepper to your taste, and mix with a fork.

Remove the plastic wrap from the couscous, and using the same fork, separate the grains by running the tines through it. See the image below.



Dump in your parsley, your 1 cup of craisins, and 1/2 a cup of sunflower seeds, and then pour in the olive oil juice mixture. Mix it with a fork until it looks like the image below.



Put the salmon on the plate and put the couscous on the side. The citrus flavors in both will make for a good match. Enjoy!

Serves 2 to 4 people, depending on the size of your filet, and the hunger level of your guest. This recipe can easily be doubled as needed. Have leftover couscous? No problem! You can always put what's left in a tupperware and take it to work for lunch.


Sammy's Laziest dessert

This is the quickest dessert I know, and the best part is: it looks fancy and everything you need is in the fridge and freezer!

Here's How You Do It

Equipment

1 Mixing Bowl

1 Spoon

1 Regular Bowl

From the Pantry

Jam

Vinegar (optional)

From the Fridge

Yogurt

From the Freezer

Frozen Berries

In a mixing bowl, mix 2 spoonfuls of jam with a cup of berries, and add 2 spoonfuls of vinegar if you wish. Let it sit for 15 minutes to allow the berries to thaw a bit. Put into a small amount into a bowl and top with a bit of yogurt and one extra berry and you're ready to go!

Serves 3.

Stay tuned for next week's edition!

-Samantha R. Gold

Questions? Comments? Requests?

Bring it on!

I can be reached at:  for.the.culinarily.challenged@gmail.com

Trolls will be unceremoniously deleted and dismissed.