Thursday, January 26, 2012

Save the bananas!

As part of my plan to reduce my sugar intake, bananas have been sidelined and set aside for times when I am in dire physical need of carb replacement such as at the end of a half marathon or triathlon. Since I haven't done either a half marathon or triathlon in at least 2 years, bananas have not been that commonplace. However, they are in the house and PB eats one every couple of days. Don't get me wrong I LOVE bananas and I LOVE baking. So you can surely put love and love together and get Banana Bread. I have found an excellent recipe for banana bread that is totally vegan and tastes amazing. All testers of said bread have been in agreement of its taste, texture and yummi-ness so it's time to post the recipe. I've made it probably close to 10 times in the past few months and though I am very tempted to eat the whole loaf, I usually take some into work or put half in the freezer for a later date. If freezing, I slice it first and then wrap well. If you have ripe bananas, but no time to make banana bread, just throw them in the freezer until you have time. They will go black but don't worry about it. Due to the frequency of making this recipe, I have determined the following things:
1) the more banana you use the better
2) I like a few chunks in there of partially mashed banana
3) frozen bananas go totally black but are perfect on the inside for banana bread
4)you must buy bananas in advance (usually at least a week) if you want them to be overripe enough for a good banana bread.
5)licking the batter from the bowl is still the best part of the baking process. This is one time where you don't want a really efficient spatula because that will remove all trace of batter leaving none for you to clean up.
6) Never leave freshly cooked banana bread un-attended. It WILL be compromised as demonstrated here:

The recipe is from what I have come to refer to as my vegan bible (For any newbie readers, I'm not vegan but I am allergic to eggs so I do a lot of vegan baking), "The Everyday Vegan". It's called Maple Banana Loaf and I like it because it doesn't contain any soy (if you use a non soy milk alternative), any hard to get ingredients and it's relatively healthy as far as cakes go.

Maple Banana Loaf
1 & 3/4 cups whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinammon
pinch of sea salt (go very carefully here, too much will taste very strong)
1/2 tsp fresh nutmeg ( I used dried nutmeg spice-works just fine)
1 cup very ripe banana, mashed ( I usually add about 1 & 1/4 cups, approx 3 med bananas)
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
1/2 cup soy milk, ( I use rice or almond milk and I find 1/3 cup is enough)
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tbsp canola oil
1 tsp Sugar or sucanut to sprinkle on top of batter ( this is not in the recipe but I find it adds a key element and really makes the recipe)

Preheat oven to 350F.
In large bowl, combine dry ingredients, sifting in baking powder and baking soda. Mix well.
In a separate bowl, combine mashed bananas with maple syrup, milk and vanilla. Mix well and add to dry mixture.
Stir through and add canola oil just as batter comes together (do not over mix).
Pour into lightly oiled loaf pan. (Sprinkle sugar on top if you wish!) and bake for 45-50 mins until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Do you Sesame?

I have designated Toasted sesame oil one of my kitchen staples/essentials. It's an ingredient that can turn basic steamed veggies into an aromatic, taste bud explosion and for that reason, it's my current, and potentially life-long, obsession. However, there is one major flaw in this simple set up...where to get sesame oil. Now you can get it at most grocery stores, but I am looking for toasted sesame oil, not the regular oil. This week I used up the last of my remaining toasted sesame oil and was disappointed to not find it at any of the grocery stores I went to. So I resigned to being without it for a while and committed to find a reliable source. On an unrelated mission, Pb and I headed out to the Hydrostone in Halifax (click here for more info) looking for home decor inspiration. The Hydrostone market is a block wide row of cool little stores including a bakery, a cafe, a bistro and an oil and vinegar store. Bingo. The store is called "Liquid Gold Tasting Bar and all things olive" and is a foodie mecca and a half. An array of vessels with "do it yourself" sample taps caused extreme excitement which was compounded by the soft white bread cubes we could use for said sampling. Blueberry balsamic, cinnamon pear balsamic, Tuscan herb olive oil, the list goes on.....and included roasted (aka toasted) sesame oil. With some assistance from the staff due to a tap malfunction, we were presented with small sample. we were instructed to smell it. KAPOW!!! wowsers, incredible aroma.....this is the mother of all sesame oils. I tasted some but knew they had me at roasted. We bought a small bottle along with some aged balsamic vinegar and tuscan herb olive oil.
When we got home, we tore into some crusty bread and soaked it in the classic oil and vinegar dip.....we devoured it, partly due to the wonderful taste and partly due to the fact we had not yet had lunch and it was 4pm, AND we had been to the gym on our way home.
Next on the sample/snack list was the Sesame oil. I mixed with some canola oil, some tamari sauce and drizzled over a ripe avocado with Mary's crackers on the side. So simple, so yummy, so perfect.

We will be back repeatedly to the oil and vinegar store to add to our collection very soon, I highly recommend it either for buying or just sampling and soaking up the experience. And to all my foodie friends reading this, please try to act surprised when I give you your next birthday gift.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The hot chick

Sunday is roasting day. Or as they say on Little Britain "It's the law". Yes, the British Sunday roast tradition is a tradition for a's delish. Beef, pork, chicken, lamb... whatever you choose, it MUST come with all the trimmings and be served between 5 and 6pm.
I don't do the Sunday roast as often as I'd like, mainly due to time constraints as PB and don't work a typical M-F work week. However, this Sunday I was committed and determined. It had been too long and it was frankly frickin' freezing outside at -15C with a windchill of -20C. Only a hot roast chicken would take the edge off that.
I had been told that it is possible to roast a chicken in under an hour at a high temp by PB's mum (aka condiment queen). She is a very good cook and so I was intrigued to try this method of cooking and subsequently checked the location of the smoke detectors were very far away from the oven. This was gonna get smoky.
I had a small air chilled chicken from Superstore. They are one of the few places that sells air chilled chicken and IMO, it makes a big difference with the moistness of the meat when cooking.
I checked out some methods online and determined that 425 F/220C was the key temp.
I pre-heated the oven to 425F, brushed the chicken excessively in melted butter and then sprinkled on dried rosemary, sage and savory and threw in some salt.
I put the bird in a really oversized pan (we don't have a smaller one at present) and put the oven light on so I could check that it wasn't on fire without opening the door and adding a whole lot more O2 to said fire.
CQ was right. This method works. Yes there was smoke when I opened the door (and a fair amount of fear-this is why wine is mandatory when trying new recipes) but I attribute that to the (excessive) butter spreading out over the pan base and the chicken fat joining it. I don't have an issue with that and the smoke detectors didn't go off once. 45 mins later I was still skeptical and got my meat thermometer out to do the all important 185F test. The needle on that thing moved faster than the speed of light. This bird was done and done!
And yes it was moist, the skin was crispy, the meat was very tasty and from now on, this will be my default cooking method for poulet!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

It's all about the sauce

MMMMmmmm Satay! who doesn't like meat on a stick with a yummy dipping sauce?
This simple satay is one of my favourites and what makes it so is the sauce. The satay skewers are the standard chicken that's been marinated for as long as you have time to do so, but really it's a platform for the amazing dipping sauce it is served with.
Quick grammar lesson!
The term marinate/marinade is often used interchangeably but the correct use is as follows:
A MarinaDe is the sauce you are using to MarinaTe the meat/fish/veg. Marinade is a noun, Marinate is a verb.

Back to the food. Satay is a great appy or light meal and also an ideal choice for finger food when having guests over for casual nibbles and drinks. The chicken marinade is not really a recipe as such, you can throw in what you like but this dipping sauce is from a Weight Watchers cookbook. The only difference I made is that I used full fat coconut milk not reduced fat as the recipe stated.

Chicken Satay with peanut dipping sauce (makes 8-10 skewers)
2 chicken breasts sliced into strips
2 garlic cloves, crushed
juice and zest of 1 lime
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 tbsp fish sauce or soy sauce
1 tbsp fresh ginger, grated

Dipping sauce
6 tbsp coconut milk
3 tbsp peanut butter
4 tsp honey
zest and juice of 1 lime
1 tbsp fish sauce

Soak skewers in water for at least 30 mins. The challenge I find here is finding a vessel long enough that the skewers can lie flat to soak. I used a baking tray.
Mix up marinade for chicken and mix with chicken. Cover and chill for 30 mins-4 hours (however long you have).
Once ready, pre heat broiler/grill to high and lightly oil a baking tray.
Thread the chicken on to the skewers being careful not to pack it too densely otherwise it won't cook through.
cover ends of skewers with foil to prevent them burning.
Place skewers under broiler for a few minutes and then flip over to do other side.

While they are cooking, mix together the ingredients for the sauce and use a fork or whisk so it goes smooth. I have made the sauce a few times and really a recipe is not necessary and the measurements are to be used loosely. The peanut butter and coconut milk are the base so throw in what ever else you want. And don't be afraid of fish sauce. It really does not taste fishy and adds a great light saltiness to sauces and marinades. If you really don't want to use it or don't have it, use soy sauce but go easy on it as it's much saltier.

And that's it. When serving as a main, I usually like to have some steamed veggies on the side with a soy(or tamari) and toasted sesame oil drizzle, as pictured here:

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The thighs have it.

For some reason it has taken me a really long time to post this recipe for lemon chicken which is one of my absolute faves. I love making it because there are several steps involved so I always feel like I am really cooking and it's one of those recipes when you can live the cliche of drinking a glass of wine as you cook, because there is wine in the recipe, so of course, the rest of the bottle must not go unwasted and the first pour should always be into your wine glass and not into the food. Secondly, it's an absolutely dee-lish-ous recipe. I cook it at least once a week and have cooked it for friends who all wanted the recipe and mmm'd a lot while devouring it. The chicken literally has a velvety texture and you will want more and more of it. I am salivating right now thinking about it and am making it tonight. Thirdly, it reminds me of a great day of fun at a cooking class (where I got the recipe from) that PB bought as a gift for me last year. Click here to read all about it in a older post. Finally, it was the first meal we cooked in our new kitchen. The first meal was ate was pizza and beer the day we got the keys but that is mandatory and we didn't actually cook as we had nothing in the house to cook, cook with or eat with. The picture above is of a time when I cooked it in the rental apartment. The pic at the end of the post is of the first meal we ate in our new home.

Lemon-licious chicken thighs (serves 3-4)

6-8 small boneless skinless chicken thighs
juice of 2-3 lemons
handful white or wholewheat flour
1 tsp oregano
salt and pepper
1-2 tbsp olive oil
1-2 tsp butter
100 ml white wine (this is optional, you can make it without. There is enough liquid from the lemons for the dish to work)

Pre heat oven to 375F.
Pound out the chicken thighs with a meat mallet until about 0.5-1cm thick. I don't have a meat mallet so I improvise and use a rolling pin wrapped in cling wrap.
mix the oregano and salt and pepper with the flour and put on a plate for dredging.
Dredge Chicken thighs in flour mix
Heat butter and olive oil over medium high heat in heavy based frying pan.
Add chicken thighs, 2-3 at a time to pan and fry on both sides until browned but not cooked through.
Place browned thighs in an ovenproof dish and pour over wine. Top up your wine glass also. Squeeze juice of lemons over top and cover dish with foil.
Bake for 15-20 mins until chicken is cooked.
Serve with steamed veggies and remainder of wine.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Shout out to Steph!

Steph (aka Ms Crow Pose) is PB's sister, a fellow foodie and an excellent cook. She is also great at buying presents and PB and I were very excited to receive a package from her when we moved into the new place. It contained 4 very well wrapped gifts that were clearly not easy shapes to wrap. PB and I grabbed one each and opened them simultaneously after "cheers-ing" with them as we do with many things just because. The first one was the largest and heaviest and a clear candidate for best idea ever....A jar of Maple Bacon Peanut Butter! (Maple Maniac will literally cry tears of joy, or even maple, when she hears about this). Of course I opened it and had a sample right away....yup, that will do nicely.
2nd was a smaller cylinder that materialised into a hot chili sriracha style sauce. I LOVE hot sauce and put it on everything from rice to avocado and even in my green tea and it's great as a dip for marshmallows. okay okay, not the green tea or marshmallow bit. Just highlighting how much I love the stuff. The new kid on the fridge door block is not going to last long I can tell.
3rd and 4th gifts were again "cheers-ed" and ripped open to reveal Japanese Sesame Salt made by the Hot Chick Spice Company whom I love and have mentioned before so click here if you want to read about it. I have made sushi a few times and so I'm keen to make something amazing using this and also to try it as a rub for meats and fish, salmon in particular.
4th and final gift was some gourmet pasta, but not made of wheat.....thanks Steph, so considerate :-) Instead it is made of pumpkin, rice and ginger. And we all know how much I LOVE ginger. I will have to ask Steph to reveal her sources as I'm going to need more and I'm sure as word spreads, others will too and we don't want any riots do we? (Maple Maniac, I'm talking to you).

I'm thinking a good challenge would be to create a dish with all 4 of these ingredients in....Iron Chef style-ee. Now I just need to get Iron Chef Morimoto to come to my house somehow....

Sunday, January 1, 2012

New Year, New Kitchen

Jan 1st...again...already?!! 2011 was a good one, a very good one. The move East has been very successful and tomorrow we will move in to our dream home here. I'm excited about the whole house but probably most of all, I'm dying to get into the kitchen. It's much bigger that the current condo sized one we've been in for the past 4 months (which is a good size for a condo kitchen) and although the apartment has been great, both PB and I have struggled with the constraints of the space.

Now we will have lots more space aaaand an island! and to go along with the fab kitchen (pic below complete with moving-in crap all over the island), we have a big deck which will be housing a BBQ as soon as it's warm enough to get out there and grill without the cooked goods being re-frozen before getting them back inside.

I have some foodie plans for 2012 as follows:
  • Reduce my sugar intake. I've experimented with this a bit over the past year or so and definitely notice a big difference when I don't eat sugar, like waking up before my alarm in the mornings. It's not sustainable 100% of the time so I will have a cheat day every 6-7 days to indulge a little. Cheating does not mean going crazy and eating crap. It means eating the things I want to eat in moderation and satisfying any cravings. My current craving of choice is a Tim Hortons sausage muffins(minus the egg) and maybe throw in a hash brown. For the purpose of clarification, sugar means starchy carbs, candy, high sugar fruits (bananas, mangoes) and dried fruits.
  • Eat more vegetarian and vegan foods. I'd like to commit to this 2 nights a week.
  • Have people over for dinner! This was not really an option for the past 4 months due to very limited seating and entertaining options but new house is VERY conducive to hosting guests.
  • BBQ. A lot.
  • Have a super awesome veggie patch. It's not in existence yet but PB has big plans for the yard. Can't wait for freshly picked lettuce and homegrown strawberries.
  • Eat more sushi. I have cut back a lot since moving East as it's more costly here and less prevalent, plus I've been eating home a lot for economic reasons. I've decided I need to plan it into my budget more as frankly, it's a food group I can't live without. Hoping to make more sushi at home like last year too.
  • Be a more regular blogger......really. I feel like life has settled down now to a more regular existence and so I'll have more time to relay all my foodie finds to you.