Friday, May 25, 2012

Some like it hot

My latest food obsession, besides anything that can be barbequed, is hot banana peppers. I have previously, on occasion, purchased either a jar or small tin of jalapeno peppers for making quick guacamole as the preparation of raw ones is somewhat hazardous and a bit fiddly too. I usually end up using only half of one pepper and the other half quickly shrivels and dies in the fridge over the next couple of days. And that's if it even makes it to the checkout before falling out of the bottom of the shopping cart. I also find that the pickled/canned ones are hot but don't quite burn like the raw ones do which is nice. I feel hardcore eating hot peppers without actually scarring my digestive tract in the process. I had been exposed to the banana peppers (that come in 3 colours: red, orange and yellow and are cut with something similar to craft scissors so they have a zig zag edge pattern) at various salad bar type establishments. "Do you want hot peppers?" "Why not?" I'd say, throw 'em in. They add a nice flavour yet without the slighty-too-long lingering heat and taste bud damage. I was perusing the aisles on a leisurely shopping trip and saw the jars of these peppers and bought some, thinking it was a sizable jar compared to that of the jalapenos and the dregs may end up lingering in the fridge with various other partially used condiments that I'm saving for that certain recipe. Well, we're probably getting through a jar every 2 weeks now. I use them in salads, in grilled cheese sandwiches for PB, on top of burgers, mixed with canned tuna and grainy dijon mustard for a sweet potato topping and of course, just straight out of the jar.
PB and I also devised a new snack food for when we are watching Netflix. We barely watch any TV, but we usually watch 1-2 episodes of a TV show each night on netflix-no commercial breaks, yay! The first show was Prison Break. 4 seasons, 80 episodes. We devoured that (and loved it) and just started Rescue Me. We are 3 episodes in and I'm liking it so far. Ah, I digress.. back to the food. The snack is this. Some type of crackers,  a small square of sliced Havarti cheese (we usually have a pack of this ready to go for PB's grilled cheese sandwiches-I know-gourmet grilled cheese made with Havarti, Sprouted grain bread and banana  peppers), and topped with a slice of banana pepper. The slices of cheese are very thin and the crackers are small so I'm finding I can tolerate that amount of dairy without a problem. My favourite crackers are Mary's rice and seed crackers which you can get in most grocery stores these days but they are pricey at usually around $5-$6 a box so they are definitely a treat. The crackers in this pic were from Superstore and were left over from some snacks we had when we had some visitors recently. They are really small little squares, perfect for this treat.

Our other Netflix treat is kale chips, which I have blogged about previously. I have experimented with these and found that these are the key steps:
  • The kale must be bone dry. I used my salad spinner to draw out all the water and then pat with paper towel.
  • 300C is enough, cook them low and slow for about 15 mins and then check at 5 min intervals.
  • Try to tear the leaves quite big, the smaller leaves make for really small crumbs and they dry out faster in cooking.
I've used olive oil, coconut oil and avocado oil and like them all. The coconut oil is a little lighter and the olive oil is richer. I also add Nooch (nutritional yeast) as a topper and I mix it right  in with the oil and massage it in to the leaves with a bit of salt before cooking. The usual routine is to do the prep and heat up the oven ( 5-10 mins), put them in and watch half an episode. Pull them out when done and let cool and crisp up then watch episode 2 avec snacks. 1 big bunch of kale does not go far though, they shrink up a lot and taste delicious so none will be left over. I used to eat twice as many until PB tried them and decided he liked them so now I have to share. He even likes the nutritional yeast ones. Hint: if you are making these for other people, don't tell them the cheesy flavour is Nooch. Tends to scare people off like anything containing tofu does too. I love nooch, it's fab in soups or used as an alternative to Parmesan and gives me that cheesy hit I just don't get any other way without repercussions. I heard you can make a cheesy nacho type sauce with it too, that's next on the experiment list. Now I just need not to be sensitive to corn so I can put it on my tortilla chips!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Sunday Roast Reborn

Did I mention how much I love my BBQ? There are 2 reasons for this:
1) everything tastes good with just salt and pepper on it
2) no dirty dishes to clean up

The past weekend, I decided it was time to graduate from simple chicken or beef steaks to more advanced/sophisticated fare. First up was breakfast, well brunch technically, seeing as it was Sunday and at least halfway through the day.
Today's breakfast meat of choice was bacon. Pork is always the breakfast meat, I just don't have a craving for chicken or beef in relation to breakfast. We eat sausages quite a bit and are trying out different ones to see which we like. There is a local company that produces it's own sausages that don't have loads of preservatives in them but I find supply is hit and miss in the grocery stores. However, Superstore has some new sausages in both the frozen and fresh section that are pretty good. They are short fat little ones and they BBQ up nicely and don't shrink a lot. To go with the bacon, I mixed up a combo of halves of button mushrooms with halved parboiled baby potatoes. I added oil, salt, pepper and some dried herbs and threw them in the metal vegetable basket on the grill. I think I let them cook around 15 -20 mins so there were some charred edges and the potatoes were cooked through. the Bacon took all of 2 minutes as it was thin but streaky bacon but the hot hot temp crisped them up reallll niiiice as you can see. I'm glad we got the bigger grill, lots of space to spread out and give everything space.

I served this with scrambled eggs and grapefruit for PB ( I wish I like grapefruit, it looks so delicious and refreshing but it's so bitter..bleeugh! Along with coffee and fake cherry flavoring, it's one of the few things I just can't palate). For myself, I had half an avocado and salsa on the side of my bacon and potatoes. Good combo all around, bacon on the BBQ is fast, crispy and mess -free. No greasy pan cluttering up your sink and no fat-spattered oven top.
Not content with just one BBQ meal for the day, I already was planning the next. I had a nice sirloin tip beef roasting joint in the fridge and usually would roast this the traditional way but today, BBQ was the test. I thought that the high heat would sear the outside nicely and seal in the rich juices. Let's hope I was correct. I did the usual paste coating on the beef as follows:
2-3 shallots, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tsp dried rosemary
salt and pepper (liberal)

I mix this up and then rub it on the joint as below:
 The grill had been preheating for about 10 minutes and had reached 450F. I put the beef on and put the lid down as I went to chop up my parsnips for roasting on the BBQ. I sliced them into approx 2-3 inch long sticks with the hard core removed. I tossed in oil, salt, pepper and rosemary and then put them in the veggie basket on the grill once the meat was about half done. They don't take long, maybe 20 mins, and try to avoid really thin ends as they will easily burn.

 I monitored the meat and estimated it would take probably about 30 mins on the BBQ to be ready...i.e. seared on the outside, rare in the middle. I knew I'd be opening the grill to put the veggies in and check on the meat so maybe 35 mins might be needed. I knew the meat needed to rest for 10 mins too so I planned for the parsnips to go in about 10-15 mins before the meat was due to be done.


 Well, it turned out even better than expected. If I was a contestant on Come Dine With Me, or Dinner Party Wars...this is what I would make....and it would win. I'd prefer to be on Come Dine With Me though as Anthea Turner is soooo annoying. The beef was so rare and soft in the middle but the shallot paste seasoning was nice and crispy. One thing I am learning with beef in particular is to use salt...lots. Even more than you think is lots. It enhances the flavour immensely, especially with the use of the BBQ. The parsnips were equally good, cripsy on the edge, soft in the middle. we had lots of leftovers so we sliced them and refrigerated them for lunch. Even when reheated in the microwave, the meat stayed rare and tender. This is the way all my roasts will be done from now on! Just by chance we had another sirloin joint in the freezer as it had been buy one get one free in the tomorrow will be a repeat of last Sunday but with sweet potato BBQ fries this time.

Friday, May 4, 2012

I scream, you scream, we all scream for.....bananas?

My sugar surrender experiment is over. The results are in. Apparently, even though I don't consider myself to have a major sweet tooth or to eat that much sugar in any forms, refined or naturally occurring in fruits, I had trouble giving it up completely for 10 days. Which actually turned out to be 7 days when the cravings got so intense, I caved big time with 2 glasses of wine, half a Reeses bar and half a big bag of chips. Not a huge binge by some peoples standards but a tad more than a "slight slip up". I'm not totally sure if they were sugar cravings 100% as much as I may have just been craving for some variety or satisfaction or just plain hunger. When I withheld sugar, I had planned to also reduce my meat intake at the same time. I changed my breakfast to oatmeal or rice cakes with almond butter instead of avocado, salsa, beans and some kind of protein. I found I was hungry within 2 hours of eating and when you are trying to not think about eating certain things, it's becomes all consuming when you are hungry on top of that. Lunches and dinners were not really any different to usual but I found snacking hard as I was not as prepared as usual. Normally I would grab an apple or banana but I was trying to minimise my fruit intake. I had not stocked up on nuts and was consuming a fair amount of nut butter also so that wasn't my ideal go-to snack. That left raw veggies and rice cakes for snacks. I actually love rice cakes. I put nut butter on them or guacamole or marmite. But as I tried to balance less sugar and less meat, I found my starch intake increased a lot and they just don't sit well with me when eaten on a regular basis. Consequently I didn't feel as good as I expected and determined that a) I need a lot of protein, b) I am slightly addicted to sugar c) starches don't work for me. I'm glad I did the "sugar surrender" though and tried different ways of eating to determine my best diet. It has confirmed to me what works best and moving forward, I plan to ensure I have enough protein but I also am going to keep the sugar low for the most part. After 3 days of implementing this, I already feel better digestively and funnily enough, have eaten almost no sugar and have had no cravings. A little goes a long way, it seems.
Moving on to actual food now, Maple Maniac recently sent me this article with recipes to feed those dinner guests you have with food restrictions or issues....yep that's me, the worst dinner guest ever (minus the vegan part, I am all the rest-dairy intolerant, allergic to eggs, wheat intolerant etc). I find these days though that everyone is aware of other peoples dietary requirements and I've been amazed at the lengths people have gone to to accomodate me. I sometimes find it challenging to alert those offering invites to dinner about my allergies/intolerances as I don't want them to do extra work or to have to change their menu on my account. However, it's worse if I leave it and then have to either a) tell them I can't eat their food when it's in front of me or b) eat it and suffer the consequences. I read in one of my allergy free cookbooks that hosts would prefer to know and it's a good idea to offer to bring a special dish so they don't have to go out of their way. Mostly though, I find people are open to trying new things and actually, most meals are easily modifiable. The article details several delicious looknig recipes that fit a wide spectrum of dietary needs but one caught my eye "One Ingredient Banana Ice Cream". Sounds too good to be true, it's so easy, how come I have not heard of this before? I was skeptical. I haven't been able to enjoy ice-cream or come to think of it, most desserts, unless I've made them myself. I read the comments and reviews underneath the recipe. It seems this is as good as it appears. I must try it for myself.
There are a couple of key preparation steps to make this work though. You must peel and slice the bananas before freezing. Sounds simple but I have whole frozen bananas that I have stashed for making Maple banana bread (vegan) and I let them defrost, get all mushy and that is perfect for adding to the dough. For the ice cream, you need the banana slices to be frozen to make the icecream and then you eat it right away rather than making a mixture and freezing it.

2-3 sliced bananas, peeled and frozen

Place frozen banana slices in food processor. Turn on and leave it for 2-3 minutes until it forms into an ice cream like substance.


When I first did this, the processor sort of made it into a granular powdery state. I thought all was lost, it was too good to be true. But I kept the blender on and lo and behold, it did magically turn into ice cream like deliciousness!

I served it up into small bowls for PB and I and we tentatively sampled...amazing! rich, sweet, silky, soft, COLD! Depending on the ripeness of your bananas it will be sweeter or "greener" tasting but you could add some honey/maple syrup if you like. Apparantly the success of this dessert is down to the fact that bananas are one of the few fruits that contain fat naturally. Amazingly, it doesn't even taste that much of banana, it tastes like ice-cream.
If you want to get really complex, you could add some peanut butter, cocoa powder or even avocado (trust me, it won't taste like avocado, it just adds a layer of richness and more nutritional awesomeness).
I added cocoa powder, a couple of tablespoons. It was delicious but a slight powdery taste so I think I will add a little less and use riper bananas next time or add some avocado to moisten it.
I also made a batch where I served the ice cream with a spoonful of nut butter on top which worked well as a contrast of temperature and texture. I think vanilla would be a good addition too.
I highly recommend you try this, I am even going to serve it to my next dinner guests (along with my vegan brownies) without telling them it only contains banana but I know I'm going to want to share my secret before they leave-this one is too good not to share!