Monday, July 30, 2007

0 Recipe #5: Broccoli Stir-Fry in a Spicy Thai Peanut Sauce

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Broccoli Stir-Fry in a Spicy Thai Peanut Sauce

Sauce Ingredients:
1 1/2 Tbsp. garlic (about 4 medium garlic cloves), peeled & minced
1 tsp. ginger (about 1" piece), peeled (using the side of a spoon) & minced
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. crushed red chili pepper flakes
2 Tbsp. dry-roasted, unsalted peanuts
1 Tbsp. reduced fat, natural style (i.e., no sugar added) creamy peanut butter
1 Tbsp. fresh cilantro, finely minced
2 Tbsp. lime juice
1 tsp. soy sauce
2 tsp. honey
1 tsp. sesame seed oil
1/2 Tbsp. sesame seeds
1/3 c.light/lowfat, unsweetened coconut milk (from a can) (or if unavailable, use light plain soy milk or water)
1 scallion, chopped crosswise into thin rounds (use whole scallion, including green portion)

Stir-Fry Ingredients:
3 c. broccoli (Chinese broccoli is particularly fantastic; if unavailable, use common, "calabrese" style broccoli)
1/2 c. water

Directions: Using a mortar & pestle, make the garlic ginger paste. This is done by combining garlic, ginger, & salt, pulverizing the mixture until it turns into a smooth paste. (The salt not only provides flavor, but aids in the pulverization process.) Next, add red chili pepper flakes, crushing them with the pestle until well, combined. Add peanuts & grind them into a fine, crumbly powder (or as close to that consistency as possible). Add peanut butter, cilantro, lime juice, soy sauce, honey, & sesame seed oil, continuing to smash together ingredients until well-blended. Gently mix in sesame seeds, and then transfer ingredients to a small sauce pot. Combine with scallions & 1/3 c. coconut milk (or plain soy milk or water), mix well, & cook for a minute or so, only enough to warm the sauce without browning it.  Set aside. Next, lightly steam broccoli in water, being careful not to overcook, brown, or burn. Broccoli should be firm, not limp or mushy. At this point, the water should be almost completely evaporated & the broccoli should still be a bright green color. Remove from heat, drain any excess water, & divide into equal portions. Top with peanut sauce, and serve with (long grain, brown) basmati rice or cellophane/rice noodles.

Chef's Notes: To save time, you can make the sauce using a food-processor instead of a mortar & pestle. In that case, just dump in all of the sauce ingredients at once and pulse until smooth.

Alternate Preparation Ideas: This dish would taste really good made with carrots, tofu, and perhaps a few mung bean sprouts.  Or alternatively, you could substitute or add chicken or beef.

To make this recipe even lighter, you can substitute a 1/2 tsp. sesame oil + 1/2 tsp. water for the 1 tsp. sesame oil, and 1/6 c. light coconut milk + 1/6 c. water (or plain soy milk) for the 1/3 c. light coconut milk.  I realize most liquid measures don't have 1/6 c. markers, but just eyeball it and pour in about half of a 1/3 c. coconut milk & fill the remainder of that measure with water (or plain soy milk) up to the 1/3 c. line.

Yield: Serves 2.

0 Spice Is Life

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To quote Dune, "Spice Is Life." (Yes, I'm a closet sci-fi geek.) And my family's probably encountered more spice this week through the dinners I've cooked for them than in an entire year of any previous cooking sessions in the Irwin home.

Needless to say, Pan-Asian home cooking is rather new ground to my immediate family. I've been breaking them in slowly but surely. Although they are accustomed to eating at Indian and Thai restaurants, they don't really have experience making these types of cuisines at home. That's where I come in. ;-)

My family's feedback regarding the last two night's dinners have been generally positive. (The masala salmon, corn curry, & marinated fennel & tomato dish got particularly rave reviews.) They've enjoyed the meals I've made, although my mother & sister have commented that they aren't quite used to eating all of the different spices yet (they're stomachs are still adjusting!). Of course, my fiancé Erik is quite used to my rather "adventurous" gourmet cooking by now, and enjoys trying new dishes he's never encountered before.

Since my family's not used to this particular style of cooking, I've made an express point of toning down the level of spice in the past few dinners I've cooked for them as sort of a gentle intro to this type of cuisine. This is why Erik was surprised that my family still thought the dishes were spicy; he thought the meals I made for my family were actually rather mild! ;-)

By cooking out-of-the ordinary dishes for dinner, I'm definitely changing up my family's usual regimen, and am expanding their culinary horizons. It's been fun going grocery shopping for fresh ingredients, and making meals from scratch.

I cooked another gourmet meal for my family tonight. On the menu was fennel & bean soup and spicy plantains with coconut chutney (minus a few serrano peppers to tone down the heat!).

My parents' local grocery store didn't carry unsweetened shredded coconut, only the sweetened kind, so the only option was to purchase a whole coconut & process it myself. It was hard work, but I really enjoyed cracking open, shelling, & shredding the coconut by hand. That was certainly a fun challenge. There's nothing like having the perfect excuse to unabashedly hammer the living daylights tut of large sturdy objects -- Picture that scene from the movie "Office Space," but instead of a fax machine, substitute a large hairy coconut. ;-) )

I'll post the fennel & bean soup recipe on this blog at some point. The other recipes came from cookbooks.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

0 Masala Tea & A Movie

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I cooked so much food from yesterday's Indian supper that we had enough left over for a full dinner tonight. Yesterday's masala tea was a big hit last night, so I made more again tonight to accompany our after-dinner, in-home movie.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

0 Recipe #4: Mango Salsa

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Mango Salsa

Ingredients:
2 large, mangoes, peeled, pitted, & cubic 1/2" pieces
3 medium-sized, vine-ripened tomatoes, diced
1 ripe avocado, peeled, pitted, & diced into cubic 1/2" pieces
1/2 large red onion, diced into cubic 1/2" pieces
1/2 jalepeño pepper, finely minced
1/3 c. cilantro, finely chopped
1 Tbsp. fresh oregano leaves, finely minced (or 1 tsp. dried)
1 Tbsp. distilled white vinegar
juice of 1 lime
juice of 1/2 lemon
2 tsp. ground cumin
salt, to taste

Directions: Mix all of the ingredients together & refrigerate for 3-4 hours before serving, to allow ingredients to marinate. Serve & enjoy!

Chef's Notes: Goes well with chicken, fish, jicama, radish slices, or of course, you can do the traditional chips & salsa thing. For a healthier snack, try baked chips instead of fried.

Yield: About 6 cups.

0 An Indian Feast

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Tonight I'm going to making an Indian meal for my family (my mother, father, & sister) and my fiancé, Erik. My mother & sister don't normally cook Indian food for their families, so it'll be something different for them to experience. My sister and mother have told me that they are excited to try the recipes that I've been raving about, and with a little help & encouragement, would like to reproduce the meal for themselves. Tonight's menu will be Route 79 Masala Salmon, along with 3 vegetable dishes -- corn curry (made with farm-fresh "butter & sugar" corn!), a refreshing summer dish of marinated fennel & tomatos, & a Chinese-inspired spinach dish with garlic, sesame, & soy sauce.

For dessert, I'll be serving a mix of fresh red & black raspberries, gooseberries, & blueberries, and masala tea.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

0 Recipe #3: Summer Sangria

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Sangria is such a cool & refreshing summer drink; it always reminds me of the outdoor summer dinner parties my mother sometimes throws for family & friends, out on her porch deck. These get-togethers are fun & casual, low-key affairs. We typically sit around the patio table, umbrella overhead, relaxing and just enjoying the evening. For me, these gatherings signal the middle of summer, usually around July, when the weather is at its hottest. The chilled sangria my mother serves at those parties always manages to hit the spot. :)

I enjoy continuing that tradition, chez Cyberpenguin. :) Below is my own original version of this classic summer beverage. Enjoy!

Summer Sangria

Ingredients:
1 orange (about 6 oz.), seeded & sliced into thin rounds (leave peel intact)
1 lime, sliced into thin rounds (leave peel intact)
1 lemon, seeded & sliced into thin rounds (leave peel intact)
2 peaches, pitted & sliced into wedges
4 apricots, pitted & sliced into wedges
1 mango, peeled & sliced into bite-sized wedged
1 c. sliced fresh strawberries (about 8 medium-sized strawberries)
1 c. pomegranate seeds
2 cinnamon sticks, broken in half
1 bottle (750 ml.) dry red wine (i.e., Rioja, etc.)
1  c. orange juice
1 c. pineapple juice
2 Tbsp. Cointreau (or other orange-flavored liqueur like triple sec or Curaçao)
2 shots crème de cassis
2 Tbsp. honey
8 oz. chilled seltzer water (club soda)
ice cubes
mint sprigs (for garnish)

Directions: Add orange, lime, lemon, peaches, apricots, mango, & strawberry slices into a large pitcher. Next add the pomegranate seeds & cinnamon sticks. Pour in wine, orange juice, pineapple juice, Cointreau (or other orange-flavored liqueur), crème de cassis, & honey. Stir until honey is dissolved, and then refrigerate overnight. Pour in the seltzer water just prior to serving. Add ice to the pitcher or to individual glasses, and garnish glasses with mint sprigs. Enjoy!

Chef's Notes: If you can't find peaches, mangoes, and strawberries in season, substitute with frozen.

0 Smoothies & Simple Meals

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Abs Diet
Abs Diet For WomenAfter 3+ weeks of cooking & eating Indian food, I've decided to switch gears for a while, & go back to following the Abs Diet nutrition plan, as well as the Cool Running's Couch to 5K exercise plan & have downloaded a really cool podcast version of the program, all of which I highly recommend. I'm switching to the Abs Plan NOT because Indian food isn't healthy (because it most certainly is!), but purely due to time-constraints. [These days I've got a lot of sales meetings (for my Wildfire Designs & Ferlanti Couture businesses) & lately, don't have the time to cook time-consuming, super involved meals right now.]

A word about the Abs Diet Book: What I like about the book is that it's not a DIET book at all (in fact the author concurs & mentions that he very reluctantly employed this word to describe the book/nutrition plan). There are male & female versions of the book (see the right side of this webpage for links), and I highly recommend the book as one of the most sensible, non-dieting nutrition & exercise books out there on the market today. The author is the editor of Men's Health magazine, & outlines a health-plan very similar to the Canyon Ranch nutritional philosophy. He focuses on what GOOD things you'll GAIN through the plan (i.e., good foods you can eat, a once-a-week "cheat" meal, etc., & not on what you'll LOSE (although you will lose weight on the plan; I'm living, shrinking proof!). From a health & weight perspective, he talks about the essential importance of avoiding transfats & high-fructose syrups, which I've already been doing for a very long time now, even before I got my hands on this book. The diet is protein-centric, as well as fiber-centric, and makes lots of common sense. There are no weird or extreme routines here. You basically eat smaller meals, interspersed with snacks. You eat breakfast, then a snack, lunch, then another snack, & dinner, followed by -- you guessed it -- another snack. There are lots of delicious smoothies, which can either count as a meal replacement (in their 16 oz. form) or as a snack (in their 8 oz. form).

I like to do my own version of their smoothie, which substitutes low-fat soy milk for the 1% milk and adds the juice of half a lemon, which makes the shake taste better & you also avoid having that uncomfortable, post-milk-consumption feeling. (I'll spare you the description, but those of you who know what I'm talking about, will definitely concur that this feeling is physically unpleasant.)

My entire nuclear family (Mom, Dad, & sister) really love this recipe, & have continued to drink the smoothies after my previous visit to see them (back in June). In addition to incorporating smoothies into their nutritional plans, they've also been going on walks together in the evening. So hooray for them & hooray for healthy habits!

If you're interested in purchasing this book -- either the basic template (geared towards men) or the customized version for women, just click on the corresponding photos (above) at the beginning of this post.

Friday, July 20, 2007

0 Recipe #2: Niña Colada

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As a little kid, I often wanted to be considered as "one of the grown-ups," as little kids are often prone to do. :) While on vacations, our mother &/or father might order a Bloody Mary or a Piña Colada; this was often one of the rare occasions when they'd actually order drinks (our parents aren't really drinkers). And since the adults were ordering cocktails, the kids would be allowed to order accompanying "mocktails" like Shirley Temples, Virgin Marys (a Bloody Mary without the alcohol) or Niña Coladas (the non-alcoholic version of the Piña Colada). It might sound silly, but it made us feel special. :)  It wasn't so much about alcohol -- we were much too young to pay much attention to stuff like that -- but rather, it was about the "coolness" factor of being able to "hang" with the grown-ups. This was way before we were teenagers of course. :)

And not surprisingly, I still retain a fondness for "mocktails" to this very day. :)

I'd like to think that just because I'm a grown-up doesn't have to mean I have to stop enjoying drinks of these nature. Sure, it might seem like a "little kid" thing to do, but as they say, why not stay "young at heart," right?! Plus, the non-alcoholic versions are probably a lot healthier for one's heart as well. ;)

Another benefit: There's no minimum (or maximum!) drinking age for mocktails. They can be enjoyed by all. :)

So, on that note, here's an all-natural, sugar-free version of one of my favorite mocktails, the Niña Colada. Enjoy!

Niña Colada

Drink Ingredients:
1 c. ice
1 c. fresh pineapple (frozen will also work)
1/2 c. light/lowfat, unsweetened coconut milk (from a can)
1 Tbsp. lime juice
2 Tbsp. lite soy milk
1 Tbsp. honey

Garnish Ingredients:
1 cherry
1 pineapple slice
1 lime slice

Directions: Toss drink ingredients into a blender & pulse until well-blended. Garnish with cherry, and slices of pineapple & lime. Serve & enjoy!

Yield: 1 serving.

Alternate Preparation Ideas: This recipe can serve as a basic template for other ideas. Some other creative uses for this recipe include smoothies (just add yoghurt & protein powder), punch (add a scoop of low-fat vanilla or coconut ice cream, and some club soda), and popsicles (just pour into popsicle trays and freeze!).

0 Recipe #1: The "Little Blue Penguin" Cocktail

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Gee, wonder what the inspiration was for THIS recipe?! Haha.

Warning: It's probably best not to consume too many of these in a row, or they might send you off the deep end, webbed feet and all. ;) You'll be frantically flapping your flippers to keep your head above water. LOL.
























The "Little Blue Penguin" Cocktail

Ingredients:
2 oz. blue Curaçao
1 oz. lime juice
1 oz. club soda, chilled
1 egg white
2 Tbsp. low-fat sour cream

Directions: Pour the ingredients into a blender & pulse until smooth & creamy. Pour into a shot glass & garnish with a lime slice. And down the gullet it goes. :) Cheers!

Yield: 1 cocktail.

0 Indian Cookbook Recommendations

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If you're looking to expand your cookbook library to include some definitive Indian food cookbooks, here are a few recommendations (for starters):

Indian Home Cooking: A Fresh Introduction to Indian Food, with More Than 150 Recipes (Hardcover)
Lord Krishna's Cuisine: The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking (Hardcover)
Classic Indian Cooking (Hardcover)
1,000 Indian Recipes (Hardcover)
The Everything Indian Cookbook: 300 Tantalizing Recipes--From Sizzling Tandoori Chicken to Fiery Lamb Vindaloo (Everything: Cooking) (Paperback)

And let's not forget the online recipe archives. ;-) See the Indian food recipe sites I've listed on the right-side of this web page for more resources.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

0 Indian Home-Style Cooking 101

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Hello Fellow Foodies,

Tonight, I'd like to share some thoughts regarding Indian home cooking: For those of you who are used to eating Indian food primarily at restaurants & have never had the wonderful pleasure of eating Indian food, either at someone's house or because you made it yourself, then please put aside all of your preconceived notions about what Indian food actually "is." To these people I say, "Get ready to have your world rocked!" ;-) In a good way, of course.

Indian food, as it's typically made by Indians in their kitchens (regardless of their nationality or place of residence), is NOWHERE near the same thing as what's served in restaurants (in America or many other parts of the world). In fact, it's much, much lighter (especially the sauces & daal dishes).

So, for those of you uninitiated skeptics out there who also claim to be "health food nuts" & misguidedly think that Indian food is generally too heavy on the oil, I challenge you to open your eyes (& mind!) to the diverse, wide world of Indian cuisine. It's never really wise to overgeneralize. (Hey that rhymes!) That would be like judging what you think of rock 'n' roll after listening to only one band, or even worse, a single rock album! Not only does Indian food vary from region to region, just like it does in most countries, it also varies from kitchen to kitchen & from cook to cook. It is possible to make delicious, healthy recipes that are not only low in fat but extremely good for the health of your body as well as your soul!

So, for those of you who've never made Indian food before in your life & are interested in learning how, I say this: If you are willing to expand your definition of Indian food beyond your experiences of eating at your neighborhood/corner Indian restaurant, learn about "new" spices & spice combinations as well as "new" cooking techniques, & perhaps make a trip or two to your local Indian or international market to pick up some "new" spices, then you will be on your way to experiencing the joys of Indian home-style cooking!

Friday, July 13, 2007

0 Welcome Friends, Family, & Visitors!

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NOTE: The above photo is a Polaroid picture of my sister & I taken at my sister's fifth birthday party. The cake you see pictured here was an original creation of my mother's. She designed it in the shape of a zoo caravan. The "wheels" are Girl Scout thin mints! Yes, creative cooking runs in the family. ;-)

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I'd like to start my very first blog post by inviting fellow foodies & gourmet cooks to post their comments on my blog. I'd like this blog to be a friendly place where people can congregate in cyberspace & talk about their eating and cooking experiences. This is the place to chat with like-minded individuals about food-related topics, and in the process, swap a few recipes, discuss cooking techniques, and recommend restaurants to each other.

Feel free to chime in & add your own 2 cents, as long as you can do it in a mature & cordial manner. Please be respectful of others and their opinions. While you don't have to agree with other people's opinions, we all have to live together in this big wide world, so let's all try our best to play nice & get along.

As we are all responsible for what we say & write, I shouldn't need to tell you what type of behavior won't be tolerated here (i.e., slurs & other denigrating behavior). While I'm not a prude, please keep in mind that this is a public forum that will possibly be seen by minors, so please keep that in mind when you post. I do moderate the comments posted to this blog, and won't allow posts that are littered with unnecessarily vulgar language & profanity in them. So try to refrain from saying things such as "bleepity, bleep, bleep, bleep"! ;-)

I hope you will get a lot of useful information from this site, and will enjoy reading my blog and sharing your thoughts with me.

And so, without further ado, I'd like to welcome you to my blog!

-C

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