Thursday, September 30, 2010

1 Recipe #177: Corey's Soothing Homemade Herbal Tea Remedy

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This all-natural herbal tea counts as a recipe, remedy, & a life-saver all in one. ;) It's one of my go-to recipes when I need something to soothe a sore throat or settle an upset stomach, especially when the weather starts to turn colder.

As a happy contrast to a lot of other tea recipes containing ginger, this one is a lot more subtly flavored, & thankfully a lot easier on the throat & taste buds. Frankly, I haven't really liked any of the pre-packaged varieties of ginger tea that I've tried thus far, because most were so strong that I couldn't drink them without feeling "the burn" all the way down. ;) At the end of the tea-drinking experience, I think my taste buds had been temporarily shocked into a state of total numbness. I couldn't taste anything but fire. ;)

So, I endeavored to make my own version, something truly pleasant & drinkable. Main criteria: Must be gentle & soothing, with no fiery aftertaste. ;) Believe me, I do love hot & spicy foods, but when one's tum is in a "state of emergency," hot 'n' spicy is the last thing it wants. ;)

Of course, the therapeutic uses of ginger -- particularly for the throat & digestive system -- are already quite well known. But did you also know that cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, mint, honey, lemongrass, and (moderate amounts of) lemon & lime juices can also have similarly positive effects upon these areas of the body as well? And, of course, it's no coincidence that all of these ingredients can all be found in the below recipe. :)


Corey's Soothing Homemade Herbal Tea Remedy

Ingredients:
4 c. water
1 Tbsp. fresh ginger, peeled & sliced into 4 thin rounds (about 1" piece)
2 stalks lemongrass, dried (or fresh, if available, with root ends chopped off/removed & discarded)
2  sticks cinnamon bark, dried
10 whole cloves, dried
10 whole green cardamom pods
1 Tbsp. fresh whole mint leaves, loosely packed
freshly squeezed lime (or lemon) juice, to taste
honey, to taste

Directions: Bring the (4 c.) water to a rolling boil in a medium-sized sauce pot or tea kettle, about 8 minutes. Add all herbs & spices & continue to boil for another 6-8 minutes. Remove from heat, allow to steep for another 1-2 minutes, strain to remove whole herbs & spices, & then pour into a tea pot. (If it's easier, use heat-proof tongs first to remove the larger pieces -- ginger, lemongrass, cinnamon bark, etc. -- before straining.) Pour into tea cups, add desired amount of lime (or lemon) juice & honey, and serve.

Yield: Makes about 4-6 servings.

Chef's Notes: Please be sure to use whole green cardamom pods (i.e., cardamom in its natural, unprocessed form) and NOT those horrible bleached ones that are sold in generic grocery stores (i.e., the cardamom pods from McCormick's Gourmet Collection). In the latter case, not only has their color been bleached out, but so has their flavor & nutrients! Trust me, you don't want to boil them: Bleached cardamom pods have a freakishly antiseptic flavor (Yuck!), and this flavor is only made worse by boiling them. ;) Conversely, green cardamom smells wonderfully vibrant & heady and when you boil the pods, along with the other whole spices, they will make your whole kitchen smell absolutely divine!

Green cardamom pods can be ordered online or found in a local ethnic (i.e., Indian, Asian, etc.) market.

Monday, September 27, 2010

2 Recipe #176: Crispy, Southern Un-Fried Chicken :)

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The original title of this post was going to be "Crispy, Oven-"No-It's-Not-Fried" Chicken." :-D Yeah, I know. What a mouthful. Pun intended. :) So the title was dropped in lieu of a shorter one....

Anyhow, I'd rather much talk about the recipe itself. :) So, the million dollar question is this: Is it possible to make crunchy, crispy, juicy chicken that's also lowfat & absolutely delicious? Yes, it's possible to achieve this. :) Just try this delicious "un-fried" chicken recipe, which is good for both your waistline & your taste buds. This chicken is oven-baked instead of fried, which makes it a lot healthier!


Crispy, Southern Un-Fried Chicken

Ingredients:
10 chicken drumsticks (or 5 breasts + 5 drumsticks) (about 4 lbs. total), washed, defatted, & patted dry
extra virgin olive oil, for spraying/coating baking tray
1 c. plain, nonfat Greek yoghurt
1 Tbsp. white distilled vinegar
1 Tbsp. ice water

Ingredients for the Breading:
1 c. dried plain bread crumbs
1 c. masa (harina de maiz, i.e., corn flour)
1 1/2 Tbsp. onion powder
1 Tbsp. paprika
1 Tbsp. dried thyme leaves
1 Tbsp. dried basil leaves
1 Tbsp. dried oregano leaves
2 tsp. garlic powder
2 tsp. dried parsley leaves
2 tsp. dried, ground bay leaves (pulverized in a food processor or spice grinder)
2 tsp. salt, or to taste
1 tsp. ground sage
1/2 tsp. dried marjoram leaves
1/2 tsp. ground savory
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. ground white pepper
1/4 tsp. ground cayenne pepper

Directions: Keep chicken chilled in the refrigerator until it's ready to be prepped & baked. It's very important that both the chicken & the yoghurt stay very cold, which helps the breading adhere to the chicken & contributes to its crispy texture. (If necessary, you can prep the chicken in an ice bath before working with it, in order to keep it super-cold.)

Preheat the oven to 400°F. With a spray bottle or Misto oil diffuser, lightly spray a large baking sheet with extra virgin olive oil & set aside. Mix together yoghurt, vinegar, & ice water in a medium-sized bowl until it reaches a sauce-like consistency. Cover & refrigerate until it's ready to be used. Next, pour all of the breading ingredients into a large resealable plastic/Ziploc bag, seal tightly, & shake vigorously to mix it all together. (These two steps can also be done a day or two in advance.)

Remove refrigerated ingredients (i.e., the yoghurt mixture & the chicken). Roll each piece of chicken in the yoghurt mixture & then transfer it, a piece at a time, into the plastic bag containing the breading mixture. Or, if you prefer, you can use a pastry brush to apply the yoghurt mixture, which helps to control the amount of coating you use & is also good for wiping off any excess. The yoghurt coating shouldn't be excessively thick, otherwise it'll be rather gloppy & messy when it comes time to add the breadcrumbs. ;) After placing each drumstick, one at a time, into the plastic bag, reseal the bag & shake it to thoroughly coat the chicken. Then transfer the breaded chicken to the baking sheet. Repeat this process until all pieces of chicken have been breaded. Place the baking sheet on the bottom shelf of the oven & bake for 1 hour, or until juices run clear & the flesh is no longer pink, turning the pieces every 20 minutes (with tongs) to allow for even browning. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Yield: Serves 4-5. Serving size = 1/2 large chicken breast or 2 drumsticks.

Chef's Notes: A brief word about handling & cooking raw chicken: Always wash your hands before & after handling raw chicken, to avoid bacterial contamination. Wash any surfaces that have come into contact with raw chicken in antibacterial soap & water. Never use a porous cutting board for chicken. And never return cooked chicken to a surface that contains raw poultry juices.

For health & safety reasons, cook chicken until juices run clear & the flesh is no longer red or pink. The meat of a fully cooked chicken should pull easily from the bone.

Also, be sure to work with dry hands when handling the chicken, as it's particularly important for this recipe. So, after dipping the chicken pieces into the yoghurt & then the breading, it's a good idea to wash & dry your hands after every two or three pieces or so, to keep your hands clean & dry & avoid unnecessary contamination of kitchen surfaces & fixtures. ;)

For even less fat, you can skin the chicken before baking it, but I find this makes it rather dry.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

2 Recipe #175: Wheatberry & Chía Pilaf with Seasonal Vegetables & Fresh Basil

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Sometimes, the best way to get inspiration for new recipes is to be creative with what you already have in the fridge, versus going out to get more ingredients. Making the most of what you already have in your kitchen can lead to some pretty innovative creations, because, when push comes to shove, the mind usually tends to work better with limitations that provide a framework, versus nebulous & nonspecific ponderings of the eternal question, "Gee, what can I make for dinner?" :-D

"Gee, what do I make for dinner tonight?" ;)
At least this is how it often works for me. Other possible strategies include: brainstorming, tossing a coin (LOL!), or letting your stomach dictate your dinner plans, which, if you're REALLY hungry can have mixed results, or, should I say, "consequences." ;)  Regardless, the objective is to narrow down the bounty of ideas, & settle upon something that pleases the taste buds & doesn't expand the waistline. ;) Again, the first strategy is probably both the safest & the most practical. :) So, that's the one I chose for tonight's dinner. I looked in my fridge & cupboards and saw a big bag of wheatberry kernels that I had yet to use, some chía, lots of dried spices, a few fresh herbs (including the basil growing in my kitchen), a bottle of (chilled) dry white wine, a lemon, baby carrots, a lone potato, & half a red bell pepper left over from the other night's recipe. So why not try to create something out of that? Sure, why not. That'd do. :)

Plus, I'd been wanting to create some new recipes using wheatberries & chía for a while now, but just needed the proper inspiration. I know there are lots of people who have never cooked or baked with either before, and so, whenever I mention them to people, I get a lot of quizzical looks, as well as some rather interesting questions and comments. ;) One of the most popular questions is "What the heck are these things anyhow?" Haha.

So let's talk about wheatberries first: Wheatberries are those little things that sprout into wheat crops. :) They come in many different varieties: The array of different species cultivated in the US are durum, hard red spring, hard red winter, soft red winter, hard white, soft white, all of which have slightly different sizes, texture, flavors, & uses.

Did you know that all wheat products are actually made from wheatberries, including both white & whole wheat flour? More importantly, these crunchy little seeds are exceptionally healthy for you. First of all, they are unprocessed whole grain kernels, so their nutrients (vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, etc.) remain intact, unlike flour or other processed wheat products, which lose much of their nutritional content after processing. Wheatberries contain all 3 parts of the grain - the bran, germ, & starchy endosperm. Only the hull, i.e., the inedible outer layer of the grain, has been removed. They are classed as a "superfood."

As for nutritional content, they are rich in vitamins A, B (i.e., B-complex vitamins), C, & E, manganese, selenium, phosphorus, and magnesium. They are also low in sodium & fat (3 mg. & 0.5 g. respectively, per 1/2 cup serving), and have zero cholesterol. (Of course, not surprisingly, wheatberries do contain gluten, so they're not suitable for people with wheat allergies or celiac disease.) Like chía, they are an excellent source of protein, carbs, & dietary fiber. Both grains are also low in calories: Wheatberries have 111 calories per 1/2 c. serving, while chía has 145 calories per 2 Tbsp. (These are typical serving amounts, & are also used in the below recipe, if you'd like to keep tabs on the amount of calories you'll be consuming in the below dish.)

Both chía & wheatberries have been used for weight management (in combination with a healthy, balanced diet) & lowering the risk of cardiovascular problems (i.e., heart disease, heart attack, stroke, etc.). Wheatberries also lower the risk of Type 2 diabetes & certain types of cancer: They contain lignans, phytochemicals that are thought to guard against breast & prostate cancer.

So what about chía's unique properties? Of the two varieties grown natively in Guatemala and central and southern Mexico, chía is known as either Salvia hispanica (i.e., dark brown or "black" chía, as it's called) or Salvia columbariae (often called "golden" or "white heirloom" chía). It's a member of the mint family, and has been cultivated since ancient times: Chía is thought to have been first grown by the Aztecs in the pre-Columbian era. And, not surprisingly, it's also a dietary staple of the modern Latin American diet.

Like wheatberries, chía is a whole (i.e., unprocessed), raw food, but unlike wheatberries, it's gluten-free, which, of course, is good news for those with wheat allergies or celiac disease. Another benefit of chía is that it can be eaten whole & uncooked with very little preparation, and due to its high level of antioxidants, can be stored for a very long time without spoiling. It's a hydrophilic colloid that's easily digestible, and thus, is good for the digestive system. It's also insoluble (i.e., it won't dissolve in water), and yet, can absorb up to 12 times its weight in water! So, it definitely needs to be soaked before it's consumed; otherwise it can actually dehydrate the body, leaching water from the stomach & intestinal tract. However, when added to water, it can aid in hydration, which is why it's often used by athletes to naturally enhance their performance. Runners often add chía to their drinks during long distance training runs & events, not only for hydration benefits, but also to provide extra energy (1 Tbsp. is said to provide 24 hours worth of energy!), bolster endurance, and prevent cramping.

What chía looks like in its gelled form.
After water is added to chía, it forms a gel-like consistency. Researchers believe that this same gel-forming phenomenon also takes place in the stomach, creating a physical barrier between carbohydrates & the digestive enzymes that break them down. This slows the conversion of carbohydrates into sugar as well as their absorption rate into the bloodstream. This process is what levels blood sugar, enhances endurance, creates satiety, & aids in intestinal regularity. Since chía metabolizes very slowly, it also helps to curb appetite. Due to its very low glycemic load (it has an index of 1!), it's especially good for diabetics & hypoglycemics. It also helps to improve thyroid functioning & fight fatigue, a common condition for those with thyroid problems. It helps lower cholesterol levels & chronic inflammation, & may also have cancer-fighting properties as well.

Chía is rich in amylose, (a slow-burning starch especially useful for hypoglycemics), low in saturated fat, & packed with a vast of array of vitamins & minerals -- especially calcium, phosphorus, & potassium. It's a complete protein, containing all 9 omino acids (with an unusually good ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 fatty acids), and has one of the highest ratios of Omega-3's of any plant source on the planet, even more than soy. It's got 15 times more magnesium than broccoli, 6 times more calcium than milk, 9 times the amount of calcium found in salmon, nearly 3 times more iron than spinach, & 2 times more fiber than bran flakes & yes, even more fiber than flax seeds. Plus, it's got one of the highest level of antioxidants ever measured, even greater than that of blueberries!

For all of these reasons, it has often been called the perfect food. Indeed, it is truly a "superfood," even though for some unbeknowst reason it seems to barely get a mention in the mainstream press as such, although it seems to have become more fashionable as of late in health-conscious circles.  I'm not quite sure why it's fallen below the radar amongst the general public: A lot of people I've talked with about it have never even heard of chía or weren't aware that you could actually eat it, aside from its obvious pop-culture associations in the American collective consciousness, i.e., the "Chía Pets" one might see advertised on late night TV. ;) (Yes, the grass that sprouts out of those "pets," does in fact, come from chía seeds!) As a member of the running community, I can tell you that chía is, in fact well-known as a superfood amongst nutritionists & people in the athletic community. In those spheres, chía's benefits have been widely touted to the skies. It's not unusual for chía to be a common topic of conversation, and several of my runner pals supplement their diet with this wonder seed.

To reap chía's full benefits, it's recommended that a person consume 2-4 Tbsp. per day.

So, enough about benefits & nutrition. Let's get to the important question you've all been wanting to know: What do chía & wheatberries taste like? ;) Well, wheatberries have a nutty flavor & are slightly chewy. When cooked, they soften & absorb the liquid of whatever they are cooked in. Chía is flavorless, and so, can be added to almost anything. When roasted, it takes on a pleasant, slightly nutty flavor.

Both require a little advance preparation: Wheatberries can either be soaked overnight in water or boiled in water for about an hour (!), in order to soften the kernels enough for cooking. Chía should be soaked for 4-5 minutes in 9 times the amount of chía used. So, for example, use 9 Tbsp. water for every 1 Tbsp. chía. Also, make sure you stir it while it's gelling, so that it doesn't clump.

OK, enough exposition. Onto the recipe!

 Wheatberry & Chía Pilaf with Seasonal Vegetables & Fresh Basil

Ingredients:
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 c. yellow onion, peeled & sliced into 1/4" thick crescent slivers (about 1/2 medium-sized onion)
1 Tbsp. garlic, peeled & finely minced (about 2 large cloves)
1 c. red-skinned potato, unpeeled, washed, scrubbed, & diced (about 1 small potato)
1 large fresh bay leaf
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 c. dried wheatberries, rinsed & soaked in boiling hot water overnight & then drained (makes about 1 c. cooked)
1/2 c. baby carrots, sliced crosswise into small rounds (about 8 medium-sized baby carrots)
1/2 (heaping) c. red bell pepper, diced
1/8 tsp. red chili pepper flakes
1/4 tsp. ground sage
1/2 tsp. dried, crushed rosemary leaves
1 tsp. dried thyme leaves
1/2 Tbsp. dried oregano leaves
1 Tbsp. ground sumac
1 c. dry white wine
1/2 c. water (optional, only add if necessary)
2 Tbsp. chía seeds (either black or white), soaked in 1 1/8 c. water for 4-5 minutes & then drained
1 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 Tbsp. fresh Italian flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped (stir in at the end)
1 Tbsp. fresh basil, julienned

Directions:  In a large (12-13") sauté pan, sauté onions, garlic, potatoes, & bay leaf in olive oil & butter for 5-7 minutes on medium low heat. Season with salt to reduce faster. (Tip: When adding salt, sprinkle from high above to ensure a more even distribution.) Next, turn up heat to medium-low & add the wheatberries, stirring continually for about 1-2 minutes. Watch pan carefully so wheatberries don't brown or burn. (This step is particularly important, as it cooks off the wheatberries's starchy coating & prevents the grains from getting sticky and mushy when the liquid ingredients are added. The wheatberries should be slightly crispy, but not browned.) Next add carrots, red peppers, & all of the remaining dried spices, and deglaze with white wine, stirring constantly, until liquid has been absorbed. (If the liquid cooks down too quickly, you can always add the optional 1/2 c. water, as specified above.) While reducing, add chía seeds in with about 1-2 minutes of cooking to go. When ready, remove from heat & discard bay leaf. Then stir in lemon juice, & garnish with parsley & basil. Serve hot.

Yield: Serves 3-4 as a main course, or 6-8 as a side dish.

Chef's Notes: The addition of ground sumac is very important to the flavor of this dish; it just won't taste the same without it, so it's best not to omit it. Sumac can be found at Mediterranean markets or online at my Amazon store. :) Also, you can pick up both chía and wheatberries there as well at a very reasonable price, due to the fact that many, if not most, of these online merchants have no storefront & thus no overhead costs, which allows them to offer products at much lower prices! -- You'll find these foods under the "Favorite Gourmet Groceries" category of my online store.

I prefer to use soft white wheatberries in the above recipe, which has a milder flavor & seems to soak up water more quickly.

Please note: The high fiber content of this dish makes it VERY filling. Trust me when I say that a little goes a long way. You won't believe how full you'll get on a portion that might seem a lot smaller than what you're normally accustomed to eating. Don't let your eyes trick you. Wait 20 minutes after eating a small bit, and you'll see what I mean. :)

Alternate Preparations: To make this recipe vegan, simply omit the butter.

Monday, September 20, 2010

0 Recipe #174: Mongolian-Style Noodles with Lemongrass & Basil

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Want to bring the flavors of Mongolian barbecue back to your home? Then try this recipe!

This was tonight's dinner. I was craving Mongolian barbecue, but it was getting rather late by the time we actually started to get hungry. And neither of us exactly feel like going out for take-out or having a sit-down meal at a restaurant. You see, the closest Mongolian restaurant to us is not exactly that close. ;)


Mongolian-Style Noodles with Basil & Lemongrass

Ingredients:
1 Tbsp. sesame seed oil
1 (heaping) c. yellow onions, peeled & sliced into 1/4" thick crescent slivers (about 1/2 small onion)
1 Tbsp. fresh ginger, peeled & finely minced (about a 1" piece)
4 c. water
1 block (2 servings) of dried chow mein stir-fry noodles (or soba noodles)
1 Tbsp. garlic, peeled & finely minced (about 2 large cloves)
2 stalks lemongrass, dried (or fresh, if available)
1 c. fresh shiitake (or "Baby Bella") mushrooms, thinly sliced (about 4 large mushrooms)
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. red chili pepper flakes
1/2 c. green bell peppers, destemmed, seeded, ribbed, & diced (about 1/2 medium-sized pepper)
1/2 c. red bell peppers, destemmed, seeded, ribbed, & diced (about 1/2 medium-sized pepper)
1/2 c. water chestnuts, sliced (about 1/2 of an 8 oz. can)
2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice
1 Tbsp. dry sherry
1 Tbsp. rice wine vinegar
1 c. fresh vine-ripened tomatoes, diced (about 1 1/2 medium-sized tomatoes)
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
2 Tbsp. whole scallions (including green stalks), sliced crosswise into small rounds (about 2 small scallions)
1 Tbsp. fresh cilantro, minced
1 Tbsp. fresh basil leaves, tightly packed & julienned (about 12 large leaves)
1/2 Tbsp. sesame seeds

Directions: In a large 12-13" sauté pan, heat sesame seed oil. Add onions & ginger & sauté on low heat for about 5 minutes.

While onions & ginger are cooking, bring 4 c. water to a rolling boil in a medium-sized saucepot (about 8 minutes) & then add chow mein noodles, cooking for about 3 minutes. Drain & set aside.

Add garlic, lemongrass, & mushrooms to the sauté pan, & cook for 5 more minutes. Season with salt & red chili pepper flakes, & stir. Turn up heat to medium. Add peppers, water chestnuts, lime juice, sherry, & rice wine vinegar, & continue to cook until slightly tender. Stir in noodles, tomatoes, & soy sauce, thoroughly mixing together all of the ingredients in the pan. Only cook just long enough to warm tomatoes; do not allow them to become soft & mushy. Quickly remove from heat & transfer to plates. Garnish with scallions, cilantro, basil, & sesame seeds. Serve hot.

Yield: Serves 2-3 as a main course, or 4-6 as a side dish.

Chef's Notes: Please note that the chow mein noodles listed/mentioned above are not the crunchy, fried variety that are usually served on top of American Chinese food. These noodles are dried & are usually sold in a sealed package, usually in multiples of 3 or 4 "blocks" of noodle "cakes."

If you are serving this dish as an entrée, it'd be a good idea to add a protein source like tofu, chicken, or beef, for nutritional balance. Anywhere from a 1/2 cup to a full cup is a good amount, depending on how many people you plan to serve.

If you'd like to pump up the heat of this dish, try adding 1 Tbsp. jalapeño pepper (about 1/2 small pepper). Destem, seed, rib, & then finely mince. Add them at the same time you add the bell peppers.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

0 Recipe #173: Enchiladas Suizas

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Enchiladas Suizas
, or "Swiss-Style Enchiladas," is a dish common to southern Mexican cuisine. The name of this entrée refers to its white, creamy sauce & melted cheese topping, & is a nod to the Swiss immigrant farmers who came to Mexico & established dairies to produce cream & cheese. :)

Enchiladas Suizas can be served atop a salad or underneath a bed of shredded lettuce with a side of Mexican rice &/or refried beans. This dish goes well with a tall glass of skim milk. Or, if you're in the mood for an alcoholic beverage, try pairing it with a dry white wine, margaritas, or beer.


Enchiladas Suizas

Ingredients For Homemade Crema (makes about 1/2 c.):
1/4 c. light nondairy creamer (or nonfat buttermilk or 1% low-fat milk)
1/4 c. nonfat, plain Greek yoghurt (or low-fat sour cream)
2 Tbsp. whole scallions (including greens), sliced crosswise into small rounds (about 2 small scallions)
1/2 Tbsp. unbleached, all-purpose flour
1/16 tsp. (a pinch) salt (optional)
1/16 tsp. (a pinch) ground white pepper (optional)

Salsa Verde Ingredients (makes about 2 c.):
8 oz. (1/2 lb.) whole tomatillos, husked & thoroughly washed (about 8 small tomatillos) (makes 1 c. roasted)
2 large whole garlic cloves, unpeeled (makes about 1 Tbsp. roasted)
1/2 small yellow onion, unpeeled (makes about 1 c. roasted)
1 whole poblano pepper, destemmed, halved, & then seeded & ribbed (makes about 1/4 c. roasted)
1 whole jalapeño (or serrano, for more heat), destemmed, halved, & then seeded & ribbed (makes about 2 Tbsp. roasted)
2 Tbsp. fresh cilantro, tightly packed & roughly chopped
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. ground black pepper
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. dried (Mexican) oregano leaves
3 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice (juice of about 1 medium-sized lime)

Enchilada Ingredients:
8 soft corn tortillas, 5-6" in diameter
4 tsp. extra virgin olive oil, or 1 tsp. per 2 tortillas
1/2 c. Monterey Jack (or queso manchego, asedero, or sharp cheddar), shredded (about 2 Tbsp. per enchilada)

Toppings/Garnish:
1/2 c. Monterey Jack (or queso manchego, asedero, or sharp cheddar), shredded (about 2 Tbsp. per enchilada)
1/2 c. green (&/or red) bell pepper, ribbed, seeded, & finely minced (about 1/4 large pepper)
1/2 c. fresh vine-ripened tomatoes (about 1/2 medium-sized tomato)
2 c. shredded iceberg lettuce (or green Napa cabbage) (optional) (1/2 c. per person/serving)
1 Tbsp. fresh cilantro sprigs, loosely packed & roughly chopped

Directions: Make crema & salsa verde first, a day or two ahead of time if possible, covering with plastic/Saran wrap & refrigerating until ready to serve.

Make crema: In a small bowl, thoroughly combine all ingredients for crema. Set aside.

Make salsa verde: Place tomatillos, unpeeled whole garlic & 1/2 onion, & both halves of the poblano & jalapeño peppers on a baking sheet & roast at 500°F on the bottom rack of the broiler, about 4" below the heat source, turning occasionally until softened & slightly charred. This takes about 6-8 minutes. Be sure to carefully watch broiler pan while vegetables are roasting. (If you have access to a grill, this would be even better/faster!) Let cool. Peel onions & garlic skins. Also, be sure to pull off & discard any particularly blacked bits of the tomatillos & pepper skins. Transfer to a blender (or food processor), along with remaining salsa ingredients (i.e., cilantro, salt, black pepper, cumin, oregano, & lime juice), & purée until smooth. Add 1/4 c. crema (i.e., 1/2 of the homemade crema sauce) & blend until well combined. (Reserve remaining half of crema to use later as a topping for the enchiladas.) Set aside.

Sauté tortillas: In a large (12-13") sauté pan, sauté tortillas, 2 at a time, using 1 tsp. extra virgin olive oil per 2 tortillas. Using tongs, flip them back & forth a few times, about 10 seconds per side, until they begin to soften & puff up slightly, & then turn a light, golden brown. Then remove, transfer onto paper towels, pat lightly, & drain. Let stand until they are cool enough to handle. Don't wait too long or tortillas will start to harden. ;)

Important: Be sure to sauté the first batch of tortillas, 2 at a time, & assemble them into enchiladas before beginning to sauté the next batch. This way, tortillas will remain pliable & be easier to assemble.

Assemble the enchiladas: Starting from the end of the tortilla that's closest to you, sprinkle a line of shredded cheese along the edge of each tortilla & roll tightly into a tube (i.e., rolling tortilla away from you). Quickly cover the bottom of a 7" x 11" rectangular Pyrex glass baking dish with a little of the salsa verde (about 1/4 c. or so), spreading it out into a thin layer. (This will prevent the enchiladas from sticking to the bottom of the baking dish.) Then place each enchilada into the dish, seam-side down, with each one wedged in tightly next to the other; the dish should hold all enchiladas snugly in a single layer.

Repeat the process with the remaining tortillas and cheese. Pour remaining salsa verde over enchiladas, followed by 1/2 c. cheese, evenly distributing the toppings across the dish. Cover with aluminium foil & bake in preheated 350°F oven for 25-30 minutes, or until piping hot. Remove foil & continue to bake for another 8-10 minutes, until cheese has completely melted & has started to brown. Remove from oven & let cool slightly. Top with remaining crema & garnish with green & red bell peppers, diced tomatoes, & cilantro sprigs.  Place enchiladas onto a bed of shredded lettuce (or Napa cabbage), if desired, & serve immediately. This dish can either be served on its own, or accompanied by a side of refried beans &/or Mexican rice.

Yield: Serves 3-4, about 2-3 enchiladas per person.

Chef's Notes: While it's preferably to eat enchiladas on the same day they're assembled, it's also possible to freeze them & reheat them later. They can either be refrigerated up to 72 hours, or frozen for up to 1 month. Chill or freeze remaining cheese separately in resealable plastic bags or freezer bags. If frozen, thaw enchiladas in the refrigerator overnight before reheating. Bake, covered, in a 350°F oven for about 30 minutes. Top with remaining cheese & then bake, uncovered, for 5 minutes more or until cheese has melted.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

0 Recipe #172: Light & Creamy Fettuccine Alfredo

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Here's a light & healthy recipe for fettuccine alfredo, unlike a lot of heavy, extremely fattening versions that leave you feeling like there's a lead brick lodged in your stomach. :) So go ahead & enjoy it: All of the taste, & none of the guilt!


Light & Creamy Fettuccine Alfredo

Ingredients:
6-7 c. lightly salted water, seasoned with a drop of olive oil
2 servings dry, uncooked Barilla (non-egg) fettuccine (use spaghetti measure)
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp. garlic, peeled & finely minced (about 2 large cloves)
1/2 c. yellow onion, diced (about 1/4 large onion)
1 large, fresh bay leaf
1/4 - 1/2 tsp. salt, or to taste
1/8 tsp. ground black pepper, or to taste
1/8 tsp. ground white pepper, to taste
1 tsp. unsalted butter
1 Tbsp. corn starch (or another thickening agent like arrowroot powder or unbleached, all purpose flour)
1/2 c. light, nondairy creamer
2 c. skim milk (or 1% if you prefer an even creamier sauce)
1/2 c. Parmigiano Reggiano, shredded
1 tsp. fresh oregano leaves, loosely packed & roughly chopped
1 Tbsp. fresh Italian flat leaf parsley, tightly packed & roughly chopped
1/2 c. nonfat Greek yoghurt (or low-fat sour cream)
1 Tbsp. fresh basil, tightly packed & julienned
1/16 tsp. (i.e., a pinch) ground nutmeg
1 Tbsp. (additional) Parmigiano Reggiano, shredded (for garnish)

Directions: Bring lightly salted, seasoned water to a rolling boil, about 8 minutes. Add fettuccine & cook according to package instructions. (Barilla fettuccine takes about 8-10 minutes.) When pasta is ready, remove from heat & drain.

While pasta is cooking, make the alfredo sauce: Sauté garlic, onion, & bay leaf in olive oil on low heat in a large (12-13") sauté pan until tender, about 5-7 minutes. Season with salt, & black & white pepper. With about a minute to go, add butter & corn starch in a separate area of the pan, stirring thoroughly to combine, using a whisk, until it's formed a thick roux. When butter has melted, turn up heat to medium-low and quickly pour in creamer, milk, & (1/2 c.) cheese, whisking continuously with each addition. Next, stir in oregano. After about 4-5 minutes, sauce should begin to bubble. Continue to cook until sauce thickens & becomes rich & creamy. Continue to stir to break up any skin (from the milk) that forms on top. With about a minute or two to go, stir in parsley. Remove from heat & stir in yoghurt (or sour cream), basil, & nutmeg. Stir thoroughly to combine. Discard bay leaf. Next, add (drained) pasta to the pan & stir to make sure all of the pasta is covered in sauce. Divide up evenly and transfer to two plates. Sprinkle with additional (1 Tbsp.) cheese & serve hot. Buon appetito!

Yield: 2 servings.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

0 Recipe #171: All-Natural, Homemade Trail Mix

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This recipe is SO easy to make. I like making trail mix at home, because I can control what goes into it and keep it healthy. ;)

So take this with you the next time you go hiking.... It's nutritious and fiber-rich, and will keep you going up those hills..... :-D



Homemade Trail Mix

Ingredients:
1/2 c. rolled oats
1/4 c. unsalted pumpkin seeds, shelled
2 Tbsp. (1/8 c.) unsalted roasted cashews
 2 Tbsp. (1/8 c.) raw, unsalted almonds
2 Tbsp. (1/8 c.) unsweetened coconut, shredded (can be found in international supermarkets)
2 Tbsp. (1/8 c.) pineapple juice
1 Tbsp. honey
1 Tbsp. maple syrup
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/8 tsp. ground clove
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 Tbsp. extra virgin coconut oil (for buttering the pan)
1/4 c. raisins, golden or black (I personally prefer the flavor of golden raisins in this mix)
1/4 c. dried cherries, cranberries, or strawberries

Directions: Preheat oven to 325°F. In a small bowl, thoroughly combine all remaining ingredients except for the dried fruit. Mix until dry ingredients have become moist.  Lightly coat a baking sheet with coconut oil. Evenly spread mixture onto baking tray & bake for 45-60 minutes, stirring after 25 minutes to ensure even baking. Watch carefully to make sure it doesn't burn. When ready, remove trail mix from the oven. Allow to cool, breaking it apart while still slightly warm. Toss with dried fruit & serve.

Yield: Makes 2 c., or 4 servings of 1/2 c. each.

Variations: You could also add other types of nuts & dried fruits -- i.e., walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans, sliced dried apricots, apples, &/or peaches, etc. Or, all-natural, homemade banana chips, made in a dehydrator, i.e., without any refined sugar, would also work as well.

Friday, September 10, 2010

1 Recipe #170: Chicken in an Aromatic Lemon-Saffron Sauce (Kesari Murgh)

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As promised, this is the last recipe in our three-day stint of chicken dinners. Yes, we had to use up the chicken, (What can I say? Fresh chicken tastes much better than frozen!), and tonight's dinner did the trick. After that, I think we'll be taking a break from eating chicken for a while. :)

I think this dish is also called "Balti Zafrani" or "Balti Murgh (Chicken)" in the UK. No matter what it's called in various parts of the world, there are many different versions of this dish, although the core ingredients remain pretty much the same. Traditionally, most versions are comprised of chicken, ghee, ginger, garlic, onions, chili peppers, cilantro, saffron, & some kind of roasted nut (like unsalted cashews or almonds), which has been ground into a fine paste.  I took the nontraditional route & used shelled, toasted pumpkin seeds, just to mix things up a bit. (Of course, feel free to experiment & substitute different kinds of nuts &/or seeds.) Often, either yoghurt or cream is added, and sometimes tomato sauce as well. The spice combinations can vary greatly too.

The trick to producing a smooth and tasty sauce is to not overcook the yoghurt. The yoghurt sauce should really just be warmed more than cooked, as yoghurt tends to curdle when it's cooked for too long. (Sure, it might be OK to add yoghurt to baked goods, but that method alters its chemistry in a completely different way.) The yoghurt should always be added in the last few minutes of cooking. This is pretty much a universal rule of cooking for dairy foods like yoghurt or milk.

Also, it's important to brown the chicken and onions before adding them to the sauce; otherwise, the dish is not going to taste the same. This way, the chicken will have texture, and be crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. Ahhhh, just perfect. :)

Anyhow, enough exposition. Let's get to that recipe. :)


Chicken in an Aromatic Lemon-Saffron Sauce (Kesari Murgh)

Ingredients:
1 Tbsp. garlic, peeled & minced (about 2 large cloves)
1 Tbsp. fresh ginger, peeled & finely minced (about 1" piece)
1/3 c. unsalted pumpkin seeds, shelled & toasted
1/2 tsp. green cardamom seeds
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/8 tsp. ground turmeric
1/8 tsp. ground black pepper
1/8 tsp ground white pepper
1/8 tsp. red chili powder (NOT Mexican chili powder)
2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 c. nonfat, plain Greek yoghurt
1/3 c. water
1 tsp. saffron threads
1 Tbsp. warm milk
1 Tbsp. ghee (or unsalted butter)
8 oz. skinless, boneless chicken breasts, well-rinsed, defatted, and patted dry
1 large, fresh bay leaf
1 c. yellow onion, peeled & sliced into 1/4" crescent slivers (about 1/1 large onion)
2 Tbsp. fresh cilantro, roughly chopped

Directions: After washing, defatting, & drying chicken cutlets, lay them onto a non-porous (i.e., silicone) cutting board or other smooth, clean surface. Cover chicken with plastic wrap, and tenderize by pounding flat with the bumpy (i.e., waffle-patterned) side of meat mallet to a uniform thickness of about 1/4". After chicken has been tenderized, cut each piece crosswise into thirds (or smaller, if desired).

Make yoghurt sauce: In a food processor, combine garlic, ginger, toasted pumpkin seeds, cardamom seeds, salt, cinnamon, clove powder, turmeric, black pepper, white pepper, & red chili powder, & pulse into a fine powder. Then add lemon juice, yoghurt, & water, & blend until smooth. Set aside.

In a small finger bowl, combine milk & saffron, & soak for 15 minutes. Set aside.

While saffron is soaking, melt ghee (or butter) on medium-high heat in a large 12-13" nonstick sauté pan. Add chicken, bay leaf, & onions, evenly spacing out the ingredients so as not to crowd the pan. (Otherwise, chicken & onions will steam, instead of brown.) Cook chicken about 3 minutes per side, until golden brown. (Both chicken & onions should be slightly crispy around the edges but still moist & tender on the inside. Tenderized chicken cooks much faster because it's thinner & has more exposed surface area after it's been tenderized.)

After chicken has browned, turn down heat to medium-low. Quickly stir in the yoghurt sauce & saffron mixture, scraping off the fond from the bottom of the pan as the liquid evaporates. The yoghurt sauce only needs to be cooked for a few minutes, until the raw smell of the ginger & the garlic has subsided. IMPORTANT: Do NOT overcook the yoghurt sauce, or it will curdle, which won't make it taste very good!

When ready, remove from heat & discard bay leaf. Divide into two equal portions & transfer to plates. Garnish with fresh chopped cilantro, & serve.

Yield: 2 servings.

Chef's Notes: You'll notice that this recipe uses ghee/butter very sparingly. However, if you'd like to make this recipe even lighter/healthier, you can substitute extra virgin olive oil for the ghee (or butter). Or, alternatively, if you'd still like to have a hint of butter flavor, simply reduce the amount of butter you use, and substitute the remaining amount with olive oil. For example, use 1/2 Tbsp. ghee (or unsalted butter) + 1/2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, or some other combination thereof.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

1 Recipe #169: Gin & Ginger Chicken

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I made this Chinese-style dish, which is really a fusion of Chinese and American flavors, for dinner tonight. Yes, another chicken recipe. :) Erik brought back 1.5 lbs. of chicken from the grocery store, which, for two persons, is enough for 3 meals, i.e., a 1/4 lb. (or 4 oz.) serving of chicken per person. So, expect a third chicken recipe after this one. :)

This recipe turned out really well. The ginger and the red chili pepper flakes give this dish a little bit of a kick. Erik told me not once, but twice, how much he liked it. That felt really good to hear. :) Hope you will like it just as much!


Gin & Ginger Chicken

Ingredients:
1 Tbsp. sesame seed  oil
1/2 c. shallots, peeled & finely minced (about 1 large shallot)
1/3 c. whole scallions (including greens) (about 7-8 small scallions)
1/3 c. celery, diced (about 1 small stalk)
1 Tbsp. fresh ginger, peeled & finely minced (about 1" piece)
1 large fresh bay leaf
1 Tbsp. low-sodium soy sauce
8 oz. skinless, boneless chicken breasts, well-rinsed, defatted, and patted dry
1 c. dry, distilled gin (if unavailable, tequila is a good substitute)
1/2 tsp. five-spice powder (Click link for recipe)
1/8 tsp. red chili pepper flakes
1/8 tsp. salt
1 tsp. freshly squeezed lime juice
1/2 tsp. sesame seeds
1 Tbsp. fresh cilantro, roughly chopped

Directions: After washing, defatting, and drying chicken cutlets, lay them onto a non-porous (i.e., silicone) cutting board or other smooth, clean surface. Cover chicken with plastic wrap, and tenderize by pounding flat with the bumpy (i.e., waffle-patterned) side of meat mallet to a uniform thickness of about 1/4". After chicken has been tenderized, cut each piece crosswise into thirds (or smaller, if desired).

Heat sesame seed oil in a large 12-13" nonstick sauté pan on high heat until glistening. Reduce heat to low, then add shallots, scallions, celery, ginger, and bay leaf, and sauté for about 5 minutes, until tender. Turn up heat to medium-high and add soy sauce and chicken. Cook chicken until golden brown and slightly crispy around the edges (but still moist and tender on the inside), about 3 minutes per side. (Tenderized chicken cooks much faster because it's thinner and has more exposed surface area after it's been tenderized.) Deglaze pan with gin. Scrape off the fond from the bottom of the pan as the liquid evaporates. Quickly stir in five-spice powder, salt, and red chili pepper flakes, & reduce until liquid is only a thin layer on the bottom of the pan. When ready, remove from heat and squeeze the lime juice over the chicken. Discard bay leaf. Divide into two equal portions and transfer to plates. Sprinkle each portion with sesame seeds, garnish with fresh chopped cilantro, and serve.

Yield: 2 servings.

Chef's Notes: If you find that the gin's evaporating too quickly during the deglazing process, it's perfectly OK to add more. :) Also, it's very important to brown the chicken; it really does make a huge difference in the flavor and texture of this dish.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

1 Recipe #168: Coq au Vin

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Of course, this recipe is the French classic, Coq au Vin, which we had for tonight's dinner. You'll notice that my version of this dish has a few marked differences from its traditional incarnation. Namely, there are no garlic cloves, pearl onions, or "oink" in my version.

Since the recipe already contains olive oil & a bit of butter, [well, let's face it, the original version has a TON of butter, like a lot of traditional French cuisine (!), but anyhow...], I thought it'd be a good idea to reduce the fat content to keep the recipe within healthy limits. :)

Also, due to the fact that this recipe already calls for both onions AND shallots, I thought it best not to overdo it by adding garlic and yet more onions (i.e., the aforementioned pearl onions, which I honestly think, due to their size & texture, belong in cocktails instead of entrées). It's OK to use two out of the three, but adding all three would be overpowering. A dish like this isn't meant to hit you over the head; its flavor is supposed to be rich but subtle.

There are many different versions of Coq au Vin, including several that omit a few of the above ingredients, so it's not like this recipe is exactly nontraditional. :)


Honestly, this recipe doesn't need those extra additions anyway. This dish is already extremely flavorful as is. Sometimes it's best to keep things simple, and not add 50 zillion different flavors to a dish. (Of course, various African & Asian cuisines -- especially Ethiopian, Southeast Asian & Indian food -- are some of the exceptions to that rule. In these cases, complex flavor combinations are the norm. ;) )

Hope you enjoy this French favorite. We certainly did. :)





















Coq au Vin

Ingredients:
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
8 oz. skinless, boneless chicken breasts, well-rinsed, defatted, and patted dry
1/2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 c. yellow onion, peeled & sliced into thin (1/4" thick) crescent slivers (about 1/2 large onion)
1/3 c. shallots, peeled & finely minced (about 1 large shallot)
1 c. "Baby Bella" mushrooms, thinly sliced (about 5 medium-sized mushrooms)
1 large fresh bay leaf
1 c. dry red wine (i.e., Burgundy is traditional, but Pinot Noir would suffice)
1 Tbsp. fresh Italian flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
1 tsp. dried rosemary leaves
1/2 tsp. dried thyme leaves (or 1 Tbsp. fresh)
1/2 tsp. ground sage (or dried sage leaves)
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp. ground black pepper
1/8 tsp ground white pepper

Directions: After washing, defatting, & drying chicken cutlets, lay them onto a non-porous (i.e., silicone) cutting board or other smooth, clean surface. Cover chicken with plastic wrap, and tenderize by pounding flat with the bumpy (i.e., waffle-patterned) side of meat mallet to a uniform thickness of about 1/4". After chicken has been tenderized, cut each piece crosswise into thirds.

In a large 12-13" nonstick sauté pan, sauté chicken in 2 tsp. olive oil & 1 tsp. butter on medium-high heat until golden brown & slightly crispy around the edges (but still moist & tender on the inside), about 3 minutes per side. (Tenderized chicken cooks much faster because it's thinner & has more exposed surface area after it's been tenderized.) With about a minute of cooking to go, squeeze the lemon juice over the chicken. Transfer to two plates & set aside. Keep chicken warm by covering with foil or using some other method (i.e., a chafing dish, warm/heated plates, etc.).

Reduce heat to low. In the same pan, heat remaining 1/2 tsp. butter & 1 tsp. olive oil until butter has melted. Add onions, shallots, & bay leaf, & sauté for about 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tender. (Shallots should be soft and the onions should be on the verge of turning a light golden brown.) Add mushrooms, stir, & then deglaze pan with wine. Scrape off the fond from the bottom of the pan as the liquid evaporates. Quickly stir in parsley, rosemary, thyme, sage, salt, black pepper, & white pepper, & reduce the sauce to about 1/2 of its original volume, continuing to stir & simmer until thickened. In the last minute or two of cooking, add chicken back into pan & thoroughly cover with sauce. When ready, remove from heat. Discard bay leaf. Divide into two equal portions & transfer to plates. Pour any remaining sauce over chicken. Garnish each portion with additional fresh chopped parsley & serve with rice pilaf &/or a vegetable side dish.

Yield: 2 servings.

Chef's Notes: If you find that the wine's evaporating too quickly during the deglazing process, it's perfectly OK to add more. :) Also, it's very important to brown the chicken before adding it back to the pan for a second time; it really does make a huge difference in the flavor & texture of the dish.

Variations: Some versions of this recipe also feature carrots & potatoes, which you could certainly add if you'd like. I've also seen recipes incorporating tomato sauce, although I personally don't care for this addition in this particular dish. If you prefer, you can substitute garlic for the shallots for a stronger flavor; if you do this, I'd recommend using about 1-2 large cloves, finely minced.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

0 Recipe #167: Mexican Rice

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Here's an authentic recipe for Mexican rice. A staple of Mexican cuisine, this side dish makes a wonderful accompaniment to almost any kind of Mexican entrée -- fajitas, tacos, enchiladas, burritos, tamales, etc.


Mexican Rice

Ingredients:
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 c. uncooked brown Basmati (long grain) rice
1 large fresh bay leaf
1 c. yellow onion, peeled & diced (about 1/2 medium-sized onion)
1 Tbsp. garlic, peeled & finely minced (about 2 large cloves)
1/2 Tbsp. jalapeño pepper, seeded, ribbed, & finely minced (about 1/2 small jalapeño pepper)
2 c. hot water
2 Tbsp. (1/8 c.) low-sodium vegetable broth (optional)
2 Tbsp. (1/8 c.) red bell pepper, finely chopped
2 Tbsp. (1/8 c.) green bell pepper, finely chopped
3/4 (heaping) c. vine-ripened tomatoes (about 1 small tomato)
3 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 Tbsp. fresh (Mexican) oregano leaves, tightly packed & finely minced
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. ground black pepper
1/8 tsp. red chili pepper flakes (chile de arbol)
2 tsp. freshly squeezed lime (or lemon) juice
1/2 c. Monterey Jack (or cheddar) cheese, shredded (optional)
2 Tbsp. fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped

Directions: Heat olive oil on low in a large (i.e., 12-13"), deep sauté pan. Add the uncooked rice & brown for 2 minutes, stirring frequently to make sure the rice is completely coated with the olive oil. Let rice brown but do not burn. (Browning the rice seals its exterior to keep it from getting mushy when the water is added.) Then add bay leaf, onions, & garlic, & jalapeño, & sauté for another 2-3 minutes. Stir in hot water (you'll hear it sizzle when it hits the pan), vegetable broth (if using), red & green bell peppers, tomatoes, tomato paste, oregano, cumin, salt, black pepper, & red chili pepper flakes. Thoroughly combine ingredients. Turn up heat to high & bring to a rolling boil. Then immediately reduce heat back to low, quickly cover pan with a lid, & simmer for 20 minutes. IMPORTANT: To cook the rice perfectly & maximize its fluffiness, do NOT, under any circumstances, lift the lid & peek at the rice while it's cooking. If necessary, use a clear (glass lid) so that you can watch the rice without peeking. :) Only after the 20 minutes is up should you check the rice to see if it's ready. When the rice is ready, all of the water will be absorbed & each rice grain will be split open. Rice should be fluffy, not dry or sauce-like. If rice is still hard & the grains haven't yet split, add another 2 cups of water & cook for another 15-20 minutes or so. (This is what I had to do. Please note that cooking time & temperature will vary from stove to stove, so adjust accordingly.) When rice is done, remove from heat. Allow rice to steam, uncovered & undisturbed, for 5-10 minutes. Discard bay leaf. Stir in lime (or lemon juice) & gently fluff with a fork. Garnish with cheese (if using) & cilantro, & serve hot.

Yield: 4 servings.

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