June 26, 2008

Coconut Ginger Noodles (with extras)

I've been wanting a good Coconut Ginger Noodle recipe for some time. Variations abound online, but they often contain strange ingredients, such as tomato paste, or look like a coconut-y version of Pad Thai, which is not what I was looking for, albeit more or less in the same family. I've been tinkering for a while now, and I've figured out a pretty nice recipe that can be made as a simple side dish or gussied up with shrimp and vegetables to make a full-on meal. Aside from the tedious peeling of the shrimp, if you're making it as a main course, this is very quick to make! However, the wonderful texture of using raw shrimp more than makes up for the fifteen minutes of drudgery.

Coconut Ginger Noodles

250 grams dry rice stick noodles
400 ml. coconut milk
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
2 medium cloves garlic, crushed
3 cm fresh ginger root, grated or minced
3 - 5 kafir lime leaves (dry or fresh)
1/4 teaspoon ground lemongrass
1 red bird chile (Thai chile)
salt to taste
juice of 1 lime
1 green onion, finely sliced
pinch cayenne pepper (optional, if you want it spicier)

Bring a large pot of water to boil and have it standing by for the noodles. Don't cook them yet.

In a large skillet, over high heat, add the coconut milk, the white part of the sliced green onion, the garlic, ginger root and powder, lime leaves, lemon grass and a good pinch of salt. simmer for 5 to 7 minutes, uncovered, and allow the liquid to reduce. Taste the sauce (carefully!) and add more salt if necessary. Turn heat to medium-low and allow to continue to simmer. Add a little water if it starts looking too thick.

Drop the rice sticks into the boiling water and allow to cook for 3 minutes. While it cooks, stir the lime juice into the coconut sauce. Taste the sauce , and add a little more ginger powder, and the optional cayenne, if you like. Drain in a colander, then rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process and cool them down. Add the noodles to the coconut sauce, turn off the heat, and stir through carefully so that all of the noodles are coated with the coconut sauce. Garnish with the green part of the sliced onion.

Extras to make it a meal:

Shrimp: peel 450 g. of raw shrimp (frozen works fine, just soak them in cool water for a few minutes to loosen them up). Add to the coconut sauce just as you drop the rice sticks into their pot of boiling water. Stir them until they are pink on all sides.

Snow peas & red peppers: julienne a red bell pepper, and cut a good handful of snow peas each once on the bias. Add to the sauce at the same time as the noodles, and stir/toss through. No pre-cooking or blanching required!

June 20, 2008

Scottish Oat Bread

It's not bread in the sandwichy-way, which may be immediately noticable from the photograph. Rather, it's bread in the tea-time way, or perhaps in the ginger way. That is to say, in some ways, it bears a resemblance in taste and texture to old-fashioned, cake-style gingerbread (as opposed to gingerbread cookies), except that it doesn't contain ginger. Although, of course, you could add some.

I am aware that I am rambling.

This recipe dates back at least to the 1970s, when my mother acquired it from a friend (who was not Scottish, it should perhaps be noted) and immediately adopted it as a favourite. It may not be, in fact, Scottish, in the same way that the salad toppings we know as Russian or French dressing are not really Russian or French. Perhaps the presence of oats, or the combination of oats and molasses (although Scottish cuisine is heavier on treacle, than molasses) leads to the association.

However, the fact I have yet to see any recipe from Scotland that appears similar (with the possible exception of Broonie), does not mean that it isn't really Scottish, either. What really raises my suspicions is the fact that there is no added fat of any kind. No lard, no butter, no oil... only the naturally occurring fat in the eggs and buttermilk/yoghurt, really. Which just does not seem very Scottish, to me. Perhaps one of my kind readers can shed some light on whether this recipe does owe its heritage to Scotland or thereabouts - I encourage you to do so, as I would really like to know.

So, without further meandering, here is my mother's recipe for Scottish Oat Bread. It makes two squat loaves, stores well in fridge or freezer (or countertop, even, for about a week if it's not too warm/humid), and it makes a very tasty breakfast when toasted and lightly spread with cream cheese.

Scottish Oat Bread

2 eggs
2/3 cup blackstrap molasses
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 cups buttermilk or yoghurt
2 teaspoons baking soda
3 cups stoneground whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 - 2 cups nuts or raisins (optional)

In a medium mixing bowl, beat together the eggs, molasses, sugar, and buttermilk. In another bowl, mix all of the dry ingredients - the flour, oatmeal, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Dump the dry ingredients on top of the egg and molasses mixture, and stir gently with a wooden spoon or spatula, just to combine. About half way through the stirring, add the raisins or nuts, if you like.

Divide batter between two lightly greased or oil-spritzed regular-sized loaf pans. Bake at approximately 350 F. for 35 - 45 minutes, depending on your oven. A toothpick or cake tester should come out clean.

Serve fresh and warm with a little butter, or cold with cream cheese.

June 12, 2008

White Trash Risotto

I jest, I jest. There's nothing at all trashy about this risotto, especially not how deliciously comforting it is. It's just that, well, upon seeing the original recipe, more enticingly named "Cheddar Cheese Risotto" in Nigella Express, I couldn't help but wonder what it would be like with a few sliced up smokies in it. I think it's the use of Cheddar cheese, which is often added so haphazardly to a variety of dishes without necessarily any cultural compatibility that makes me think of it this way. Isn't that fusion, though? Perhaps it is the common-place nature of the default Cheese of Choice in North America, placed against the exquisite, attention-demanding princess of Italian cuisine, the risotto. The neon-orange of the annatto colouring is often the harbinger of ill-considered, underwhelming cooking. I won't torture you with a scalloped potato recipe I was once encountered, which involved not just Cheddar as the preeminent ingredient, but a in the form of a canned, condensed Cheddar cheese soup.

Still, I have nothing but respect for Cheddar. I tend to keep a rather well-stocked cheese shelf, and Cheddar always has a place there, and a place in my heart. This is an enormously comforting dish, friendly and accessible to even the fussiest children, I would think, who might enjoy a new name, though...Picky Picky Princess Cheesy Rice?

Here's the recipe:

Cheddar Cheese Risotto

1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon oil
2 baby leeks or fat spring onions
300 grams risotto rice (such as arborio)
125 ml white wine (I used white vermouth)
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 litre hot vegetable stock
125 grams cheddar cheese, chopped (I grated mine)
2 tablespoons chopped chives

Melt the butter and sautee the leeks until softened. Add the rice and stir around for a minute or so, then add the wine and mustard. Stir until the liquid is absorbed. Begin adding the stock, one ladle at a time, stirring after each addition until the liquid has been absorbed. When the rice is just tender (about 18 - 25 minutes, depending on heat), turn off the heat and add the cheese, stirring until it melts. Garnish with chives.

I've paraphrased the directions here, but they are pretty much the same as any standard risotto. For my part, I also seared three beef smokies and then sliced them quickly, stirring into the risotto right at the end. I used spring onions, but leeks would be better. Better still, a couple of shallots, but that does step away a little from the very ordinary nature of the dish. I'd say, use them if you have them, but otherwise, use whatever oniony goodness you desire.

If it were really a white trash risotto, I expect there would be some form of crumbled potato chip on top, and it probably be made with processed cheese, and cheap beer instead of wine. Ketchup, anyone?

I may joke about this dish, but it was absolutely delicious. We served it with broccoli, to give it a little vegetable consequence, but you could easily gussy it up to your own taste. Do give this a try, whether you have picky children or not. Nigella correctly places this in her chapter entitled "Instant Calmer" and it certainly does the trick.

June 08, 2008

Rescuing the Spinach (Buffalo & Spinach Orzo)

I absolutely hate discovering that I have allowed good food to go bad in my fridge. At least a portion of my weekly cooking involves some sort of triage to make sure that anything that is on its last legs gets prioritized. Sometimes, when there are several to choose from, that means I end up in a strange Iron Chef-like competition with myself.

I like to think that I am organized. I know that it's not entirely true. I attempt to be organized, but life sometimes gets in the way. So, when I got home from work to discover that not only is the ground buffalo that I thawed (in the refrigerator) two days previously still had not been used, and the half-bunch of spinach (which I had been planning to use for a lasagna) had wilted to the very last stage of possible resuscitation, I decided that I had to make something that involved both.

However, I was also having trouble with my hands. The swelling in my right palm was still restricting movement, and a new swelling at the base of my left thumb meant that my left-handed grip was pretty unreliable. So, no opening jars or tins of tomatoes for a slam-dunk pasta sauce. I also found that I was out of basmati rice, which is my preferred, lower-glycemic rice choice for daily use. This pretty much obliterated the first couple of ideas that came to mind. Fortunately, my hands were not too swollen to preclude stirring, or I would not have attempted to cook anything.

I stripped the unusable parts from the spinach and washed the rest in cool water. Then I let it lie in a bowl full of very cold water, and started rummaging through the pantry. My mind kept returning to my relatively recent discovery that a chiffonade of spinach can brighten an entire pasta dish, and I wanted to go with that theory. I found some orzo in the cupboard, and realized what I could make: a version of a favourite side dish called Creamy Parmesan Orzo. With meat. Like, just sort of, kind of reminiscent of... a homemade hamburger helper. Or, in this case, Buffalo helper.

Buffalo & Spinach Orzo

375 grams ground buffalo
1/2 medium onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
6 mushrooms, sliced
1 cup orzo, uncooked
2.5 cups hot liquid (half chicken stock, half water)
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup half-and-half
1/2 bunch of spinach, washed and sliced into narrow ribbons
pinch of salt, to taste
fresh ground black pepper

In a large skillet, brown the buffalo meat and sliced mushrooms. Add the onion and garlic, and saute until translucent. Add the raw orzo, and stir around for a couple of minutes to get it well coated. Add the liquid, bring to the boil, reduce the heat and allow to simmer for about 10 – 15 minutes (depending on what “medium” is on your stovetop), stirring frequently. When the liquid is mostly absorbed, turn the heat off and add the cream, Parmesan, spinach, salt and pepper. Allow the spinach to wilt down into the orzo (just put the lid on for a minute or two, then stir through), and dish up with a big old spoon.

The spinach had revived considerably for its short soak in cold water, and became crisp enough to cook with (a raw or salad preparation would have been expecting a little much). All in all, for a thrown-together dinner, it was pretty tasty, and the leftovers traveled well to work the next day.

I also discovered a sort of two-handed chopping technique that allowed me to deal with the onions and garlic, although I wouldn't want to have to sustain it through more than the very small amount of chopping that I actually did. The mushrooms and the spinach were sliced with a strange, scalpel-like grip on my smallest (and therefore lightest) paring knife, which again, would not have held up for any length of time. I'm thinking of investing in a slicer of some sort, which would not have helped with the spinach, but would have made short work of the onion and mushroom elements.

So, I defeated the arthritis for another dinner, and I rescued the spinach from untimely demise. I'll get the hang of this yet.

June 01, 2008

I Think I'm Ready For Summer (Iced Tea)

Even if summer isn't quite ready for me.

In summer, I'm always fighting dehydration. Water is essential, of course, but really, a girl can only drink so much water without wanting something flavourful, not to mention wanting to be able to move about without sloshing sensations.

Sugar, however is the issue. I like real sugar. I approve of sugar, especially where the alternatives and fake sugars are concerned. I do not, however, need large quantities of it. For some reason, most summery drinks are filled to the brim with sugar, far in excess of the quantities I find desirable, or worse still, "sugar-free" sugar substitutes which may or may not lead to health problems unto themselves, while still tasting uncomfortably sweet. Juices, lemonades, iced teas, and "virgin cocktails" are all quite sweet...usually, too sweet.

In parts of the United States, one can blessedly get iced tea that has not been pre-sweetened. That does not appear to be the case in most places in Vancouver. I can, however, make my own so that at least when I return home, hot and exhausted from tripping around farmers' markets and beaches, I can drink something delicious that doesn't feel like it's going to kill me in one way or another.

Despite my crankiness above, I do like a little hint of sweetness in my iced tea. A little simple syrup, or even a couple of teaspoons dissolved in a half-cup of hot water and then added to the steeped tea as it cools does the trick nicely, and doesn't leave me feeling like I've just mainlined a candy bar. I can get it just to my taste, and just to my comfort level.

I have a couple of favourite iced tea recipes that are both easy to make and delicious, and a little unexpected. Make the tea as strong or as weak as you generally like it hot. If you like adding ice to your drinks, but don't want to dilute the flavours, make a batch of iced tea just to freeze into ice cube trays and use them in place of ordinary ice cubes.

Isis Tea

1 litre freshly brewed black tea, cooled
2 tablespoons simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water, boiled for one minute on the stove, then cooled)
1 teaspoon rosewater
Juice of half a lemon

Chill thoroughly. Serve in a tall glass, with a mint sprig

Lavender Iced Tea

1 litre freshly brewed lavender-scented black tea, cooled
2 tablespoons simple syrup
2 drops 100% pure lavender essential oil

Chill thoroughly. Shake well before serving.

I wouldn't keep either of these for longer than a few days in the fridge, due to the botanicals added, but that's not usually a problem, for me. I drink these up pretty quickly.

Basically, any tea, whether black, green, or herbal, can be made into a delicious iced tea. It just takes a little preparation to have some on hand, and a jug to keep it in.