June 30, 2012

Lentil Walnut Salad, and new book review!

I've finally written another diet book review - this time for "Slimmer - The New Mediterranean Way to Lose Weight" by Harry Papas, over in my Much Ado About Diet blog.

Go check out the lovely Lentil Walnut Salad recipe!

Gluten-free tag disclaimer: obviously, leave out the croutons, or choose a gluten-free version, and otherwise label-read as usual.

June 16, 2012

Chicken Pot Pie, Biscuit Top

I love chicken pot pie. I don't love it when it comes with too many peas, or a leathery, greasy pastry top, but if it has a quality pastry (which hasn't been allowed to get soggy), or better still, a biscuit topping, then it has got to be right up there with my favourite comfort foods.

It's also pretty easy, really. You make a creamy stew with chicken and vegetables of your choice, add the top, and pop it into the oven for a good 25 to 30 minutes on high heat, and voila! What could be better?

Well, I suppose it could be healthier than some of the versions out there, but there's loads of tricks to make the filling lower in fat, and if you use a slightly thinner layer of (lean) biscuit or scone dough over the top, you're setting your setting yourself up nicely to have a guilt-free wallow in a delicious dinner. Or lunch. Or supper. Whatever you want to call it, really.

The biscuit pie methodology works pretty much the same for any filling. Beef stew, chicken stew, vegetable stew - pretty much anything that can take the hit of being in a hot oven for half an hour makes a great biscuit pie. And, if you're the sort of cook who likes convenience and buys packets of biscuits instead of making your own, well, that works too. So really, it's all about the filling.

I like my chicken (or turkey, or pheasant) pies to be creamy, and I like to use kernel corn instead of peas. I also like to have uses for leftover roast chicken, although, to be fair, I have plenty of those already (but another is always welcome). The pie at the top of this post came about after eyeing the recipe in the Cook This, Not That! Kitchen Survival Guide, which I've posted about before. For example, in my last post, Gyoza Stir-Fry. I've made some minor seasoning changes to suit myself, and of course the use of biscuit instead of puff pastry is not from CTNT's receipe.

Chicken Pot Pie, with a Biscuit Crust
Serves 4

1 tablespoon butter
2 cups pearl onions (recipe calls for frozen, which I couldn't find, so I used fresh)
2 medium carrots, diced
2 garlic cloves
2 cups sliced cremini mushrooms
1 cup frozen corn kernels
meat from 2 roasted chicken legs with thighs, skinless, diced
1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon chicken base (Better than Bouillon)
1 1/2 cups water
1 cup 1% Milk
1/4 cup half & half
1 bay leaf
1/8 teaspoon ground thyme
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds

Make up the water and chicken base into a hot broth. Rinse corn kernels with hot water, in a sieve, so they drain instantly, and set aside.

Heat the butter in large skillet over med heat. When melted, add the onions, carrots and garlic. Cook until onions are translucent and carrots begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the bay leaf, thyme, and mustard seeds, and stir well. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally for another 5 minutes. Stir in the chicken and the flour, using a silicone spatula or wooden spoon to stir well, so that veggies and meat are evenly coated with flour.

Slowly pour the warm broth in, either using whisk to help avoid clumping, or stirring well with your spoon/spatula while you pour. Once the broth is incorporated, and the sauce is smooth, add the milk (does not need to be warmed, but can be) and simmer for 10-15 minutes or until the sauce is thickened. Stir in corn. Season with salt and pepper, as needed.

Mix up your biscuit dough and roll out to fit the top of the casserole dish you will be using. Slice the biscuit into quarters, or leave it as one big sheet (if so, use a fork to poke some steam-release holes).

Heat over to 400 F. Pour chicken into a 1 1/2 quart casserole dish, and cover with the biscuit dough. Bake uncovered for 20-25 minutes until golden brown. If your casserole is really full, place a tray under to catch any drips, or you will need to spend some of your evening cleaning your oven floor!

June 08, 2012

Gyoza Stir-Fry

This recipe is my version of the Chicken Pot Stickers in the highly useful Cook This Not That! Kitchen Survival Guide by David Zinczenko and Matt Goulding. It is fast, tasty, and relatively healthy. It makes a light meal, so if you want something more substantial, you might consider serving it over rice or noodles, but it's also good simply on its own.

To be sure, it's more of a recipe concept, since it revolves around a pre-made ingredient (the pot stickers themselves), but you can easily outfox that by making your own dumplings. I've gone with my favourite recipe for pork gyoza, a Japanese-style dumpling that is kissing-cousin to the Chinese pot sticker, making up a batch of 36 dumplings. The stir-fry recipe calls for 24, leaving me 12 to stash in the freezer. If you don't want to do that, there's always the ones from the freezer section of the supermarket, totally up to you.

The stir-fry, then, is pretty much self-explanatory from the photo above:

You start by par-cooking the frozen dumplings for a couple of minutes in boiling water (you could also steam them), although if you're using freshly made non-frozen dumplings, you can skip this step and just add a couple of minutes to the stir fry time.

Next, heat a small amount of sesame oil in a large non-stick skillet, and add some sliced shittake mushrooms, a couple of cups' worth. A few shreds of fresh ginger are great at this point, too, but not necessary. Stir fry those for a minute or two, then add the dumplings, cooking for 2 or 3 minutes per side until browned.

Add a couple of cups of trimmed snap peas (or snow peas, if you prefer) for one more minute of cooking, then remove from the heat and stir in a tablespoon of low sodium soy sauce, a tablespoon of rice vinegar, and however much sriracha you fancy (more sriracha can be used as a condiment, of course).

Stir it all through, and divide between four bowls. Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds (I use a combination of black and white sesame seeds, because I like the effect) and throw a sliced green onion on top for a burst of fresh flavour. I totally forgot the onion in the above picture, as you can see - it's not necessary, it is tasty.

Easy, yes? If you have the dumplings already in the freezer (one way or another), it only takes about 15 minutes to make, including waiting for the water to boil for the dumplings, and prepping the vegetables.

June 02, 2012

Aloo Matar (Dry) and Samosa Pie

My generalized dislike of green peas is almost legendary in my family, even though by age 10 or so I had conceded that peas in the context of a dish that was not only about the peas was entirely acceptable. I fell for snap peas and snow peas early and hard, as most kids do, but the pyramid of naked green peas as the vegetable du jour remains on my least beloved list. Split peas, however, were never on my bad list, as I've always categorized of them more as a lentil than anything else.

When I cook with peas, I tend toward using snow peas or snap peas, and I like them equally well (slightly) cooked or raw. I don't usually buy frozen peas, because I have so little use for them. However, I can think of a few uses for peas where they really shine, and the dish wouldn't be the same without them: 1) My mother's Spring chicken noodle soup, 2) raw in a salad or straight out of the garden (shelled, of course), and 3) potato-pea samosa filling.

Lately, I've found myself eyeing every restaurant listing for samosas that I can find. I prefer to know ahead of time what style of samosa is available, so I usually need to ask questions. Phyllo is not my favourite pastry for the samosa oeuvre, nor is puff pastry - the first being too shattery (or leathery), and the second being too rich and too thick. Since I am both fundamentally lazy and afraid of frying things, I decided that I should simply make one big samosa - i.e. a pie - using my usual all-purpose pastry shell, and make up my own filling: potato and pea, of course - my favourite samosa.

Having never made samosas before, I started looking at recipes for fillings and concluded that they were simply a dry aloo matar (mattar, muttar, mutter), and simply made up my own recipe as I went along. I was thrilled with the filling, and happily mounded it into the pie crust to bake in the oven.

The samosa pie was quite pretty, I think, and absolutely delicious - with one caveat: the peas were overcooked. Now, this wasn't the end of the world (although overcooking peas is a kind of tragedy) largely because I have an aggressive hand with the seasoning, which concealed some of the sins of overcooking. Now that I've considered the problem (and re-heated leftover pie a few times) I think I have the solution. Cook everything but the peas, allow the filling to cool, stir in frozen peas, mound into pastry shell and bake. As I was starting with a hot filling, and then baking it at 425 F for 45 minutes, of course the peas got overdone. But with a pre-cooked, cool or cold filling, and frozen peas, the outcome should be much better. I will be sure to report back when I try it again.

If you are not making pie, however, and just want a delicious, substantial dry curry, follow the directions for the peas below.

Aloo Matar

Serves 6—8

4 large yellow potatoes (about 2.75 lbs / 1300 g) peeled and diced medium
1/2 red onion, finely diced
1 cup frozen peas
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 tablespoon olive oil or mustard oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon masala of your choice (garam, tandoori, madras, etc.)
1 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
2 teaspoons ground coriander seed
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon cayenne (or more)
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger (or equivalent fresh)
pinch of ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (less if your masala contains salt)
pinch of turmeric if you want a yellow-y colour boost (not pictured)

Set the peeled and diced potatoes to cook until tender - about 10 minutes for simmering. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat the olive oil and saute the onion and garlic until translucent. If you want, you can add some finely diced hot chiles here, too. Add the cumin seeds and mustard seeds, and about half the rest of the seasonings (you can mix all of the ground seasonings together beforehand). Add the frozen peas, stir and saute until the peas are all nicely covered with the oily spices, and either turn off the burner or set on a very low flame until the potatoes are ready. When the potatoes are fork-tender, drain them in a colander and spoon them into the skillet. Sprinkle the rest of the spices evenly over the potatoes and, using a spatula, carefully fold the potatoes through the peas mixture until everything looks evenly distributed. Serve with mango or tamarind chutney.

As always, feel free to tinker with the spices to best suit your tastes.

For Samosa pie, make the filling as above, omitting the peas. Cool the potato filling, stir in the frozen peas, and mound into the pastry shell of your choice. Bake at 450 F for 40 - 45 minutes, checking periodically, or until the crust is a lovely golden brown. For gluten free and/or vegan, you will need to accommodate those factors in your choice of pie crust, naturally, but the filling meets both requirements on its own.