March 28, 2013

Breakfast at Work: Coconut Apricot Oatmeal

I'm a big believer in breakfast, as you may have noticed. However, like everyone else, on workdays I'm usually just trying to get out the door on time, preferably with everything I need and wearing matching socks. High standards, I know.

My weekday at-home breakfast is generally a cup of coffee and a piece of toast with something on it (usually cheese, sliced tomatoes, or avocado). Not really the sort of thing that can carry you all the way through your busy morning, but easy to knock together while you're waiting for the coffee to brew. I save the more elaborate breakfasts for the weekend - Monday to Friday, my solution is to rely on a baseline of toast and cheese and then supplement my morning with planned snacks - fruit, almonds, yoghurt - that sort of thing.

Packets of oatmeal are another solution. Not being a fan of paying huge amounts of money for things I can easily and cheaply make myself, I tend to make my own.

Another reason that I don't generally buy the store-bought packets is that the sweet ones are too sweet, the oatmeal is usually cut too fine (and becomes paste-textured, as a result), or they taste artificial to me (even if they're not).

Sometimes I make a bunch up for the week, and sometimes I just make one for the day that I need it. Because it's easy.

My current favourite is Coconut Apricot Oatmeal, but I also like using dried sour cherries and clove, or plain raisins. If you have a bunch of little containers like these (or even sealable plastic bags) it's easy enough to make your own variety pack. Like maple? Use maple sugar. Like walnuts, or almonds, or pumpkin seeds? Toast 'em up and add them to your mix (you'll want to slice or chop the nuts so the pieces are not too big). In fact, maple sugar and toasted walnuts sounds like a pretty tasty option. Go easy on the amount of nuts if you don't want the calories to stack up, though.

Here is the formula:

Coconut Apricot Oatmeal

Serves 1 (makes one packet)

40 grams quick oats (not instant), or old-fashioned rolled oats
1 tablespoon unsweetened coconut
3 dried apricots (scizzored into bits)
1 tablespoon raw sugar
teeny tiny pinch of salt (literally, about 10 grains of kosher salt)

If you are a fan of spices in your oatmeal, you may also want to add a pinch of cinnamon, or ginger, or nutmeg, or other spices (or blends) in the apple/pumpkin pie family. I usually leave them out of this one, because I think they mask the coconut flavour too much, but your mileage may vary.

To make up, empty the contents into a microwave-safe bowl, and add boiling water to about an inch above. Microwave on medium or low power (keep an eye on it - even in a large bowl, it can try to crawl out and down the sides, if the heat is too high or goes on too long). You can add more water if it looks too thick.

If I am using quick oats, it usually only takes about a minute or two at 50% power, then I give it a quick stir and drag it back to my desk. By the time it has cooled enough to eat, it is completely cooked. You can add milk or cream, if you like (I don't - I've never gone for milk on my porridge).

An online recipe calculator gave the results of this recipe at around 160 calories, which is about perfect for a mid-morning snack for me. If you want something a little lighter - use less. Use 30 grams of oats, 2 teaspoons of coconut, 2 apricots. Or just divide the above amount into two containers - the directions are the same.

The ready-to-eat picture doesn't do it justice; camera phone, lousy office-tower lighting, and utterly uninspiring placemat. But it tastes so good.

March 24, 2013

Tandoori Turkey Meatball Rice Bowl

I confess that I'd hoped that these would be more colourful than they turned out - my masala blend was months old, which I suspect was the problem, and I should have compensated by adding a little turmeric and an extra hit of kashmiri pepper, by the looks of it. However mild in appearance, though, these were absolutely delicious, and made a satisfying dinner.

That being said, these were remarkably easy to make. My standard Pork & Turkey Meatballs got an Indian inspired, all-turkey facelift, replacing the usual herbs and spices with a generous amount of tandoori masala, and using egg white instead of whole egg (I had some to use up).

I scooped the meatballs using my 60 ml disher, and baked them off on a foil-lined baking sheet for 25 minutes:

While they were in the oven, I made a simple pulao, using this Times of India Online recipe for Pulao in a Jiffy The pulao was nice, but overall a little soft, I thought - I used carrots and cauliflower from the recommended vegetables listed, but either I diced them too finely, or used too much water, because they were a little softer than I expected. Not outright mush, you understand, but a bit too soft. I generally find that I need less water when I'm cooking rice than most recipes call for, and that may be the case here - I'm not sure why - some sort of combination of being essentially at sea level, and having very soft water, perhaps? In any event, if I were to make this recipe again, I might go with both larger cut vegetables and a smidge less water. I'd probably throw in a few peas, and an extra few pods of cardamom, too.

When the meatballs came out of the oven, they got a quick brush with hot mango chutney, which went beautifully with the spicy flavour of the meat. As you can see, I also knocked together a quick cucumber and onion raita, and put an extra bit of chutney on the side.

This was a fun dinner (and lunch the next day, and extra meatballs in the freezer for a future rainy day) and while I want to tweak both the pulao and the seasoning of the meatballs (to amp them up into a more deeply fragrant and colourful result), I'm quite looking forward to version 2.0.

March 19, 2013

Spicy Orange Tofu with Broccoli

The first time I made this, I couldn't find the kind of tofu that I wanted, and I ended up with a pre-seasoned "spicy" tofu that unfortunately was also pre-coloured with orangey red food dye, which turned the entire dish an alarming shade of rust, and made the broccoli look like it was suffering from some sort of disease. Not so very appetizing.

The flavour, however, was exactly what I was looking for, so I persevered, bought the proper kind of tofu (atsuage), and happily devoured the results. This is a wonderful way to get extra vegetables (and fruit) into your evening meal.

Spicy Orange Tofu with Broccoli
Adapted from Eating Well

Serves 4

380 grams atsuage (homestyle fried tofu), blotted dry
1 cup mandarin orange segments
200 g broccoli
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon vegetable base
1 tablespoon Soy Sauce (less Sodium)
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon dried orange peel, prepared
1 cup orange juice
1 teaspoon cornstarch
2 teaspoon chile flakes
2 cloves garlic

Combine any juices from the mandarins with the extra orange juice, the soy sauce, and the cornstarch. Stir until smooth, and set aside. Clean the tangerine peel if needed, then rehydrate in hot water for ten minutes, scrape away any pith with a spoon, and slice into thin strips (or dice finely).

Prepare the broccoli by separating the florets and trimming and slicing the stem. Prepare the atsuage by cutting each piece in quarters (corner-to-corner), and then turning and slicing into triangles. Slice the garlic and the ginger.

In a large skillet, over medium-high heat, heat the oil, then add the garlic, ginger, and sliced tangerine peel, and stir through, giving it about half a minute to sizzle. Add the orange juice mixture, the drained mandarin sections, and the broccoli, and stir through. The sauce will start to thicken instantly. Reduce the heat to medium, and place a lid on for about two minutes, or until the broccoli starts to become tender. Stir, and check on the broccoli, giving it another minute if necessary. Add the tofu and stir throughout, gently, adding a little more water if necessary to keep the sauce from disappearing (it should reduce to a nice glaze). Cover, and let the tofu warm up (it is already fully cooked). Sprinkle with the dried chile flakes. Serve over rice, garnished with thinly sliced green onion, if you like.

March 10, 2013

Kale Gomaae

I've always loved the enticing little dishes of blanched spinach dressed with sesame that one finds in Japanese cuisine. My earliest attempts at making them at home were somewhat laughable - I firmly believed that I shouldn't need to cut the spinach, despite all evidence to the contrary - but what I really disliked was the step of squeezing the water out of the cooked vegetable. I didn't like the squeezing, and I didn't like the look of the spinach after I was done. I was doing it utterly wrong.

Happily, this recipe does not require squeezing of any kind. I make no claims for culinary authenticity, of course, and I must confess that this is ultimately an outgrowth of an Italian recipe for balsamic-glazed kale with pine nuts, of which I am also very fond. I can say without hesitation that this dish is both a delightful addition to any lunchbox that wants a little extra vegetable, and a perfect companion to a rice or noodle based dinner. There are many different dressing recipes for a Japanese gomaae, so if this one doesn't strike your fancy, I suggest that you keep the method and substitute the dressing of your preference.

One of the delightful things about kale is that it is quite sturdy. While it does require a bit of preparation to clean, remove central stalk, and slice the kale (see below), you can do this ahead and keep it crisp and ready for a few days, in a sealed container in the fridge. Then, dishes such as this become a snap to pull off at the last second when you decide that you really should have some sort of vegetable with your chicken teriyaki or tonkatsu, or even miso halibut cheeks.

Kale Gomaae

Serves 2 - 4

250 grams lacinato kale, cleaned and prepared (see below)
1 tablespoon lower sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon mirin
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon honey (or agave)
1 teaspoon sesame seeds, lightly crushed
1/2 teaspoon sesame seeds, for garnish

Combine the soy sauce, mirin, sesame oil, and honey/agave with the crushed sesame seeds. Set aside.

Run cold water over your prepared kale, drain immediately. The water still clinging to the leaves is desirable, to provide steam. In a medium skillet or wok (I use a 9" steel skillet - nonstick is not necessary), over high heat, place the prepared and drained kale and begin to move the kale around as it wilts (I use a silicone spatula). If necessary, sprinkle a little more water over the kale, and continue to stir it around until the leaves start to become tender, but are still bright-looking (well, as bright as "black kale" gets, anyway).

Add the combined sauce mixture, and continue to stir until the dressing has been evenly stirred through and each leaf is lightly dressed. Remove to serving bowls, and garnish with extra sesame seeds.

The kale can be served warm or cold.

I plan to serve it the next time I make the Miso Halibut cheeks mentioned above, in fact (which is likely going to be soon, because that sounds really good). Incidentally, you can see one of my messy spinach gomaae attempts over in that link, too.

How To Prepare Lacinato Kale - in pictures

For long leaves, I cut them in half to make them easier to manage

Cut along the spine of the leaf, as close as you possibly can

Turn the leaf around, slice the spine off and discard

Repeat with the other half of the leaf

Stack the leaves and slice into ribbons

If you want to store them for a few days, use a container with a good seal, and place a dampened paper towel on the top before closing. Store in the crisper of your fridge

Ready to go!

March 04, 2013

Sweet & Sour Balti Chicken

The most shocking thing about this dish is how quick and easy it is. The second most shocking thing is how delicious it is. The only reason for those two things to be in that order is that you have to make it before you can taste it. Fortunately, that doesn't take long.

Many Indian recipes seem daunting, because they contain a laundry list of spices (possibly some obscure, if you don't have a large spice collection), and a great deal of chopping. Most shortcuts involve pre-packaged sauces that, while convenient, never seem to deliver the right intensity of fragrance that one gets from cooking from scratch.

Now, I should confess straight away that there is in fact a convenience item that makes this whole thing work. If you're fanatical about doing everything from scratch, go ahead and make your own hot mango chutney (I suppose you'd need to make your own tomato paste, too, in that case, but your mileage may vary). If you just happen to have some of your own mango chutney jarred up from a canning session, or lurking in the fridge from a recent previous endeavour, then use that (and I salute you!), but you get a pretty good result from a quality store-bought chutney.

This dish isn't precisely sour in the vinegary way that Chinese sweet and sour can be, but the mango chutney (and the yoghurt) give it a tanginess that skews to the sour side of the palate and offsets the sweetness beautifully. You may want to serve a vegetable side dish (or an aggressive array of side condiments). I recommend curry-roasted cauliflower florets, banana (raita or pachadi), or carrot raita to get some more vegetable matter onto your plate, but you could also add some quick-cooking vegetables, such as peas, half-way through the simmering time.

If, like me, you don't have a balti pan, you can use a wok, which is very similarly shaped. Failing that, you can use a large skillet, which works just fine.

Sweet & Sour Balti Chicken

Serves: 4
Total Prep & Cooking Time: 20 minutes

750 grams chicken (boneless, skinless)
3 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons plain Greek yoghurt
1 ½ teaspoons garam masala
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons hot mango chutney
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon sugar
3 tablespoons canola oil
¾ cup water
1-2 serrano peppers, thinly sliced
¼ cup cilantro
2 tablespoons Half & Half / light cream

In a medium bowl, combine the tomato paste, yoghurt, garam masala, cayenne, crushed garlic, mango chutney, salt and sugar, and stir until smooth. If your chutney has huge pieces of mango, you may want to chop them up a bit, otherwise leave any chunks whole.

Dice the chicken into bite-sized pieces.

In a large skillet or wok, heat the oil over medium and scrape the tomato-yoghurt mixture into the hot oil. Stir gently but thoroughly, reduce the heat and cook for about 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. The paste and the oil will not truly integrate, but remain partially separated - that's okay.

Add the chicken to the pan, and stir to coat evenly with the tomato mixture. Add the water, and stir gently until the sauce becomes smooth and liquid. Simmer for about 8 minutes, or until the chicken pieces are cooked through and the sauce has thickened slightly. You may lower the heat and add a lid if the sauce is becoming too thick, or add another tablespoon or two of water.

Add half of the serrano chile slices and the light cream, and cook for 2 minutes, stirring gently.

Serve garnished with the remaining chiles and roughly chopped cilantro.