Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Bar hopping

There's something about bars.  I know I've expressed my love for this form of baked good before, so it should come as no surprise that I've whipped up a few more batches since.

Uncharted brownie territory...
A few months ago, I was hit with a peanut butter and chocolate craving.  Badly.  As in, a scoop of PB on a spoon and a couple chocolate chips just wouldn't do.  My parents have this new philosophy, which I think is pretty smart: only eat what's in the house already.  So basically, no quick trips out for just one or two ingredients just because you want something; try to make do with what you have on hand.  Cuts down on food spending, food waste, gas to get to the store, etc.  I was raised by some smart people, let me tell ya.

Back to the craving.  In keeping with this philosophy, I wasn't willing to head out and buy some Reese's cups (as Hubs suggested).  Instead, I hit up Allrecipes.com to figure out what I could rustle up.  Behold!

Got a little fancy... I couldn't justify eating the whole pan, so a number came with me to work for a baby shower.
Does a brownie officially become a dainty if it's in a wrapper?  Also, has anyone heard the term "dainty" in this context outside of Manitoba?
I altered the original recipe a touch, adding about 3/4 cup of dark chocolate chips and about 1/3 cup roasted peanuts.  I also followed the advice of a commenter: in order to make these brownie-like, I mixed all the ingredients by hand.  These most definitely kicked the craving!!  They were so easy to make, too, with items I had in my cupboards.  One of my American Sign Language classmates had a birthday yesterday, so I threw together a batch just an hour before I had to leave.  I got to serve them up soft and warm, which took the edge off the misty, chilly evening.

Next up: a personal culinary challenge that I had been meaning to tackle for months:
Oh yes, folks.  They're Nanaimo bars
I really enjoy Nanaimo bars.  I couldn't tell you the first time I ever tried one; I'm pretty sure they've been a favourite since youth.  Up until now, though, I'd never tried making them myself.  Mostly, it was the filling part of the bar that scared me.  What IS that stuff, anyway?  Mostly sugar, sure, but there's got to be more to it.  So once again, I put my trust in Ms. Olson and gave it my best shot with her recipe.  My only modifications?  I replaced the nuts with more chocolate crumbs (not a huge walnut fan), left out the coffee powder, and added some pink food colouring to the filling (since I was making these for a baby girl shower at work).  Pretty delish!

These photos highlight two of the (relatively minor) issues I had with the recipe.  When I was cutting these puppies, the chocolate layer cracked a bit.  Due to the pressure of the knife on the firm chocolate layer, the filling then smushed out the sides.  I tidied them up for serving, but lesson learned: cut these in the pan to avoid squishing as much as possible!
Despite the slicing issues, these were pretty simple overall... after I found custard powder.  Safeway wanted something like $4 for a large can when I only needed a few tablespoons... Bulk Barn to the rescue!  I love that store!  I constantly find fantastic stuff for cake baking and decorating... but more on that another day.

Wondering what bars she'll bake in the coming weeks to stave off wedding jitters,

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Spring is springing...

...but I'm not convinced that it's fully sprung.  The avid patio-goers in Winnipeg would disagree with me, but they're wearing shorts and tshirts, so I call their sanity into question.

The lovely Kimmi, enjoying "spring" in Winnipeg.  This was in late April, people.
Talking about the weather in the 'Peg seems more like a form of ancient prisoner torture.  One day it's gorgeous, and you're out in a tank top and capris... the next day you're shivering in pants and a long jacket.  I had been warned about the possibility of early spring snows, but was a little shocked to wake up on May 1st to a repeat winter wonderland.  It snowed again around the 12th or so, I believe, but didn't stick.  Currently, we're experiencing cold, cloudy, rainy weather that brings to mind March in Ontario... not May (almost June!).

Regardless, in spring, this young girl's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of food.  I do feel a significant amount of regret over having missed fiddlehead season this year (I tried them for the first time in Winnipeg last year, and loved them!)  I have, however, come across a couple of nice spring-ish recipes that put me in the mood for blooming flowers and strolls in Assiniboine Park (y'know, after the floods recede).  Here's one I made not too long ago: Lemon dill smoked salmon pasta.

I don't know what it is about smoked salmon that reminds me of spring... maybe it's the spring/summer research projects I would do on salmon DNA?  Probably not.  Regardless, this is a nice, quick, easy and light pasta (G.I. friendly!) with fresh flavours.  I used bbq smoked salmon (not lox), since it's cheaper but just as tasty; either one would work.

Lemon Dill Linguine with Smoked Salmon
Adapted from The G.I. Diet Cookbook by Rick Gallop

Makes 4 servings

    •    1 serving whole wheat linguine
    •    1/8 cup extra virgin olive oil
    •    1/2 tsp pepper
    •    1/8 cup sprigs dill
    •    1/4 cup lemon juice
    •    1 tbsp lemon peel, grate
    •    2 large scallion
    •    1 1/2 cups whole snow peas
    •    6 oz smoked chum salmon (you can substitute lox or gravlax if you want)
  1. In large bowl, whisk together lemon juice, oil, lemon zest, and pepper.
  2. In large pot of boiling water, cook linguine for 5-7 minutes. Add peas and continue to cook for another 3 mintues until pasta is al dente.
  3. Drain pasta and peas and add to bowl with lemon mixture. Add salmon, green onions, and dill; toss to combine.

 Enjoy.  I'm off to dig my winter coat out of the closet to go to an outdoor concert tonight.  Maybe I should grab my mitts while I'm at it.

Hoping she'll be able to break the margaritas out and sip by the pool soon,

Monday, May 9, 2011

Time to Thai one on!

...see what I did there?

In seriousness, though, my cravings for Thai food remain.  There must be some sort of essential nutrient or vitamin in curry for which I have a severe deficiency.  Luckily, I do believe I've found a way to have my curry and eat it too.

Mmm.  Matsaman. This one has beef in it; stay tuned for the (better) chicken version...
Have I talked about how much I love matsaman/massaman/masaman/however-you-spell-it curry before?  If I haven't, I need to now.  I have my dear Uncle-but-more-like-big-brother Pete to thank for encouraging me to try this Indian-meets-Thai dish.  Mmm, Asian fusion done right.  I don't even know how to accurately describe the flavour to you.  It's got the tangy tamarind, rich peanuts, warm spices like cinnamon and cardamom, salty fish sauce... it's a party in your mouth, and everyone's invited.  It's not particularly spicy (unless you want to make it so), just spiced.  Fan-freakin'-tastic.

My boys!  Figaro and Hubs joining me for curry.  I think I'll start calling this manifestation e-Hubs.
So, onto my figure-friendly recipe.  After pining for it, but not wanting to spend almost $40 to get it, I took Rick Gallop's G.I. Diet Cookbook out from the Winnipeg Public Library. This is adapted from the "coconut curry beef" recipe, which originally called for beef (duh) and yellow curry paste.  I tried the beef version, and to be completely honest, I didn't love it.  Chicken it is!  This is how I doctored it to be a reasonable, delicious facsimile of my favourite Thai menu item:

Better-for-you Matsaman Curry
Inspired by the G.I. Diet Cookbook by Rick Gallop

Makes 4 servings
  • 3 Tbsp orange juice
  • 2 Tbsp fish sauce
  • 2 tsp cornstarch
  • 2 tsp soy sauce
  • 2 chicken breasts, cubed
  • 2 tsp canola oil
  • 2 small-medium onions, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbsp (at least!) Matsaman curry paste**
  • 1/2 cup light coconut milk
  • 1 Tbsp light smooth peanut butter (since nobody seems to have caught on and made a light CRUNCHY pb... sadness...)
  • 1 Tbsp lime juice
  • 2 tsp Splenda
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro (if you don't like it, you should probably sit this one out)
  • 2 Tbsp unsalted peanuts, chopped
  1. In bowl, whisk together orange juice, fish sauce, cornstarch, and soy sauce. Stir in chicken, tossing to coat. Marinade in the fridge while you get the rest of the ingredients together.
  2. In large non-stick frying pan, heat oil over medium-high heat. Cook onion and garlic for 5 minutes until softened. Stir in curry paste and cook for 1 minute. Add chicken and stir-fry until thoroughly cooked (no longer pink in the middle)
  3. Next, stir in coconut milk, peanut butter, lime juice, and Splenda. Stir well to ensure all ingredients meld together. Cook, tossing to coat meat with sauce, for another 2 minuts. Garnish with cilantro and peanuts.
  4. Serve alongside steamed sugar snap peas and basmati rice!  Mmm.
**It might be slightly tricky to find Matsaman curry paste.  You MIGHT find it in your local large grocery store, if it has a decent "International" section.  If not, Google your local Asian food market.  Aroy-D makes a very delicious version, and I know I've seen their products at Real Canadian Superstore before... try your luck!  If not, substitute yellow or red curry paste instead; they tend to be easier to find.
For the love of Pete, do NOT forget to start cooking your rice before your curry if you're using a rice maker.  9 times out of 10, I forget this crucial step and end up waiting around for the telltale beep.  This time I remembered.  I sort of like how my kitchen is reflected in the surface...
Saucy!  This time, it's chicken.  MUCH better than the beef, honestly.  I think the marinade in the first step keeps it nice and tender and juicy!

Honestly, this curry is so flavourful and rich that I didn't believe it was actually healthy.  Then, I got proof!  In keeping with the goal to eat healthier and trim down, my dear sisters, Ni and Sar, convinced me to sign up for an account on fatsecret.com.  Now, ignore the horrific name.  This is basically a food-and-exercise tracking tool... it's pretty neat.  My favourite feature?  You can enter your own recipes, and the website will calcuate fat, calories, etc. based on the ingredients and number of servings.  It even lets you share recipes with the rest of the community.  This, obviously, is right up my alley.  I've already submitted several of my favourites.  Clocking in at (approximately) 8.6 g of fat per serving, and ~330 calories (including rice and snap peas!), this is pretty decent for a dinner.

Alright.  Enough of that.  I promise I won't turn into a diet-obsessed blogger; just needed to spread the word about that neat tool, and how it totally justified this deliciousness for me.  Give it a shot if you like; you can find me listed as GeckoGurl1984!

Hoping she'll be able to continue finding more healthy-but-delicious international cuisine,

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Heartfelt apologies

Hi all,

Not to overly promote a catchy 90s pop song... but oops, I did it again.  Life has been throwing me a lot of curveballs lately, which usually means that by the end of the day, the only kind of cooking I want to do is of the finger variety (Boston Pizza ads, anyone?  Finger cooking, aka. dialing/going online to order takeout.  It's tempting.  I've almost mastered it.)

At any rate, as the official Honeybee-Hubs union draws nearer, I'm hoping to do more *ahem* HEALTHY cooking to tame the waistline, and blogging to tame the frazzled mind.  I have a whole backlog of gems to share with you, mostly connected with some fun 'Peg events (birthdays, showers, festivals, etc).  I shall update you all shortly... hopefully within a few hours, honestly, if I can get my grocery shopping, Mother's Day Skyping, cooking, and exercising out of the way (did I mention I was busy? :D)

In the meantime, I'll leave you with a few cute snapshots of what happens when I open cupboards to put away clean dishes:


This particular recipe is the very famous French creation, "Chaton dans un placard".  It's what you get when you add kitten + cupboard.  Pretty cute, non?

With heartfelt promises to update with more culinary experiments, hijinks, and stories very soon,