Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A Quick Trip Down East

Now I know why people love Halifax. I had the good fortunate to spend a few days there last week.
Tranquil time away, mostly for business. I managed to squeeze in a few hours to reconnect with a high school classmate.

The last time Cathy and I saw each other, our eldest children were in diapers. Now they are preparing for junior high school. Cathy and I laughed over our own high school shenanigans. We shared our dreams for our children.

Our reunion in Halifax showed us that friendship knows neither time nor distance.

Peggy's Cove

For a few glorious days, I didn't need to feed anyone but myself. Food tastes so much better when it's prepared, presented and cleared away by someone else.

A warm salad of squid and assorted seafood 

Cathy took me to a restaurant whose motto is "delishes fishes dishes." They should add "ginormous." McKelvie's serves up a monstrous Crunchy Haddock. I think the crunch comes from seasoned corn flakes.
Cornflakes give crunch to haddock.   
The following evening, I devoured half a cow at The Cut, an upscale steak house whose staff is as  sleek and sexy as the decor.
The giant shrimp dwarf the 6-ounce dry-aged filet mignon. 
The food made my palate happy. The landscape took my breath away.

Sunrise over Halifax Harbour

Peggy's Cove
I had a few hours to kill before my flight back home. Cathy took me down the coast to Peggy's Cove.

The crisp Atlantic air and our warm reunion did me a load of good.

Halifax, I'll be back.   


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Marvels of Miso

The distinctive aroma reminds me of Japan. Earthy. Salthy. Soothing simplicity.

Whenever I take a sip of warm miso soup, my palate welcomes the umami taste. My insides appreciate the beneficial micronutrients.

Many Japanese people start their day with a bowl of tepid miso soup to gently energize the body. It is the easiest soup to make; just a few tasty ingredients simmered for few minutes.

Soybean paste, fish stock and dried seaweed or kelp. 
Add a spoonful of nutrient-rich soybean paste to hot fish stock or water and let the paste slowly simmer to dissolve.
Dried kelp, or seaweed.
I like to add dried seaweed or kelp, known as Kombu. This sea algae is an amazing source of vitamins and minerals. Coupled with miso, you have a soup that is rich in anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatories.
Kombu, or seasweed adds an punch to miso soup
Add chopped tofu and green onion just before serving.

When shopping for miso, look for the unpasteurised miso which is loaded with enzymes and beneficial microorganisms. The colour varies from pale yellow to dark red or brown. The lighter the colour, the milder and sweeter the taste. Dark miso has a robust and earthy saltiness. Start with a tad and slowly, carefully increase the quantity. If you're not careful, you might overpower your dish.

I've got Japan on my mind because of the tragic one year anniversary. This week marks one full year after the magnitude 9 earthquake unleashed a devastating tsumani.

I attended a candle-light vigil in Ottawa where a representative from the Japanese embassy told us that the Japanese people are utterly grateful for our thoughts and prayers.  Our financial assistance is also in tremendous need. If you wish to give, here is the link to the Red Cross.

Domo arigato gozaimasu, a deep thank you.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

A Guiltless Pleasure: Choco-Walnut Cookies

I've got a chocolate hangover and I'm blissfully content. Who'd have thought that three basic ingredients could produce such delicious delirium?

Toasted walnuts + egg whites + cocoa = delicious delirum 
Walnuts: A great source of omega-3's, manganese, copper and protein, they promote brain function and bone health.
Egg Whites: A good source of vitamins and minerals such as zinc, calcium and potassium.
Cocoa: Rich in antioxidants, it triggers the brain's production of natural opiates and helps cardiovascular health.

Mix them together with a little sweetener and a pinch of other healthful ingredients -- chia seeds,  ground flax seeds, cinnamon - and you've got a decandent, satisfying treat.

I couldn't stop at one. But there's no guilt here because of all the beneficial ingredients.
Choco-Walnut Cookies with Mighty Macaroons
Gluten Free Choco Walnut cookies
2 1/2 cups toasted walnuts
4 egg whites
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup sugar/ maple syrup
1 Tablespoon vanilla 
pinch salt (optional)
pinch cinnamon (optional)
1 teaspoon chia seeds (optional)
1 teaspoon ground flax seeds (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a medium bowl, mix together cocoa and sugar.
Add vanilla, eggs whites and optional ingredients, stirring just enough to moisten everything.  
Stir in toasted walnuts. 
Drop a tablespoon full of batter onto the baking sheet. Bake for about 9 - 12 minutes. I like my cookies gooey, so I let them bake for just 9 minutes, just until the outsides are firm.   
Store in an air-tight container to keep them moist. The cookies freeze very well.

My new guiltless pleasure

Monday, March 5, 2012

Cheapskate Chicken

I've said this before: I'm a cheap date and a frugal cook. I'm proud of my thrifty inclination.
I tend to spend money on stuff that improves my quality of life. Quality ingredients and anything that affords me time are well-worth my dime.

When I come across something economical and tasty and healthy, I must share the wealth.
This recipe comes via one of my favourite Ottawa bloggers. Andrea's chicken burritos are an easy, tasty meal. I made one substitution (rice instead of tortillas) and two additions (red pepper and corn) to it.  
My daughter offers a hand in the meal stretching. 
Chicken breasts are the most expensive part of this recipe. Once you add inexpensive corn, black beans and sweet potato, you bulk it up with colouful fibre. One plate was enough to satisfy my hearty eaters.

This recipe served seven dinner plates, plus leftovers to make four lunches. At under $12 in total, that breaks down to $1.09 per serving. And it all came together in under 30 minutes. Now that's my idea of fast food.
AK's Cheapskate Chicken
The sweet potato and cinnamon are a match made in heaven. Like dark chocolate and toasted walnuts. I'll save that for the next post.

Cheapskate Chicken 
2 chicken breasts
2 sweet potatoes, diced
1 onion, diced
oil olive for frying 
1 can black beans, rinsed

1 can corn kernels
1 red pepper, diced 
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp cinnamon 

Place the chicken breasts in a medium pot and cover with water.
Let simmer over medium heat.  
In a large skillet, saute the sweet potatoes and onion in olive oil. 
Once the chicken is nearly cooked and still pink, remove from the pot, saving the water.
Dice the chicken and add to the skillet.
Stir in beans, corn, red pepper and seasonings.
Pour two large spoonfuls of water from pot into the skillet. 
Let simmer over low heat for about 10 minutes.
While chicken is simmering, cook the rice using the leftover chicken water. 

Serve the chicken over a bed of rice. Top with grated cheese and cilantro. 
Serves eight with leftovers.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

25-minute Weird Chicken Stew

The mission: feed the family plus two of their voriacious friends.
The constraint: 30 minutes to get dinner on the table, the kids fed and off to their various activities.
The ingredients: Chicken, carrots, celery, bruised apples. It was clean-out-the-fridge Friday.

I was a lady on a mission. I browned the skinless, boneless chicken thighs in a dutch oven. Once the outsides were cooked, I threw in the chopped vegetables and let them soften for a couple of minutes. I poured in a cup of chicken stock to add moisture and prevent burning.

I was in the mood for something Moroccan-ish. A dash of ground cumin and cinnamon, along with a couple of cinnamon sticks.

I covered the dutch oven and let the stew simmer until the chicken was fully cooked. After 10 minutes, I added the sliced apples and turned off the heat. The house smelled delicous.

In under 25 minutes, mission accomplished. Best of all, the gang ate it and enjoyed it. For the most part. My daughter thought that apples with chicken were too weird. She told me to save the apples for dessert.

As for the others, they had seconds. Apples and all.

Here's my recipe for the one-pot Moroccan-inspired chicken stew. I served it on a bed of quinoa. Rice or couscous works well too.

A-K's Weird and Wonderful Chicken Stew 
Serves 10

Skinned chicken parts
Vegetable oil to brown the chicken
2 carrots, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 1-inch piece fresh ginger, grated
1 cup chicken stock
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 small apples, cored and sliced (optional)
salt and pepper to taste