Friday, April 23, 2010

Back to Work Granola

How to make my work day a bit more fun? How to settle my growling stomach in the office? I need some sweet and healthy snacks! This granola is perfect for breakfast or snack at any time. It is with different varieties of nuts, maple syrup and honey as sweetener, and just 2 Tbsp of butter.  I have been experimenting with different proportion of dry ingredients, sweeteners and oil for a long time.  I like this combination the best because it is crunchy and yet the granola sticks together in cluster without too much oil and sugar. Maple syrup is essential in getting the great taste, honey only is just not good enough for me.  But you can play around with different combination of nuts and sweetener to suit your own taste.

Recipe:  Back to Work Granola

1 1/2     cup old-fashioned rolled oats
2 1/2     cup puff rice
3/4        cup walnut
3/4        cup pecan
3/4        cup mixed of whole and sliced almond
3           Tbsp flaxseed
3           Tbsp sunflower seed
3           Tbsp wheat germs
3/4        cup dried fruit, chopped (I used cranberries and apricot)
2           Tbsp butter
1/4        cup maple syrup
1/4        cup honey
1/4        cup brown sugar
1/2        tsp salt
1 1/2     tsp vanilla extract

  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Spread oats, all the nuts, seeds and wheat germ on to a baking pan. Toast the ingredients for 12mins.  Add in the puff rice and toast for another 3mins..
  2. Remove nut mixture from the oven.  Reduce oven heat to 300F. 
  3. Let  the nut mixture cool down for a few mins. Put 1/3 of the nut mixture in food processor and pulse it several time until the mixture are crumbly and the nuts are broken into small pieces but not powdery.  Mix the processed nut mixture with the rest of the nut mixture in a large bowl. You can skip this step if you use chopped nuts.  But I like the different texture with different size of nuts.
  4. Combine butter, maple syrup, honey, sugar, salt and vanilla extract in a saucepan over low heat. Cook and stir constantly until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture comes together smoothly.
  5. Pour sugar mixture into nut mixture. Put in dried fruit.  Stir to combine. Put mixture onto a baking pan lined with silpat. Press down and form the mixture into a single sheet of around 1/2" to 1" thick. Put it in the oven and bake for 20 to 25 mins until the granola turns golden brown. Remove from the oven and let it cool.  Break into small pieces.  You can keep it in the fridge for at least 2 weeks.

                                                                      before and after toasting and baking

    Kitchen notes:
    • I tried to make these into bars before but I found that more oil and sugar was needed in order to prevent them from crumbling when cutting. If you just break them into bite-size clusters, they are still easy to eat and store without crumbling too much.

    Friday, April 16, 2010

    No Title

    For the past month, I have been living in my dream world.  Cooking, baking, making food looks pretty and taking pictures of pretty food, sharing those pictures with others. It has been so much joy.  But somehow, incident just happens that pull one back to the reality. An opportunity came. It was one of those that you would regret and feel guilty about it if you do not take it. It was a no-brainer decision. I had to go back to the workforce and do what my profession trained me to do. I was happy and sad with my decision.  Sad because I have less and less time to do what I really love to do. Happy because I can now spend more on my props and may be camera and lighting equipments.  I will not leave this dream world that I have just found. Although there will be adjustments to how much time I can spend in it. But look, my African violet is blooming! I think my dream is still alive!


    Friday, April 9, 2010

    West Lake Beef Soup

    Usually when I have no idea what to cook for dinner or if I need to whip up something really quickly, I go for Chinese food.  You can almost stir fry any type of vegetables, put some meat in, and you have a dish in no time.  But Chinese soup is different.  The ones that my mom likes to make, with meat, vegetables and Chinese herbs,  usually take 2 to 3 hours to simmer. And it is said that those type of soup have medical value.  I have yet to learn the right ingredient combination to make those type of slow-cook soup.  The one that is easy and quick to make is the thickening soup, such as hot and sour soup, egg drop soup and West Lake beef soup. In an unusually windy and cool spring day like yesterday, I suddenly longed for the beefy taste and strong cilantro fragrant. So, I made the West Lake beef soup

    *Kitchen notes:  
    • This is my version of the recipe. As with other recipes, you can find thousands of ways to cook it on the internet, especially if you can google in Chinese. Like, whether you should parboil the beef first or not, whether you should marinate the beef or not. After trying different ways, I came up with my own way to suit my own taste. 
    • I like cilantro a lot. To get the taste of the cilantro into the soup,  I boil the cilantro stems with the soup for a while.  If you do not like strong cilantro taste, please skip the step.
    • You can use just the egg white rather than the whole egg to make the egg strands.

    Recipe:  West Lake Beef Soup (西湖牛肉羹)
    Serve 2 to 4

    For marinade:
    1/2    lb extra lean ground beef
    2       Tbsp light soy sauce
    1       tsp Chinese cooking wine
    1       tsp cornstarch
    1/2    tsp sesame oil
    dash of white pepper

    For the stock:
    1       cup low sodium chicken stock
    3       cup water
    3       thin slices of ginger
    1       box of soft tofu, diced
    1       bunch (about 10 stalks) of cilantro, rinsed, pick the leaves off the stem*
    1/3    cup frozen peas
             soy sauce
    3       Tbsp of cornstarch
    1       egg, lightly beaten*

    1. Whisk all the marinade seasonings together and toss with the beef. Let the beef marinate for at least 15 mins.
    2. Combine 3 Tbsp of cornstarch with 3 Tbsp of water.  Stir until all the lumps are gone.  Put it aside.
    3. Boil the chicken stock, water and ginger together in a saucepan over medium heat.. When the stock is boiling, put the tofu and the cilantro stems in. Let the stock simmer for about 1 to 2 mins. When the stock is boiling again, put the marinated beef in. Break the clumps of the beef with a wooden spoon. Let the stock simmer for a while, about 4 to 5 mins, or until the beef is no longer pink. Stir in the frozen peas. Let it simmer for another min.
    4. Take out the cilantro stems. Skim off the foams or the impurities on the surface of the stock. Adjust the taste or the soup with salt and soy sauce. I put around 1/2 tsp of salt and 2 tsp of soy sauce in.
    5. Stir the cornstarch mixture again before adding to the soup.  To thicken the soup, pour in half of the cornstarch mixture while the soup is simmering. Stir and let the soup simmer for a while, check the consistency of the soup before pouring in more cornstarch mixture. The soup should turn a little bit translucent when it is thicken to the right consistency.
    6. Remove the pan from the heat.  Drizzle the egg into the soup in a steady, continuous stream while stirring the soup at the same time. The egg will turn into thin strands that floats in the soup.  Stir in the cilantro leaves.  Serve hot.

    Tuesday, April 6, 2010

    Linguine with Clam Sauce

    Sometimes the lazy bugs just creep all over me.  Over the Easter long weekend, we did not do our scheduled spring clean up, we did not fix our desperate looking plants in the front yard, we did not go for long walks with Yogi. I did not even have to cook.  My MIL  made a wonderful Easter dinner, as usual. And we had turkey leftover for a few meals. Finally getting tired of the leftover, we had to cook something, but no one wanted to go for grocery shopping. We took a look at what we had in the pantry, we found canned clams.  Great!  N likes clams sauce pasta,  he even likes to cook it himself. So,  this time N was the master chef and I was the sous chef.

     The recipe is loosely based on the one in The Best Recipe.  But after we made it so many times, we modified the ingredients to what we had on hand and we made it our own way. The original recipe is using fresh clams, which we sometimes use, and of course it makes a difference in taste.  But the grocery store in our neighborhood does not have fresh clams. So, we do use canned clams quite often.  I like that this is a light recipe with no cream or butter, but there is enough yummy taste with the use of the clam juice.

    Recipe:  Linguine with Clam Sauce
    Serves 4

    1       can clams, with juice
    1       can clams nectar
    1/2    cup dry white wine
             pinch of cayenne or red pepper flakes
    1/4    cup extra-virgin olive oil
    3       medium garlic cloves, minced
    2       plum tomatoes, seeded and minced
    1       lb linguine, or spaghetti
    1/2    cup freash pasley, chopped


    1.  Boil 4 quarts water in a large pot. Add 1 Tbsp salt to the water.
    2. In a 10 to 12" skillet, bring the juice from the canned clams, the clams nectar and the white wine, a pinch of cayenne to a boil over high heat.  Reduce heat to medium and let it simmer, until the juice is reduced to about 1 1/2 cup, about 10 to 15 mins. Remove the juice from the pan, set it aside.
    3. Heat oil and garlic over medium low heat until garlic is fragrant, about 2 to 3 mins. Add tomatoes, increase heat to high and saute until tomatoes soften, about 2 mins.  Add the canned claims, and the clam juice back to the pan.  Cook until the liquid is reduced but there is sufficient for the pasta.  
    4. Add pasta to boiling water.  Cook until the pasta is al dente or softened to the degree that you like, around 7 to 9 mins.  Drain pasta.  Add the clams and the liquid to the pasta. Stir in parsley and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.  Sprinkle parmesan cheese (optional) on top when served.

    Friday, April 2, 2010

    Chicken Fajitas and Guacamole

    Sometimes I am reluctant to try new recipes, especially if I have a recipe that I like and approved by N.  Anytime I try a new recipe, I have to have a backup plan. What if the picky eaters in the family do not like it? They will have nothing to eat. So, I buy more bread, or prepare a second dish, just in case. If it is a complicated recipe, it has to be coming from a trusted and reliable source. One of the reliable sources is the Cook's Illustrated Magazine. I have several of their cookbooks, I subscribe to their magazine and their website and I watch their TV shows.  I like that they tell you why something works and something does not work. And the outcome after you put in so much effort, is very good and approved by everyone in the family most of the time. But, the downside is that, their recipes usually involve a lot more steps than other recipes of the same dishes.  They are definitely not 30-mins meals, although they do come up with a cookbook just for quick meal.

    The chicken fajitas I made yesterday was from one of their recipes. Since I found this recipe, I have given up the very short-cut way of making fajitas with bottled salsa. The flavor is just incomparable.You can taste the freshness of the veggies and the marinated chicken is just as good by itself.  Although I usually serve it with home-made guacamole and sour cream, I can just have it without any accompaniments. Here, I will try to simplify the recipe.  Please subscribe to the Cook's Illustrated website if you want the original recipe.

    Kitchen notes: 
    •  When preparing the chicken, do not forget to pound the chicken to 1/2" thickness. That is the key to efficiently absorb the marinade and cook the chicken in the time according to the recipe. If chicken is too thick, the time to cook it through will be much longer. It may result in the outside being overcooked while the inside is undercooked.    
    • This is an indoor cooking recipe.  Of course, you can always grill the marinated chicken.

    Recipe:  Chicken Fajitas
    Adapted from Cook's Illustrated
    Serves 4 to 6

    1/3    cup lime juice
    6       Tbsp vegetable oil
    3       medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed thru garlic press (about 1 Tbsp)
    1       Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
    1 1/2  tsp brown sugar
    1        jalapeno pepper, minced (seeds and ribs removed if you want less heat)
    1 1/2  Tbsp fresh cilantro leaves, minced
              salt & pepper
    3        boneless, skinless chicken breast (~1 1/2 lbs), trimmed of fat, pounded to 1/2" thickness*
    1        large red onion, peeled and cut into 1/2" thick rounds (do not separate rings)
    1        large red bell pepper, quartered, stemmed and seeded
    1        large green bell pepper, quartered, stemmed and seeded
    8 - 12plain flour tortillas (6")

    1. Make marinade for chicken, save some for later use - Whisk together lime juice, 4 Tbsp of oil, garlic, Worcestershire, brown sugar, jalapeno, cilantro, 1 tsp salt and 3/4 ts pepper.  Reserve 1/4 cup marinade and set aside. Add another tsp of salt to remaining marinade and put the chicken in. Marinade chicken for 15 to 30 mins.
    2. Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position. Heat broiler.
    3. Prepare veggies for broiling - Brush both sides of onion rounds and peppers with 2 Tbsp oil and season with salt and pepper.  Arrange veggies (peppers skin side up) in single layer on baking sheet.
    4. Cook chicken - Take chicken out from marinade, pat dry chicken, discard marinade.  Heat 2 Tbsp oil in nonstick or cast-iron skillet over medium high heat until just beginning to smoke.  Coat pan with oil, arrange chicken in single layer on the pan, smooth side down, brown chicken, about 3 mins. Flip over the chicken and brown the other side, about 2 mins. Reduce heat to medium and continue to cook 3 to 5 mins longer, turning occasionally, until thickest part of chicken registered 160F.  Set aside chicken and let it rest.
    5. Broil veggies - while chicken is cooking, put veggies in oven.  Broil until veggies  are spottily charred and peppers are crisp-tender, about 10 to 12 mins.  Flip over onion rounds once half way through broiling. Take out peppers first if onions need longer to cook.
    6. Cut chicken and peppers into 1/4" strips. Break apart onion rounds. Toss the veggies and chicken with reserved marinade. Serve with tortilla, and condiments such as sour cream, guacamole, salsa and cheddar etc.).
    7. As for the flour tortilla, you can heat it up in oven or microwave according to package instructions. I usually heat it up in a dry stainless steel pan (not non-stick) over low heat for about 1 to 2 mins per side.

    Recipe:  Gucamole 

    1   tbsp of minced red onion
    3   tbsp of minced fresh cilantro
    1  small glove of garlic, minced 
    1  jalapeno pepper, minced (remove seed and ribs if prefer less heat)
    2   medium size ripe avocado, seeded, cubed and scoop out the inside
    1 to 2 tbsp of lime juice

    Mix everything together.  Mash the avocado with a fork to the consistency, whether mushy or chunky, of your preference.  Adjust taste with salt.

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