Sunday, May 23, 2010

Buttermilk Bran Muffins

Hooray! It's the first long weekend of this year. I can finally have time to do my new blog post, plus tons of other housework. This is one of the ways to enjoy my personal time. I mean the blogging part, not the housework.

Whenever we have time on weekends, we like to make a big deal for breakfast. I personally not a big fan of big breakfast but N likes his to be like a brunch. I enjoy the making of it. Pancakes with sausages, waffles, scones, are our favorites. Yesterday, however, instead of making the usual with butter, I, for the first time, used applesauce as baking ingredients for muffins. I have read lots of recipes for low-fat baking using applesauce before but I have never tried it because of the skepticism about replacing butter in any type of baked goods. Butter is supposed to be the heart and soul of yummy baked goods. But inspired by the gorgeous Morning Glory Oat Muffins of Honey and Jam,  I finally tried baking with applesauce and I am loving it.

This recipe of Buttermilk Bran Muffins was found on Epicurious  and is originally published in Healthy Oven Baking Book of Sarah Phillips. It is a very basic recipe.  You can add any ingredients like dried fruit, nuts to your liking. I added raisins, cranberries and flaxseeds. The applesauce and buttermilk really moistened the muffins. With the use of raw sugar, the flavour of the whole wheat and bran is deepened. I like how light the muffins are. For N, no matter whether there is butter of not in the muffins, he would put a large pat of margarine on it when he was eating it. So, he really did not miss the butter in the muffins at all.

Recipe:  Buttermilk Bran Muffins
Adapted from The Healthy Oven Baking Book by Sarah Phillips

Nonstick canola oil spray
1        cup unprocessed wheat bran
2/3     cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2/3     cup whole wheat flour
1 1/4  tsp baking soda
1/8     tsp salt
1 1/4  cup low-fat buttermilk
1/2     cup raw sugar
1/4     cup unsweetened applesauce
1        large egg
1 1/2  Tbsp canola oil
1        tsp vanilla extract
3        Tbsp flexseeds
1/3     cup raisins
1/3     cup cranberries

  1. Position a rack in the centre of the oven and preheat to 350F
  2. Lightly greased or spray twelve 2 1/4"  x 1 1/2" nonstick muffin cups with oil.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together wheat bran, flours, baking soda and salt.
  4. In another medium bowl, using a handheld electric mixer set at high speed, beat the buttermilk, sugar, applesauce, egg, oil and vanilla until frothy, about 2 mins.  Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour the buttermilk mixture.  Stir until just combined.  Add dried fruits and flexseeds or other nuts of your choice.  Mix until just combined.  Do not overmix.
  5. Spoon batter into muffin tray. Bake until the tops spring back when pressed gently in the centre, about 20 mins.  Do not overbake. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 mins before serving.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Zucchini two ways: Saute Zucchini with Corn, Zucchini with Dill

I did not hate vegetables when I was a kid. But I was not really fond of them either. I just did not have any special feeling about them.  They were just there in every meals, as an essential dish in a traditional Chinese meal. And the ways that they were cooked by my mom were very similar; stir-fry plain by itself or with some meats, adding some soy sauce or oyster for seasoning, or adding salt only. Sometimes, my mom also liked to boil, not steam, the vegetables in some flavored broth or salted water. When they were tendered, just poured some soy sauce or oyster sauce on top. That is the quickest and easiest way to make cooked veggies Chinese style. 

Not until the time that I lived by myself in Canada because my parents sometimes went back to their homeland to stay for an extended period of time that I started to cook for myself.  I was so busy and lazy at that time that I skipped the veggie dish sometimes. But I found out very quickly that there was something missing in my diet. I felt that I did not have a full meal.  When I started to make vegetable dish again, I realized how important it was.  The natural sweetness from the juice of the vegetables are magical. They help me to feel refreshed and revitalized my body. From then on, I hardly ever skipped my vegetable dish again.  

Even though I like almost all types of vegetables, zucchini is never my favorite kind.  I do not like to eat them raw as salad and if making stir-fry with it, the flavor get buried with all the sauce and the meats. They are never the star of the dish. But once I explored outside Asian cooking, I began to like it more and more.  The followings are two of my favorite zucchini recipes. Simple but delicious, with zucchini as the star of the dish.

The first one is a Mexican flavored Zucchini and Corn Saute.  The cumin and cilantro greatly enhance the flavor of the zucchini, accompanying by sweet corns, every bite is filled with the sweetness and juiciness of these two vegetables.  You can use frozen corns if you want to make it quicker.  But fresh corn really makes a difference in the taste of this dish.
Recipe:  Corn and Zucchini Saute
Adapted from Gourmet, September 2004

2       Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/4    cup sliced shallots (you can replaced it with scallions or onion)
1/2     tsp minced garlic
2       cups corn *
2        medium zucchini, quartered lengthwise, then cut crosswise into 1/4" thick pieces
1/4     tsp ground cumin
1/8     tsp cayenne pepper
salt and pepper
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro


Heat oil in a 12" heavy skillet over moderate heat until hot but not smoking.  Add shallots, stir and cook until softened, about 3 mins. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 sec.Add zucchini and 1/4 tsp salt, stir and cook until zucchini is half cooked,  about 4 mins, Add corn, cumin and cayenne, stir and continue to cook until zucchini are softened to a degree that you prefer, about 1 to 2 mins longer. Stir in cilantro.  Adjust taste with salt and pepper. 

*If using fresh corn, you can rinse the corn with water and wrap them in saran wrap. Microwave for 2 to 3 mins. Then cut out the corn.

The second dish is even more easier.  It is a great side dish for meat or fish. The recipe is originally from Martha Stewart Everyday Food magazine but I forgot which issue it is. As with lots of other recipes in this magazine, you follow the instruction once and then do not need the recipe anymore. Here is my adaptation of the recipe. 

Recipe:  Zucchini and Dill
Adapted from Martha Stewart Everyday Food

1  Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1   medium zucchini, cut crosswise into 2 halves; cut lengthwise into strips of about 1/2" wide
1   Tbsp lemon juice 
2   tsp or more fresh dills, chopped

Heat oil in a 10" skillet over medium heat.  Add zucchini strips and a pinch of salt, cook until golden brown on all sides, flip occasionally, about 6 to 8 mins. Add lemon juice and fresh dills, toss a cook for another minute. Season with salt and pepper to taste. I usually add quite a bit of salt to balance the lemony taste.


Saturday, May 1, 2010

Chicken Tikka Masala and Naan

Since I have gone back to work, time is becoming more precious. On a working day, I can hardly find time to make any special food for dinner.  Our week night dinner is filled with quick stir-fry, pasta, and  weekend leftover.  Although quick and simple food are delicious too, sometimes you just want a little more spice in your daily life. So, I made this make-ahead chicken tikka masala last week.  Just because it is Indian food (more accurately, Indian style food, since chicken tikka masala is supposed to be a British creation) does not mean that it is complicated although it does require more than a few ingredients, that is what makes cooking fun! 

To make it quick to cook on weeknight, I made the sauce ahead on weekend.  To prepare it for dinner on weeknight,  all I had to do was to marinate the chicken with the spice rub for 45 mins while I was doing other chores in the house. Then put the chicken in the oven, reheat the sauce and assemble this delicious saucy dish in no time.

Recipe:  Chicken Tikka Masala
Adapted from Cook's Illustrated Magazine September/2007 Issue

For the chicken tikka:
1/2        tsp ground cumin
1/2        tsp ground coriander
1/4        tsp cayenne pepper
1           tsp salt
2           lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed of fat*
1           cup plain whole-milk yogurt*
2           Tbsp vegetable oil
2           medium garlic cloves, minced (about 2tsp)
1           Tbsp grated fresh ginger

For the masala sauce:
3           Tbsp vegetable oil
1           medium onion, diced fine (about 1 1/4cup)
2           medium garlic cloves, minced (about 2 tsp)
2           tsp grated fresh giner
1           fresh serrano chili, ribs and seeds removed if you cannot take the heat (I used thai chile since
             I had them on hand)
1           Tbsp tomato paste
1           Tbsp garam masala
1           can (28 oz) crushed tomatoes*
2           tsp sugar
1/2        tsp salt
2/3        cup heavy cream
1/4        cup cilantro leaves, chopped

* See Kithchen Notes

  1. Marinate the chicken: Mix cumin, coriander, cayenne and salt in a small bowl. Rub mixture on both sides of chicken. Refrigerate chicken for 30 to 60 mins or longer.  
  2. Make yogurt coating: Mix yogurt, oil, garlic and ginger, set aside.
  3. Make the sauce:  Heat oil in large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion, stir occasionally and cook until light golden, 6 to 8 mins. Add garlic, ginger, chile tomato paste and garam masala to the onion, stir frequently, until fragrant, for about 3 mins.  Add crushed tomatoes, sugar and salt, bring to boil.  Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer for 15mins, stirring occasionally. Stir in cream and return to simmer.  Remove pan from heat and cover to keep warm.
  4. Broil the chicken:  While sauce simmers, adjust over rack to upper middle position (about 6" from heating element) and heat broiler.  Put a wire rack on a foil-lined baking sheet.  Dip chicken into yogurt mixture and coat chicken with a thick layer of yogurt. Put chicken on the wire rack. Broil chicken for 10 to 18mins (mine is done around 15 mins).  Flip chicken half way through cooking time.  Chicken is done when it reaches about 160F and is slightly charred. 
  5. Let chicken rest for 5 mins. Cut it into chunks and stir into warm sauce. Stir in cilantro, adjust seasoning with salt, and serve with basmati rice or naan.
Kitchen notes:
  • I made the full recipe of sauce but used much less chicken (less than 1 1/2 lbs) because N loved the sauce.
  • 5% plain yogurt instead of full-fat was what I used and the dish turned out fine.
  • I used a mix of crushed and pureed diced tomatoes in juice because the brand of crushed tomatoes that I used was very thick and I did not like really thick sauce.

Usually I serve the chicken tikka masala or any Indian curry dish with store-bought naan bread but I was always curious about what was in the naan.  So I tried making Madhur Jaffrey's naan this time. It was really easy to make.  The most difficult part is the hand-kneading part but it was a good exercise. Different from the original recipe, I made it using a cast iron pan instead of the grill and oven.  And it came out very well. Here is my adaptation of the recipe.

Recipe: Naan
Adapted from Madhur Jaffrey 

5       fl oz warm milk, around 95F to 105F
2       tsp sugar
2       tsp dried active yeast
1       lb all-purpose flour
1       tsp baking powder
2       Tbsp vegetable oil plus little extra
5       fl oz yogurt, lightly beaten (I used 5%)
1       large egg, lightly beaten

  1. Mix milk, sugar and yeast in a small bowl.  Set asides for 15-20mins until mixture is foamy.
  2. Sift flour, salt and baking powder into a large bowl.  Add 1 tsp sugar, yeast mixture, 2 Tbsp vegetable oil, yogurt and egg.  Mix all the ingredients together and form the dough into a ball. (I accidentally put in more sugar, may be 1 to 1 1/2 tsp more, and the bread turned out sweeter than it should be but me and N did not mine this sweeter version at all.)
  3. Dust a little bit of flour on the work surface.  Knead the ball of dough for 10 mins or more until it is smooth and satiny.
  4. Put a little oil in a large bowl. Put the ball of dough in the bowl and coat it with the oil. Cover the dough with saran wrap.  Set it aside in a draught-free area for 1 hour or until the dough is double in size.
  5. Punch down the dough and knead it again for a few mins.  Divide the dough into 6 equal balls. Work on one ball at a time and cover the rest with a damp towel. Roll the dough into a tear shaped naan. 
  6. Heat a little bit of oil (1/2 to 1 tsp) in a cast iron pan over medium high heat until the pan is hot but not smoking.  The pan has to be hot enough to have the naan puff up. Put the naan on the pan and fry each side until it is golden brown, about 2 to 4 mins in total for both sides.

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