April 25, 2009

Asian lettuce wraps

Another hit from Kalyn's Kitchen - Asian lettuce wraps. I first made these several weeks ago when I foolishly thought I could live without carbs and I have made these wraps almost weekly since then.

I made a few changes to Kalyn's recipe - cutting the amount of soy sauce in half (I am the low-sodium girl after all) and adding the chopped peanuts and cilantro to the ground turkey mixture in the last few minutes of cooking rather than as a garnish.

If only all low carb meals tasted this good!

April 21, 2009

Child of the 70's

Growing up, for me and every other child of the seventies, Sara Lee cheesecake was the ultimate.  I haven't tried it since then but this cheesecake tastes exactly how I remember it as a child.

I get more requests for this cake than all of my other recipes combined.  One bite and it transports every seventies baby back to the Sara Lee heyday, guaranteed!

The original recipe was taken from the February 1981 (yikes!) issue of Bon Appetit magazine.  I still have the magazine cover and the feature article titled "Simply Spectacular - Great Cakes for Special Occasions".  A little obsessive right?  Especially since I was barely 11 years old at the time!

I made this cheesecake for my dear friend (and onion ring buddy) over at My Sweet Cheap Life and her Sweetie, who was kind enough to send me this photo.

You can find the original recipe here.  I don't use walnuts in the crust but otherwise am pretty faithful to the original recipe...except for the topping.  The original was topped with luscious fresh strawberries with glaze but (due to popular demand) I use canned pie filling (cherry or blueberry) for that authentic seventies experience!

If you love cheesecake I promise you this is the only recipe you need!

April 14, 2009

Beef and broccoli over steam-fried noodles

My name is Sweet Kitchen and I am a carb addict.

I tried to stick to a low(ish) carb diet in a vain attempt to eliminate the dreaded winter bloat until every cell in my body was screaming out for carbs and I was almost reduced to gnawing on my bamboo cutting board.

Now I need to come clean and confess that I completely fell off the low-carb wagon with this meal - and may I say it was totally worth every gram!

This is one of the most incredible stir-fry recipes I have ever made and it's adapted from the Cook's Illustrated recipe which can be found here.

The recipe starts by marinating thinly sliced flank steak (cut across the grain) in soy sauce for 10 minutes to 1 hour. This is a great tip for tenderizing meat.

The meat is then browned in batches and removed to a bowl.

The sauce is a combination of hoisin sauce, sherry, brown sugar and sesame oil with a bit of stock (I used water because I couldn't be bothered to open a whole box of stock chasing Cook's quest for perfection) and a bit of cornstarch as a thickener.

The co-star of the recipe, the broccoli, is steamed in the pan and then drained on paper towel.

Chopped red pepper is sauteed briefly then ginger and copious amounts of garlic are added to the pan.

Then the broccoli, beef and sauce are returned to the pan and stirred to distribute the aromatics. Finally the sauce is poured over the top and the whole thing is stir-fried until the sauce thickens slightly.

Topped with sliced green onions and served over noodles or rice (I used steam-fried noodles, which were boiled like pasta for 2 to 3 minutes) it's a meal fit for a king (or a recovering carbaholic)!

Now that pasta is no longer banned from my kitchen I can again participate in Presto Pasta Nights which is being hosted this week by Katie of One Little Corner of the World. Head on over to Katie's site on Friday to see this week's roundup.

April 10, 2009

Black bean and chicken stew

I have cut back on carbs the last few weeks in an attempt to shed a few of those spare tires that seem to have appeared around my middle over the winter.   Blech!  Luckily I stumbled across a fabulous site for low carb recipes at Kalyn's Kitchen and when I saw her recipe for black bean stew I couldn't wait to try it.

I made a few modifications to the recipe - well, actually quite a lot - not because of any problem with the original recipe (it really does sound fabulous) but because of my complete inability to plan meals in advance.   I am completely hopeless when it comes to that and more often than not I find myself in the middle of a recipe missing several vital ingredients.  The up side? I have been forced to learn to improvise.

This improvisation resulted in an amazing stew that is hearty and delicious - quite similar to a chili actually and I have already made it twice in the last week.  I love stews and the fact that they require very little effort to pull together makes me love them even more! Leftovers taste even better the next day.

This stew can easily be made vegetarian by omitting the chicken and replacing the chicken stock with vegetable stock or water.  If you have both a meat eater and a vegetarian in your household, make the vegetarian version and simply add cooked chicken (make sure it's completely cooked through) to the meat eater's portion before serving.

Add a dollop of sour cream and enjoy!

Black bean and chicken stew

1 tbsp canola oil
2 chicken breasts, cubed
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tbsp chili powder
1 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp ground coriander seed
1 tbsp tomato paste
2 cups (500ml) low sodium chicken stock
2 cups (500 ml) water
3 cans (540ml/19 fl.oz each) black beans
2 cups (500 ml) canned plum tomatoes
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp oregano
2 cups frozen corn kernels

In a Dutch oven heat oil over medium-high heat and saute chicken until lightly golden.  Remove chicken from Dutch oven and reserve.  The chicken does not need to be cooked through at this point. 

Lower heat to medium and saute onions until translucent.  Do not brown onions.

Add garlic and saute briefly until aromatic (about 30 seconds) then add chili powder, cumin and coriander seed and stir.  Saute briefly to allow spices to bloom - this should take about 30 seconds longer and you will know when you're ready to move on by the incredible aroma that will fill your kitchen.  

Add tomato paste and stir.  Saute for approximately 30 seconds more - tomato paste may brown a bit.  Add chicken stock a bit at a time, deglazing the pan and using a wooden spoon to scrape any brown bits off the bottom.  Add the rest of the stock and the water.

Drain the beans and rinse to remove some of the excess sodium.  Reserve about 1 cup of beans and add the rest to the Dutch oven.  Mash the reserved beans with a potato masher and add to the pot - this will help to thicken the stew.

Add tomatoes (with their juice), bay leaves and oregano.  Return chicken with any accumulated juices to the pot.  Allow the stew to come to a boil, cover and reduce heat to low and allow to simmer for at least one hour or until stew is thickened to your desired consistency.  

Add corn kernels and allow to heat through before serving.

Add salt to taste but note that the beans and stock already contain fairly high levels of sodium so be sure to taste the stew before adding salt.  I have not found it necessary to add any additional salt but I have cut back on salt in my diet and you will want to adjust the salt to suit your own tastes.

April 6, 2009

The day the earth moved

Italy's most devastating earthquake in decades struck the inhabitants of L'aquila in the region of Abruzzo today.  With tens of thousands homeless and dozens confirmed dead, the rescue efforts continue.  

Situated on major fault lines, Italy has been plagued by earthquakes throughout its history and unfortunately one of those earthquakes hit very close to home for me.  The Irpinia earthquake of 1980 left thousands dead and injured and tens of thousands more homeless, directly affecting extended family and friends and leaving a generation scarred and saddled with the task of rebuilding entire towns and communities, a process which has literally taken decades.

My heart goes out to the residents of Abruzzo and their families.

In addition to human casualties, Italy's earthquakes also exacts a toll on the physical surroundings and already there are reports of damage to historical monuments in Abruzzo, including the Roman baths of Caracalla.

One of the most poignant reminders of the devastating impact of earthquakes is the town of Romagnano al Monte.  Pictured above, the ancient town had perched on a lip of the Apennines since the middle ages but was rendered uninhabitable in minutes by the Irpinia quake.  

The new town was rebuilt on a nearby site and today the old town stands abandoned amid breathtaking mountain vistas - an ethereal ghost town where houses still contain remnants of the lives of their former inhabitants - evidence of lives changed forever in an instant on the day the earth moved.

April 5, 2009

Frozen herbs

I absolutely love fresh herbs and parsley is among my very favourite year-round herbs.  So I was intrigued enough, if a little sceptical, to pick up a sample when President's Choice recently introduced frozen herb shakers.   I picked up the parsley but basil, garlic, ginger, dill and cilantro shakers are also available.

I was worried that the herbs would clump together due to defrosting/refreezing on the trip home but the shaker worked better than expected (although I did have to use a fork to loosen up the herbs a bit).  The flavour of the parsley was clean and bright when added to sauteed mushrooms and compared very favourably to other frozen herb cubes commercially available. 

While I won't be giving up my fresh parsley any time soon, this is one product that is definitely worth having on hand for those times when you need to add a bit of herb to a cooked dish.

April 3, 2009

Sticky thighs

Chicken "wings" without the guilt?  Sign me up!  These chicken thighs with a honey-garlic glaze are definite crowd pleasers and if you follow the instructions carefully they are convincing stand-ins for wings (minus the deep frying mess and high fat content).

Dubbed "Lord of the Wings" by sisters Janet and Greta Podleski of Eat, Shrink & Be Merry this is one light recipe that actually delivers.  In fact, I actually prefer these to pub wings!

After marinating overnight, the thighs need to be cut in half and rolled into a wing shape before a short tour in the oven if you want them to masquerade as wings.  Once they are par-cooked they are grilled and basted with the reserved marinade.  Be generous with the marinade and it will caramelize into a wonderful sticky glaze.

Since I don't have a barbecue I finished these in a stove-top grill pan.  They were great but my pan almost didn't survive the experience - it took a lot of soaking to pry the glaze off the pan. Mind you, my Le Creuset grill pan is impossible to clean under the best of circumstances so a different pan might fare better.  (Anyone else have the same problem with the Le Creuset grill pan? I'm almost ready to give up on it even though I swear by the Dutch ovens.)

If you prepare the thighs and marinade the day before, these come together within minutes and make a great mid-week dinner or fun finger-food at a party.   

Honey-garlic chicken thighs
Adapted from "Lord of the Wings" featured on Eat, Shrink & Be Merry (Food Network Canada)

Makes 32 chicken thighs

16 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup hoisin sauce
3 tbsp light soy sauce
3 tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp grated fresh ginger
2 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp sesame oil
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper

Stir together all ingredients except the chicken to make the marinade.  Pour half into a large freezer bag and refrigerate the remainder for basting.

Cut each thigh in half and add to the freezer bag with the marinade.  Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.

Roll each thigh piece so that it resembles a chicken wing and place in a baking pan lined with aluminum foil.  Make sure the thighs are placed close together in the pan as this will help keep their shape. Bake in 400°F oven for 10 minutes - thighs will not be cooked through at this point.

Place wings on a heated grill (or grill pan) brushed lightly with oil and grill until cooked through, basting with reserved marinade.  This shouldn't take more than a few minutes per side.