Sunday, March 30, 2008

Shrimp and Asparagus Risotto

Mmmm...creamy risotto. It's surprisingly (at least my version) not too bad for you. It's also a lot easier to make than you would think. You can put almost anything in it after you make the base. Today, I decided to make shrimp and asparagus.

This recipe makes a lot - maybe 4 servings worth? I just made this much because that's how much rice I had left in the box. Feel free to adjust it accordingly.
- 2.5 cups arborio rice
- 1 cup of white wine (I used sauvignon blanc)
- 4 cups of chicken broth
- additional water as needed
- 2 tbsp of butter or olive oil
- 1 onion diced
- 2 cloves of garlic minced
- 1 pound of shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 1 bundle of asparagus
- 1/4 cup of grated parmesan cheese
- salt to taste
- Juice of half a lemon (optional - gives it a "fresh" taste)
- 2 tsp parsley (optional - makes it look prettier)
- 2 tbsp white pepper (optional - gives a little kick)

- Prep the asparagus by snapping off the tough ends, drizzling with oil and placing it under the broiler for ~10 minutes or until tender. Then cut the asparagus into bite-size pieces. You can also steam, microwave, grill, etc. Just cook it somehow because it will be added to the risotto at the very end and won't have time to cook in the risotto.
- Prep the liquid by bringing the chicken broth and wine to a boil and keep it on a low simmer for the duration of cooking to keep warm.
- Melt the butter in a large pan and soften the onions.
- Add the garlic.
- Add the rice and toast it until the edges are translucent but the middles are still white.
- Add two cups of the liquid and deglaze the pan. Stir the rice and liquid until you can drag your spatula across the bottom of the pan and the rice is slow to fill in the gap.
- Add another cup of liquid and stir until it reaches the same slow-to-fill-the-gap consistency again.
- Keep adding the liquid a cup at a time and stirring to reach the same thick consistency. If you're out of liquid but the rice is still not cooked enough (it should be al dente, but it's really up to your own personal tastes and preferences), keep adding warm water or chicken stock if you have enough.
- When the risotto is almost at the level of done-ness you want it at, add the shrimp (no need to precook, they cook quickly in the risotto), asparagus, lemon juice, white pepper, parsley and any other herbs you like.
- Add the cheese and stir to mix everything.
- Add some salt if necessary (or more cheese if you'd like)
- Enjoy!

Saturday, March 29, 2008

It's alive!!!

They've sprouted! They've sprouted!!!

All of my herbs have at least one successful sprout - basil, mint, garlic chives, cilantro and even tomatoes. I'm so excited! But we're not in the clear yet. I've had sprouts before and they died on me, but last time it was indoors with poor (aka no) drainage and little sun. Hopefully this time the conditions are better and they'll live to be full blown yummy herbs in no time!

Unfortunately, I did a bit more reading after I put the seeds in the ground and realized that I probably should've started them indoors and then hardened them before transferring them outside. Oh well. The seeds were inexpensive and my backup plan is to buy the already started plants from the nursery. The hubz asked me why I didn't start with those to begin with, but it's much more satisfying to say you grew it from a seed. He has no confidence in my herb growing abilities, but I don't blame him given my track record, I don't have much confidence either...

Keep those fingers crossed!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Pasta Primavera with Chicken

It's springtime! The weather is great, my veggies and herbs are in the garden (I sure do hope I have a green thumb. I guess only time will tell...), it's time for pasta primavera!

Here's my version - which was dictated mostly by what veggies I had in the fridge

Ingredients -
- 1 lb whole wheat Fusili
- 2 zucchini
- 3 big handfuls of spinach
- 1 large can of tomatoes (I always use whole tomatoes and chop them into cubes)
- 2 cloves of minced garlic
- 2 grilled chicken breasts
- 1 onion diced
- 1 tsp sugar
- salt and pepper to taste

Directions -
- Cut all the vegetables and meat into bite size pieces
- Put a little oil in the bottom of the pan/pot and saute the onion until soft
- Add garlic and saute a bit longer
- Add zucchini and cook until halfway done
- Add tomatoes (and half of the juice from the can) and sugar and cook down
- Undercook the pasta by ~2 minutes
- Drain pasta and add to sauce and veggies and the spinach
- Salt and pepper to taste and stir to mix sauce, pasta, and to wilt the spinach

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Sushi Part II - Nigiri

So in addition to the sushi rolls, I also made some sushi nigiri with the salmon that I skinned for the salmon skin rolls.

Did you know that there are no real government regulations for "sushi grade" fish? To make raw fish safe for consumption, you just need to be concerned with parasites. All you have to do to kill the parasites is to freeze the fish at -4°F or below for 7 days or -31°F for 15 hours. Of course freshness and proper handling is important to avoid bacteria as well.

So now that our fish is safe to eat, let's make some!

Take the fish and slice at a slant into bite size pieces. For the rice, flavor it with rice vinegar and sugar to taste like you did with the rolls. Wet your hands to keep the rice from sticking to your hands and squish it in your hands to shape it into rectangles. Place the fish on top, dip in soy and wasabi and pop it in your mouth. Yum! If you want, you can also cut some thin strips of nori (seaweed) to wrap around the fish and rice and glue the ends together with a grain or two of rice.

I highly recommend making your own nigiri if you have can find good fresh fish. This was sooo much sweeter and more tender than most restaurants. And the few restaurants that do taste this good are always outrageously priced.

I hope you enjoy yours as much as we enjoyed ours!

In the Garden

I planted tomatoes, basil, mint, cilantro and garlic chives this past weekend. I've never done it before so keep your fingers crossed for me!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Sushi! Arigato gozaimasu!

Sushi night! I love Japanese food.

So with sushi, you can really put in whatever you want, so I don't have an ingredients list and measurements or a real "recipe" for you today.

The first thing though, is the rice. You can use plain rice (short grain is better if you have it because it's stickier) and even better (and more traditional), you should flavor your rice with sugar and vinegar. The way I do it is to just add the vinegar and sugar (to taste) straight into the water that I'm using to cook the rice (rice vinegar is best if you have it, but any old vinegar will do). If I forget or decide to add more, I stir the sugar into the vinegar and let it dissolve, then mix it into the rice. On a side note, make more rice than you think you'll need. I'm always surprised by how much rice I use per roll.

Now on to assembly. The first thing to do is to spread the rice on the seaweed. Use room temperature rice because hot rice will make the seaweed mushy and rip and cold rice is too stiff and won't adhere to the seaweed. I like to use the rice spatula to help smush and smooth the rice onto the seaweed. If you find the rice sticking to the paddle or your hands, just wet them a bit. Not too much though, otherwise it'll make the seaweed soggy/rip through it.

As you can see, the rice doesn't cover every single inch of the seaweed and that's perfectly fine. Just make sure that it covers one of the edges. This edge will be the edge opposite of where you put your filling and will act like a glue to keep the roll from unraveling.

Line up whatever fillings you want across the bottom. Sliced cucumbers, avocados and imitation crab for california rolls. Mix the imitation crab with mayo and sriracha sauce for spicy california rolls.

This one is actually salmon skin (just salted and lightly dredged in flour and then deep fried), cucumber and fish roe.

Here's a closeup of the salmon skin that I fried up.

I also made some with unagi (eel), cucumber and avocado. (I bought the unagi, already marinated, in the frozen seafood section of an asian market. This is what it looks like)

After spreading the rice, it's time to roll! A bamboo mat will help, but is not necessary. If stuff starts smooshing out the sides, just shove it back in and don't squeeze so tight.

After rolling, use a sharp knife to cut it into pieces. Don't cut until you're ready to eat to prevent the rice from drying out. If it gets difficult to cut, dip the knife in some water (and wash off the rice that's stuck to it). The edge pieces are a bonus for the chef since they're not very "presentable", so just pop 'em in your mouth!

*BONUS: If you want to do inside out rolls, wrap your bamboo mat in plastic wrap so that the rice won't stick. After smooshing the rice onto the seaweed (you'll probably want to be more meticulous about getting a nice, pretty, even layer of rice on contrary to before where only the outer edge mattered), flip it over and put the line of filling in. Roll it as you would normally, except this will be more difficult, sticky and messy, but your rolls will get prettier with practice. After rolling, you can pat/roll sesame seeds, fish roe on for extra flavor and decoration. Wrap each roll in plastic wrap to prevent the rice from drying out. When you're ready to serve, unwrap, cut and eat!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Southwestern Chicken Salad

This Southwestern Chicken Salad was inspired by Chevy's and their salsa vinaigrette that's yummy AND healthy! Fat free baby! I love it when healthy things are delicious...

- Romaine hearts cut, washed and dried
- One chicken breast grilled with salt and pepper, sliced
- Black beans (from a can and washed)
- Corn (I prefer canned for this because it's sweeter)
- Avocado (sliced or diced, your preference)
- Tortilla chips (I used the crumbs left at the bottom of the bag that are too small for scooping salsa)
Other possible ingredients that would be yummy too:
- Diced tomatoes
- Crumbled bleu cheese
- Crumbled bacon bits

Dressing (the best part):
- Salsa and Balsamic Vinegar (I used a 3:2 ratio, but you can do whatever you want based on your own preference) and fresh cracked black pepper.

Quick, easy, healthy, and delicious!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Easy Crusty Bread

This recipe is adapted from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. I screwed up and only put 6 cups of flour (1.5 of which was wheat flour) and put 2 tablespoons of yeast instead of 1.5, but I think it still turned out fine. I didn't get a chance to make a loaf with the "fresh" dough, so I took it out of the fridge the next day and let it rise for ~45 mins in a warm oven and then followed the directions as below.

Maybe next time I'll follow the directions more closely and it will taste even better!

- 3 cups lukewarm water
- 1 1/2 tbsp yeast
- 1 1/2 tbsp salt
- 6 1/2 cups of all purpose flour

- Add yeast and salt to water in a large bowl.
- Mix in the flour until incorporated, but do not knead.
- Cover with a non-airtight lid and let rise approximately 2 hours.
- Sprinkle dough with flour and cut off a grapefruit sized piece, add a little more flour if needed to prevent dough from sticking to hands and stretch surface of dough around to bottom turning as you go to form a ball.
- Let dough rest 20 minutes. Preheat oven to 450F and place an empty broiler tray on bottom rack.
- Dust dough with flour and slash with a serrated knife to make a criss cross or scalloped pattern. Put dough in the oven and quickly pour 1 cup of hot water in the broiler tray and shut the door. Bake for 30 minutes or until the crust is nicely browned and firm to the touch.

Remaining dough can be refrigerated for up to two weeks in a lidded (but not airtight) container and used as necessary.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Pseudo creamed spinach

This is actually really healthy! No cream, no cheese, minimal butter and still quite tasty.

If you're expecting the super rich creamed spinach you're used to, you'll probably be disappointed, but if you want a delicious, healthy way to make spinach that feels just a bit indulgent, I think this will do the trick...

- 2 packages of frozen spinach
- 1 Tbsp butter
- 1 shallot or small onion finely diced
- 2 minced garlic cloves
- 3 Tbsp all purpose flour
- 1 cup of milk (I used non-fat soy)
- 1/2 cup of milk or chicken stock
- 2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg
- fresh cracked pepper
* As usual, I didn't follow any recipes or measure anything out, so these are all estimations, so do taste tests
- Thaw the frozen spinach and squeeze out the water using your hands or cheesecloth
- Melt butter in the bottom of a saucepan
- Put in shallot/onions and sautee until softened
- Add minced garlic
- Sprinkle in flour and mix until wet. If there's not enough moisture to wet the flour, don't worry, we're adding the milk next. - Pour in the soy milk and add the seasonings
- Add the spinach and mix until warmed through and the right consistency
- Add more liquid/seasoning as needed. Flour can also be added if it's not "creamy" enough

Friday, March 7, 2008

Ants crawling up a tree

Yes, that's the literal translation of this Chinese dish. The noodles are trees and the bits of meat are the ants! It was always one of my favorites growing up because it had a silly name and it tasted good!

Anyway, this is a super easy dish to make that I did because I soaked extra bean thread noodles and defrosted extra ground turkey from the eggrolls I made the other day.

You can use any ground meat, I personally prefer pork, turkey or chicken and tend to stay away from beef, although that could work too. You can also add all sorts of veggies/garnishes if you want, along with other seasonings to make variations of it. I made the simplest version below:


- 1 packet of mung bean thread noodles soaked in water until softened (20 mins)
- 3 oz of ground pork, turkey or chicken
- 1 Tbsp oil
- 2 Tbsp soy sauce (this should actually be to taste and is an estimation)
- water as needed (~1/4 - 1/2 cup)
Optional additions/garnishes:
- scallions
- sesame
- peas
- shredded napa cabbage and/or carrots
- minced garlic
- sugar
- whatever you feel like tossing in
- Sacha sauce (replace half of the soy sauce with this to give it a bit of heat and a unique flavor)

- Heat up the wok until it's very hot and then add the oil
- Add the ground meat and half of the soy sauce and use a spatula to cook and break up the meat until mostly cooked
- Put in the noodles, the rest of the soy sauce, and a bit of water
- Toss/Mix the noodles and meat until the the water is absorbed by the noodles. If more water is needed to fully cook the noodles, add it as needed.

Easy peasy!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Vietnamese egg rolls (baked)

You can definitely fry these too, but I opted to bake them because they still taste yummy baked and the taste sacrifice is worth the health benefit to me.

Serve it with lettuce and dipping sauce.

(these are just estimates of what I used since I tend not to measure things, so you might want to cook up a small bit of the meat before rolling the egg rolls to check the flavor)

- 1 package of ground pork (20 oz) (turkey, chicken, shrimp, etc or combos of different meats will work too)

- 2 carrots (shredded)
- 1 onion diced
- 1 packet of mung bean thread noodles (soaked in water until softened, then chopped into pieces no longer than 1.5" - I used my food processor for this) *
- 3 cloves of garlic minced
- 2 green onions (optional)
- 1/2 cup of wood ear mushrooms or shitake mushrooms diced (optional)
- 2 Tbsp of fish sauce (if you don't have this, add a bit of salt or more soy)
- 1 Tbsp of soy sauce
- 2 tsp of sugar
- 1 Tbsp of sesame oil (optional)
- 2 Tbsp of oyster sauce (if you don't have this, add a bit of salt of more soy)

Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl. I recommend cooking up a bit of it to check for seasoning purposes before continuing.

* In case you aren't familiar with Mung Bean Thread Noodles (aka glass noodles or vermicelli) they usually come in bags with 4 small packets inside. Be sure not to get it confused with rice vermicelli or any of the other similar noodles. It should say Bean Thread somewhere on the packaging.

Wrapper & Dipping Sauce:
From the store -

- Keep the wrappers covered with a damp paper towel to keep them from drying out while you're wrapping the rest of the egg rolls
- Place the filling across the bottom of a wrapper and shape it like a log
- Fold in the edges and roll it up like a burrito
- Place on an oiled cookie sheet or silpat or parchment paper seam side down. If you have trouble keeping it rolled up, you can brush the inside edge with an egg wash to "glue" it.**
- Brush each egg roll with a bit of oil to help with crisping and browning in the oven**
- Place it in a 400 degree oven for ~15-20 mins, or until crispy (it probably won't brown much)**
** Instead of brushing with oil and baking, you can deep fry them instead.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

i heart bacon

Who doesn't love bacon? You can wrap almost anything in bacon and it'll be good. This time, I chose shrimp.

This is a super simple, super delicious appetizer.

- 4 strips of bacon
- 12 Shrimp, peeled and deveined

- Lay out the bacon on a paper towel and cover it with another paper towel
- Put the bacon and paper towel in the microwave for 1 minute (this will soften the bacon and soak up some of the grease)
- Cut the bacon into thirds
- Wrap each shrimp with one-third of the bacon and place on a baking sheet, seem-side down
- Put it under the broiler for ~5 minutes, until the shrimp is cooked and the bacon is crispy. Be sure to keep an eye on it, it doesn't take long at all and can burn really quickly.