Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Cranberry Almond Whole Wheat Biscotti

I had never been a fan of hard, dry, crunchy cookies, but recently some not so rock-hard types started to grow on me. In fact, I became addicted to this particular iced taralli. Taralli is an Italian crunchy pretzel-like biscuits, which can be either savory or sweet.

I had been wanting to try baking biscotti for quite some time now, and today given that I was in a baking mood and had only 5 minutes between things I needed to do, biscotti fit the bill. It would have taken only 3 minutes and 35 seconds to put together, but I missed the floured hands bit of the recipe, and thus they were in quite a sticky situation. But licking the excess dough off your fingers is also a fun part of making cookies, so I wasn't complaining too much...

I shortened the time of the second baking as I didn't want super hard super crunchy biscotti, and they turned out just the way I like them to be. I am so pleased with them! 5 out of 5 stars for being delicious, easy and quick to make, good for your health, and store well. And now that I blog, a bonus star for being so photogenic too. :-)

I am already dreaming of my next batches with different combinations; cashews and dried apricots, hazelnuts and dried bananas, ginger and raisins, white chocolate and macadamia nuts. And not so traditional ones, lemon poppyseeds. I think I will be making lots of biscotti!

Cranberry Almond Whole Wheat Biscotti Recipe

Ingredients :
3/4 cup whole-wheat flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup chopped almonds
1/4 dried cranberries
2 large eggs
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/4 tsp almond extract

Directions :
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheet with parchment paper
2. Mix together flours, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Mix in the nuts and fruit.
3. Whisk together eggs and the extracts. Add to flour mixture, stir until combined.
4. With floured hands, shape dough into a loaf about 1 inch thick, 4 inches wide. Transfer to the baking sheet.
5. Bake until risen and firm, about 25 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 300 degrees.
6. Let the loaf cool about 10 minutes on a cutting board, then cut diagonally into 1/2" slices.
7. Arrange slices cut-side down and bake 10 minutes, then turn the slices over and bake until dried, about 10 more minutes.
8. Let cool on wire rack.

Bon appetit!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Chunky Peanut Butter & Oatmeal Chocolate Chipsters

My first memory of peanuts was when I was around 8 years old (it is no exaggeration to say that most of my childhood memories are snippets of events associated with foods). My father was back to Bangkok from a short term assignment out of town, and as usual it was a happy occasion for my sister and me. One day the three of us were walking on a neighborhood street and my father bought a bag of boiled peanuts in shells. They were wrapped in cones made with newspapers. I remember specifically thinking that out of all the things there were to eat, my father chose to buy these boiled peanuts.

The way one (I) would eat would be take a piece, pinch the tip and the two sides of the shells would easily be split apart, leaving the peanuts on one side of the shell or the other. The skin of the peanuts would be brownish purple. I would then sink my front teeth on a piece. Yum. Walking the streets and working these peanuts with my father and sister were such a carefree thing to do! And my father must have been right about the peanuts out of all the foods, because I still remember this peanut moment to this day.

I love and eat a lot of seeds and nuts, in particular peanuts, cashews, pumpkin seeds and pistachios. When I started becoming a vegetarian in my first year at the university, I still wasn't eating vegetables (yes, I know, what kind of vegetarian is that?) and my diet for about half a year consisted mostly of peanuts and brownies. Yes... I cringe thinking about that now!

Yesterday I wanted to make peanut butter cookies and decided to go with Dorie Greenspan's chunky peanut butter & oatmeal chocolate chipsters. I used smooth PB because that's what I had. They were very good, specially when they were freshly out of the oven, but lost the soft chewiness the next day. They taste a lot like my regular chocolate chip oatmeal cookies. So I am going to try a more traditional peanut butter cookie recipe next time.

Chunky Peanut Butter & Oatmeal Chocolate Chipsters Recipe

Ingredients :
3 cups old fashioned oats
1 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup butter, at room temperature
1 cup peanut butter
1 cup sugar
1 cup (packed) light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup chocolate chips

Directions :
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Combine the oats, flour, baking soda, spices and salt.
3. Beat together the butter, peanut butter, sugar and brown sugar until smooth. Beat in the eggs and the vanilla.
4. Beat only until blend the dry ingredients
5. Mix in the chocolate chips.
6. Chill the dough for 2 hours+.
7. Form into 1" balls, placing on ungreased non-stick cookie sheet and flattening with palm of hand.
8. Bake for 13-15 minutes until done.

Bon appetit!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Dine Out Event in Vancouver

A good weather forecast along with the Dine Out Vancouver event were enough to prompt us to hop on the ferry for a weekend getaway in Vancouver. The Dine Out event, organized by Tourism Vancouver, is a delicious celebration of BC food and wine with 180+ participating restaurants offering 3-course dinner for $18, $28, or $38.

After browsing a few menus along Robson Street, we chose to go to Il Nido (their menus are $38).

Yannick started with beef carparcio with marinated artichokes, cherry tomatoes, olive oil and grana padano cheese. His second course (sorry, no photo) was fettuccine with Alaska scallops, vegetables, thyme, in a light vermouth lemon cream sauce (also no cheese, please). And he finished with warm rustic apple, pear pie with vanilla gelato, blueberries and caramel sauce. I started with stuffed baby calamari (don't know what it's 'stuffed' with), braised in tomato, capers, red vermouth. It was followed by ravioli stuffed with fresh lobster served with brandy cream sauce (yum yum yum!).

My dessert was tiramisú (I think that was why I had chosen this restaurant), but too bad it turned out to not be a traditional tiramisú (made with phyllo instead of lady fingers, and I couldn't really taste mascarpone). Overall we enjoyed our dinner, but were a little disappointed with the desserts.

The next day we met with my cousin at Shabusen which is an all-you-can-eat sushi and korean bbq house. Doesn't an all-you-can-eat establishment always seem like a bad idea, after the fact?

Vancouver trips for me must include a trip to an Asian market, either the Yaohan or Parker Centre in Richmond, or the Chinatown. So before heading back to the ferry we made a stop at the T&T supermarket in Chinatown and I picked up a few goodies.

Pretty, aren't they? From top-left clockwise (according to the labels), we have bean paste with plum flavor, rice cake with plum paste, mungbean paste rice cake, and rice cake with mungbean paste. Are these names generated by some random number algorithm?

Victoria also has its own dine-around-town event. This year it starts on February 19th and runs til March 8th. I have already checked out all the menus. And made the list too. Yup.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Light Luscious Apricot Cheesecake

Occasionally some food experimentations are not deemed suitable for sharing. And that was one reason why I got myself a smaller springform pan (7 inch to be exact) so that I can halve the quantities of some experimental cakes. This particular cheesecake falls into this category.

The recipe uses 2:1 ratio of cottage cheese to cream cheese. A super protein and light dessert indeed. Though I thought it could turn out to be delicious, I would be entirely too optimistic to think that it would also taste like a cheesecake. The look of the cheesecake would make one expect a cheesecake, a reasonable assumption, no? And I am not one who likes to disappoint when it comes to foods. Which was precisely why there was this pan, why this entire cake was to be made for my consumption alone.

I made this cheesecake yesterday because I was always searching for a new high protein recipe. But more importantly because I still had 2 soon-expiring tubs of cottage cheese left from my cottage cheese-enthusiastic moment. I halved the recipe and used fat-free instead of light cream cheese, apricots instead of peaches, and graham cracker crust instead of shortbread crust. I also forgot the cornstarch...

Of course I didn't wait to let it cool as per instructions. I was so curious I had to have a taste right away! But then it wasn't just a taste because it progressed to be an entire slice (1/8 of the cake). It had a good taste, the texture was rather eggy / custardy, and the crust was soggy. I was not sure that my friends would like it, but I must have liked it enough because today I had 2 more slices (better after refrigeration, yes), and already looking forward to another.

I think I will repeat the recipe sans crust, and bake it in individual ramekins next time. Perhaps top it with apricot preserve, and also try to remember the cornstarch too. And who knows, not looking like a cheesecake, I might venture to get my friends (unsuspecting guinea pigs, ha!) to try some.

Light Luscious Apricot Cheesecake Recipe

Ingredients :
the crust
1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs
1 1/2 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. sugar

the filling
1 398 ml can apricot halves light syrup, drained
1 cup fat-free cottage cheese, strained
125 g fat-free cream cheese, softened
1 egg
6 tbsp. sugar
1 tbsp. cornstarch
3/4 tbsp. lime juice
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1 egg white

Directions :
1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
2. Combine the crust ingredients and press into the bottom and halfway up sides of the 7" springform pan. Bake for 8 minutes. Cool. Reduce the heat to 350°F.
3. Purée drained apricot until smooth, add cottage cheese and blend, then add creamcheese and process until smooth.
4. Add remaining filling ingredients except for the egg white and process until well blended.
5. Beat the egg white until stiff peaks form. Gently fold the egg white into the cheesecake mixture.
6. Pour overtop of prepared crust. Place on a baking sheet and bake in centre of preheated oven for 1¼ hours or until centre is just set.
7. Let cool and then chill in refrigerator.

Bon appetit!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Cottage Cheese in Disguise

Yannick wanted to make hamburgers so I suggested having an impromptu get-together with some friends tonight. Phone calls were quickly made and invitations graciously accepted, and while I planned it to be a casual no-fuss affair (hamburger, chips, ice-cream?), I couldn't help fussing just a little.

With company, we usually start the evening with aperitif à la française. For us it's simply some drinks like vermouth or kir with munchies likes chips and nuts, unless I have the time and inspiration to make a special little something in addition. Or when I have a special item waiting to be shared. Or, like today, some experimental creation had been waiting eagerly for unsuspecting guinea-pigs.

A few days ago I had the idea that I should eat cottage cheese. So I went to the store and bought, not 1 or 2 or 3, but 4 tubs! Now, cottage cheese isn't a thing I normally eat. And though I had never tasted it (don't they look kind of gross?), I was sure that whatever I was using it for, I was to completely obscure its appearance and taste. So after much browsing the internet for ideas, I was thrilled to have so many plans for it!

One of which was these cheesy quiche squares. I'd made super tasty quiches with sour-cream or yogurt before, so why not with creamed cottage cheese? Along with the eggs, and throw in a generous amount of grated sharp cheddar and chopped pickled pepper rings, that would make it a flavoursome and super protein dish. In my second ambitious moment (the first was the 4 tubs) I doubled the recipe. Well, they are supposed to be good for you and your friends, what can I say?

They turned out good, and nobody could have guessed the cottage cheese in disguise. Next time though I would add more cheese, and some vegetables like steamed broccoli or sauteed green beans. And no need to make so much. When will I learn?

Doesn't Yannick's hamburger look gorgeous?

I wanted to make something homemade towards the meal but I didn't have a lot of time today (doesn't work get into the way of life sometimes?) So I pulled out this 'Fastest Fudge Cake' recipe from Taunton's Fine Cooking that I had saved to try on an occasion like this. Fastest? Sometimes I can be so unbelieveably gullible. It turned out to be cakey and not fudgy at all, maybe because I used golden yellow sugar instead of light brown sugar.

Cheesy Quiche Square Recipe

Ingredients :
1 cup cottage cheeese
3 extra large eggs
1/3 cup whole wheat flour
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups grated cheddar
1/2 cup hot pepper rings, chopped

Directions :
1. Preheat to oven to 350.
2. Puree cottage cheese in a mixer (or using a hand mixer).
3. Blend in the eggs and oil.
4. Add the dry ingredients and stir until mixed.
5. Pour into a greased and floured 8*8 inch baking pan.
6. Bake for 40 minutes until set.

Bon appetit!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Roasted Chickpeas

Cashews and pistachios are among my top favorite foods to snack on, but as we all know, they are extremely high in calories and must be consumed in moderation. I read recently that roasted chickpeas make a nutty and crunchy alternative snack, and as they are a good protein and fiber source, it was on my (long long) list of recipes to try.

As I was roasting yams and potatoes for dinner today, I thought I'd also throw in a pan of these little guys. 40 minutes later they were ready for some seasoning (simply a generous amount of salt) and munching while getting the rest of the dinner ready. Indeed they were tasty and easy to munch on, but not in any way a substitution for cashews or pistachios...

Roasted Chickpeas Recipe

Ingredients :
1 can of chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
2 teaspoon of olive oil
salt, or other spices / seasoning

Directions :
1. Preheat to oven to 450.
2. Rinse the chickpeas and drain well. Pat dry.
3. Spread them in a single layer on a cookie sheet lined with aluminum paper.
4. Roast in the oven for about 30-40 minutes.
5. Remove from oven and toss in a bowl with the olive oil.
6. Salt and season.

Bon appetit!

Note (from a day later) : I added smoked paprika and garlic powder last night. This morning they lost the crunchiness and were a little chewy (I left it in a bowl, should have put in an airtight container). I suppose one can revive the crunchiness by popping them in the oven again. Though I never found out. They were forgotten reviving away in the oven, burned, and gone to the garbage...

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Blueberry Clafoutis

It was a sweet slow summer afternoon in Lyon when I had my first introduction to clafoutis. Therese, a good friend and a good cook who shared interests in food and cooking, invited me to lunch in her apartment during my vacation there. For the main course, she made a delicious vegetarian lasagna, with bright clean tomato sauce, perfectly cooked mixed vegatables, creamy bechamel and gruyere cheese. Which I ate more than I should have. For dessert, knowing my fondness of pastry cream and vanilla custard desserts, she prepared an apricot clafoutis.

Clafoutis is a French baked fruit-filled custard dessert. Traditionally it's made with cherries, sometimes with the pits left in. Hers was so delicious that I had two generous servings (despite...) and asked her for the recipe.

Its high protein content and lightness (meaning low calories) make it an ideal dessert after a heavy meal for me. I make it often and have tried several other recipes. The basic recipe that I like best and use all the time now has 1/3 cup each of ground almonds and flour, 1 cup of whole milk, 1/2 cup of sugar, and 2 eggs. I make some variations each time by substituting fruits (blackberries, cranberries, strawberries, plums, poached pears), or adding almond or maple or jasmine extracts, or varying the amount of flour / ground almonds, or substituting some with ground flax seeds. The last time I used all flour with cranberries and jasmine extract and it turned out _very_ dense.

Today I wanted to make a high-protein low-calorie dessert, and having about a cup and a half of skim milk that needed to be used up, I thought of a clafoutis.

But a lighter and healthier version yet. I decided to use frozen blueberries, omit the ground nuts, add a tablespoon of cornstarch, reduce the amount of flour, substitute all-purpose flour with whole wheat, whole milk with skim milk.

The result was very different from other variations I have tried. It's delightful! The flour part seemed to have separated itself during the baking and formed a 'crust' (perhaps because the whole wheat flour is heavier), leaving the upper part custardy. I love it and will be using this version in the future.

Blueberry Clafoutis Recipe

Ingredients :
3 eggs
¾ cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
½ cup whole wheat flour
1½ cup skim milk
½ teaspoon vanilla
1 cup blueberries

Directions :
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. In a bowl, whisk eggs and sugar.
3. Whisk in the dry ingredients.
4. Slowly whisk in milk, until smooth batter forms. Stir in extracts.
5. Place blueberries in a greased and floured 9 inch pan. Pour batter over top, and bake for 40 minutes.
6. Allow to cool then dust with confectioners' sugar, if desired.

Bon appetit!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Spaghetti in Thai Roasted Chili Paste

Tuesday and Thusrday evenings Yannick plays badminton and ends up having a caloric dinner (happily prepared by me) afterwards between 9 and 10pm. Often while he's off at the court, I would take a mental note of the fridge's contents and perhaps browse TasteSpotting or FoodGawker for some inspiration for possible things that I could make in reasonable time.

Unless he makes a special request for something in particular, which is not often but pleases me all the same. That means I would be preparing something he actually looks forward to, and not just any surprise (surprisingly good or surprisingly, hm..., interesting) dish. Well, today is one of those days, and his request for his after badminton dinner was Pad Thai. And so, as usually for Pad Thai, I dashed off to the neighborhood grocery store earlier in the day to pick up the required missing fresh ingredients namely limes, beansprouts, tofu, chives or green onions, prawns, and donuts and chocolate.

I would start just about an hour before he's back, and the first thing to do was to soak the dried noodles in cold water. Except... there was no noodles to be found! My first thought was poor Yannick. And then my second thought, after beating myself up furiously, was what dish I could make with these ingredients that would be more exciting than stir-fry prawns with beansprouts and tofu and the rest, a dish preferably with a Thai and/or noodly theme.

And Thai-inspired and noodly it was! The little light bulbs with the picture of stir-fry spaghetti in Thai roasted chili paste (in Thai, Nam Prik Pao) went blink blink blink in my head.

The dish turned out wonderfully, all parties satisfied. And hey, there's always tomorrow for Pad Thai.

Spaghetti in Thai Roasted Chili Paste Recipe

serves 1

Ingredients :
vegetable oil
1/4 cup diced extra-firm tofu
2 inch carrot, sliced
2 inch zucchini, sliced
1 clove garlic
6 prawns
2 tablespoons Thai roasted chili paste
1 1/2 cup cooked spaghetti
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon lime juice
1 egg
3 green onions, sliced into long strips

Directions :
1) Cook spaghetti
2) Fry tofu until brown in oil over medium heat. Remove tofu from wok to a plate.
3) Fry carrot and zucchini slices in a little of oil until almost soft, then add prawns and garlic. When the prawns are cooked, move this ensemble to the tofu plate.
4) Fry the chili paste in 2 tablespoons of oil for about 30-60 seconds, then add noodles, sugar, lime juice, fish sauce, and stir to mix.
5) Make a big hole in the middle (push the noodles to the edge of the wok) and add 2 tablespoons of oil, and then crack in the egg. Stir to break the egg yolk and leave it until the egg is almost cooked, but still a little liquidy.
6) Fold in the noodle, and add the tofu ensemble and stir to mix everything.

Bon appetit!