Monday, March 23, 2009

Classic Pad Thai with Chicken and Tofu

Every now and then, I like to indulge in a take-out meal. Some days, the fridge is empty, or you don't have the time or the motivation to cook, and so reaching for the delivery menu is a guilty pleasure, even for a culinary school graduate!

One of my favorite indulgences is Pad Thai, that perennial workhouse of take-out Thai places: I've always felt that it was a bit of a shame that this light, tangy, dry noodle dish was only mostly enjoyed from a carton with disposable chopsticks. So, tonight I pulled out the massive Hot, Sour, Salty Sweet cookbook that has sat untouched on my coffee table for far too long, and adapted this recipe, which worked quite well. It was quick to make, full of flavor and less greasy that most ordered-in versions.

Classic Pad Thai with Chicken and Tofu
(serves 4)
Banh Pho Rice Noodles 1/2 lb or enough for 4 people
4 garlic cloves, sliced
2 chicken breasts
1 teaspoon of sugar
1/2 cup of cubed, firm tofu
3 eggs
3 tablespoons of vegetable oil
2 tablespoons of Fish Sauce
2 tablespoons of Tamarind Paste, soaked in 2-3 tablespoons of warm water for 10 minutes
1/2 cup bean sprouts
4 spring onions, green and white parts roughly chopped

To Garnish:
One handful of chopped coriander
1/2 cup crushed peanuts
1 lime, quartered

Prepare all of the ingredients before you start cooking, as the stir fry process goes quite quickly. Soak the noodles in warm water for 20-25 minutes prior to cooking. Cut the chicken breasts into bite-sized pieces and mix in a bowl with the sugar. In a separate bowl, mix together the fish sauce and soy sauce. Strain the tamarind mixture and add it to this bowl as well. In a third bowl, beat the three eggs lightly and reserve.

Heat a wok on medium-high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil and the garlic. Stir fry for about a minute or just until the garlic browns. Add the chicken and allow it to sear for about 30-seconds, and stir fry for an additional 1-2 minutes to cook. Add the tofu cubes and sear them as well for 1-2 minutes. Pour over the egg mixture and allow it to set for 2-3 minutes. Carefully break up the egg with a wooden spoon. Remove the egg and chicken mixture from the wok and reserve.

Rinse the wok and place back over high heat. Add the remaining one tablespoon of oil, and, when it is hot, add the drained noodles. Allow them to fry for about a minute. Add the tamarind and soy sauce mixture and stir. Add the bean sprouts and green onions and stir the mixture for another 30 seconds. Add back the chicken and tofu, cook for another couple minutes and serve with coriander, peanuts, and lime wedges. Enjoy!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Grilled Caesar Salad

We've all ordered the classic Caesar Salad when in the mood for the perfect light-ish lunch, haven't we? As the days are getting warmer, the sun shining longer and our outdoor barbecues begging to be used, why not try something a little different?

Grilling lettuce is one of those easy tricks to turn a simple Caesar salad into a real treat. The charred romaine becomes slightly caramelized when grilled and adds wonderful flavor to the dish. Homemade dressing just puts this over the top. This is my way to welcome Spring, what's yours?

Grilled Caesar Salad with Homemade Dressing
(serves 4)

2 small romaine hearts
¼ cup of croutons
4 strips of bacon
2 tablespoons of shaved Parmesan
1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon of anchovy paste
1 small garlic clove, smashed into a paste
¼ cup of olive oil
¼ cup of grated Parmesan
Salt and freshly ground pepper
To make the dressing, add the egg yolk, mustard, anchovy paste and garlic in a bowl. Whisk until the mixture looks homogeneous. Slowly add the oil, continuously whisking. Make sure that the oil gets well incorporated. Add the Parmesan. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Reserve.
Cut the bacon in small strips and sauté on medium high heat. You don’t need to add oil to the pan as the bacon has enough natural fat. Sauté for 3-4 minutes or until the bacon is nice and crisp. Place the bacon strips on paper towels to soak up excess fat. Reserve.
Set your barbecue or indoor grill to medium high heat. Cut the romaine hearts in half, vertically. Grill the romaine hearts (placing the inside of the romaine down) for 2-3 minutes. Remove from the heat and set on your serving platter. Add the croutons, bacon strips and shaved Parmesan and drizzle with the dressing.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Orange and Ricotta Pound Cake

There is something wonderfully traditional about making pound cake. Pound cakes are simple to make, tasty, and a great canvas for additional flavor. You can serve it the most simple of ways - with a few strawberries and powdered sugar - or dress it up with chocolate or citrus glazes, fresh fruit coulis or homemade ice cream. This recipe caught my eye because it uses ricotta in the batter. Ricotta is a great way to ensure that a cake stays moist and gives that extra something to such a simple recipe.

Orange and Ricotta Pound Cake (adapted from Giada de Laurentiis)
1 1/2 cups cake flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, room temperature, plus more to grease the baking pan
1 1/2 cups whole milk ricotta cheese
1 1/2 cups sugar, plus 1 tablespoon
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 orange, zested
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier
Powdered sugar, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9 by 5 by 3-inch loaf pan with butter. In a medium bowl combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir to combine.

Using an electric mixer, cream together the butter, ricotta, and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. With the machine running, add the eggs 1 at a time. Add the vanilla, orange zest, and Grand Marnier until combined. Add the dry ingredients, a small amount at a time, until just incorporated. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick comes out clean and the cake is beginning to pull away from the sides of the pan, about 45 to 50 minutes. Let the cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Using a mesh sieve, dust the cooled cake with powdered sugar. Enjoy!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Grilled Peaches with Mint

I started grilling fruit a couple years ago, and must say that I've been addicted ever since. It's quite a healthy addiction really - and has often given me the urge to grab a fresh peach instead of that slice of chocolate cake.

Fruit, which are full of natural sugars, become incredibly sweet and candy-like when grilled. The outside becomes caramelized (especially with the addition of a dash of sugar) and the interior softens and almost melts in your mouth. I've presented it here very a simple mint garnish and a little brown sugar, but it also tastes wonderful with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream, or thick lemony yogurt.

Grilled Peaches with Mint (serves 4)

4 peaches, cut in quarters and discarding the pit
2 teaspoons of light brown sugar
A small handful of mint, coarsely chopped

Place your grill on medium heat. Sprinkle the brown sugar over the cut peaches. Grill the peaches (1-2 minutes on each side). Don’t move the peaches around during that time to make sure to get nice grill marks on each side of the fruit. Remove from the heat and let cool for a couple minutes. Place in your serving bowl and add the coarsely chopped mint.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Mini Salmon Burgers with Herbed Mayonnaise, Capers and Red Onions

The funny thing about working in the food media industry is that you often find yourself working on summer recipe ideas in the middle of winter. Similar to department stores that start thinking about Christmas ideas in the heat of the summer months, I've been writing summer recipes while the snow still keeps on falling. Thanks to indoor grills, I've been able to fairly easily recreate a summer outdoorsy feel in the middle of my kitchen - which overlooks perfectly white-covered roofs and tired, overweight trees. It almost makes me want to trade my warm sweaters for light summer dresses and flip flops..

I have a thing for salmon burgers - they're light and flavorful, easy to make and are a nice change from your traditional ground beef burgers. They can work wonders to brighten up a cold winter day (they sure did for me) but more traditionally make for great finger food in the summer, by a pool, with a cocktail. And there is just something about mini food items isn't there?

Mini Salmon Burgers with Herbed Mayonnaise, Capers and Red Onions
(makes 10 mini burgers)
10 ounces of wild salmon, cut in bite-size cubes
2 tablespoons of fresh parsley
1 teaspoon of drained capers
1/2 lemon, zested
1 teaspoon of grainy mustard
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon of breadcrumbs
Salt and freshly ground pepper

1 brioche loaf, sliced and cut into 1/4 inch thick rounds
1 handful of baby spinach
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1/4 cup of mayonnaise (recipe for homemade mayonnaise found here)
A handful of dill, parsley and chives, thinly minced

In a food processor, add the salmon, parsley, capers, lemon zest and grainy mustard. Lightly blitz until the mixture holds together but is still chunky. Add the egg and blitz again. Place the mixture in a bowl and fold in the breadcrumbs. Generously season with salt and pepper.

Shape the mixture into 10 round burgers using the palm of your hands. Grill on an indoor or outdoor grill. Cook for about 3-4 minutes on each side. While the salmon is cooking, lightly grill the brioche buns.

Add the chopped herbs (parsley, dill and chives) to the mayonnaise. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. To serve, place a dollop of herbed mayonnaise on a brioche bun, add a couple leaves of baby spinach, a salmon burger, a couple slices of red onions and close with another brioche bun. Enjoy!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Grilled Steak and Blue Cheese Sauce

The French - and by French, I mean my dad and I - believe that the stinkier the cheese the better the taste. I've definitely had more than my fair share of stinky cheese, and have loved every minute of it. Of all the pungent cheeses in the world, blue cheese is surely one of my favorites. I've been trying out blue cheese sauces lately and found a new way to enjoy it to its fullest: simply done with a little creme fraiche, some fresh herbs and some freshly ground black pepper.

The blue cheese was really delicious with a grilled steak and made for a great spread for a chicken sandwich the next day.

Blue Cheese Sauce

1/4 cup of good quality crumbled blue cheese
3-4 tablespoons of heavy cream
1 heaping spoonful of creme fraiche
1 tablespoon of finely chopped parsley
Salt and Ground Black Pepper

In a pot on medium low heat, add the crumbled blue cheese and heavy cream. Be careful to keep the temperature quite low to not boil the cream. Stir until the blue cheese is melted (about 5 minutes). Remove from the heat, and add the creme fraiche and parsley. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and black pepper.
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