Chicken and Pumpkin Curry

This is a version of my favorite go to curry recipe. The base is so versatile and can be used with fish. shrimp, tofu, beans and yes, chicken. It comes together easily and if you are a quick chopper, will be ready in no time. What makes this taste so good are a few essential ingredients – fresh garlic, ginger, lemongrass, Indian curry powder, coconut milk and coriander (cilantro). For the rest you can add what is already in your fridge or freezer. I try to use many different colored vegetables and herbs, which make this meal just as appealing to the eye as to your stomach.

Bear in mind the different cooking times for the vegetables, particularly if using pumpkin. I added it to the pan roughly 10 minutes before the remaining vegetables. Zucchini usually goes in at the end, as it quickly looses its texture and color. 

As to the chicken, here’s a tip that you might or might not know yet. If you cut the chicken breasts into bite size pieces and marinate them in buttermilk for a couple of hours in the fridge, the meat won’t turn tough and dry during the cooking process. It makes such a difference in texture. I can’t stand dry chicken breast and this is what I do to avoid it. Another option is to use a marinade of lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper, especially if you want to cook a whole breast in one piece. If you want to keep this recipe dairy-free, omit the buttermilk, or make your own using 1 cup soy milk and 1 tablespoon lemon juice or try the lemon juice and olive oil marinade.

You can make this as spicy as you like. I add a chili if I have one, otherwise  a bit more curry powder or cayenne pepper can spice things up. Here’s one last tip for cooking lemongrass. Only the lower 5-6″ (12-15cm) are soft enough to be eaten once you have removed the tough, outer husks. Slice the light green sticks into very thin rounds and then mince. You want them to be as fine as possible, otherwise they might not soften in the pan and you’ll end up with some chewy lemongrass bits in your curry. Use the left-over husks to make delicious lemon grass tea. Add the ginger peel as well, if you like.   Continue reading ‘Chicken and Pumpkin Curry’

Quinoa Stuffed Bell Peppers and Eggplant

The temperatures are still on the warm side at the moment and the markets full of peppers, eggplant and zucchini. So although I am way over summer, I cook what’s in season and continue to experiment with summer veggies. The other day, I remembered a favorite dish from years back – stuffed peppers with ground beef- and decided to try a new less meaty version with quinoa. I scooped out 5 peppers, an eggplant and a left over zucchini half, chopped up the flesh and sauteed it with chili, onion and garlic. I added another zucchini, a can of whole tomatoes, a can of black beans and some fresh herbs, mixed it with the cooked quinoa and stuffed the mixture into the vegetables. Before it all went in the oven to bake for 30 minutes, I topped it up with slices of mozzarella.

Fresh tomatoes would be at least as good, but the organic ones are increasingly hard to get and therefore I went with the canned version. I didn’t use any of the tomato juice left in the can, because I didn’t want my stuffing to get too wet. See how you go, you can always add it towards the end if you feel like you need extra moisture. As for the cheese topping, any cheese you like will be fine, I just happened to have some mozzarella open. If you don’t like any cheese at all, you can easily make this recipe without or sprinkle some chopped toasted nuts over the finished dish.

In case you want to stuff bell peppers only, peel the eggplant the recipe is asking for, chop it up and saute it with the onions, garlic and chili.  This recipe also works with zucchinis. The only downside there is that they flatten out quite a bit when stuffed and baked.

And just to let you know, the vegetarian version was even better than the meaty one I had been thinking about.

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Sesame Crusted Tofu with Soba Noodle Stir Fry

 

To my incredible surprise, the number of compliments I received for this sesame crusted tofu equalled all compliments I have ever gotten for making roast chicken or lamb. My family went completely gaga over it. They have always liked tofu, but never gushed over it like they did on Monday night. I have to admit, it really was very tasty, with a good crunch and great flavor. I first pressed the tofu to get rid of any excess liquid, marinaded it in a variety of things (see below) and then coated it in a simple mixture of black and white sesame seeds, cornstarch and a pinch of salt. Fried it in sesame oil and tadah!

As to the soba noodles, they are a staple in my kitchen and I use them for salads, soups and stir-fries all the time. I fry up a some ginger, a few cloves of garlic and a hot chili pepper, add vegetables and mushrooms of any kind, finish up with a seasoning of soy sauce, mirin and lime juice, add the noodles and just before serving,  sprinkle a handful of coriander, spring onions and black sesame seeds over it all. Done. The preparation is the main part, cooking takes no more than 10 minutes. Cook your soba noodles before you start on your stir-fry, taking care not to over-cook them and rinse them under cold water right after they’re done. They can sit in the colander until you are finished stir-frying the vegetables.

I fried up the tofu first and let it sit on the counter until the rest of the meal was ready. It kept its crunchiness and nobody cared that it wasn’t hot. You could however place the cooked tofu strips on a lined baking tray in a single layer and quickly reheat them in a hot oven before serving.

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Birthday Fare

I can’t believe I failed with my promise of a daily post this week already on the second day. I guess this means I need to write two today, including a “healthy” one to make up for what you’re about to discover below.

I spent most of yesterday in the kitchen, cooking and baking for my son Frederick’s 9th birthday. He had asked for meaty lasagna, a double layer chocolate cake with lots of frosting and sugar cookies to take to school. None of which should go on a blog about healthy food. I did however take a few pictures to share with you and will post the links in case you’re curious about the recipes. I didn’t take a picture of the lasagna – it was gone so quickly. But it was a typical, bolognese type sauce, layered with bechamel, Parmesan and store bought (albeit whole spelt) lasagna sheets. Thank goodness for the 12 hungry boys eating the cake. I really didn’t want it to sit in my fridge and tempt me every time I open the door. It contained 7 bars of dark chocolate to give you an idea…

Anyway, here are a few pictures and recipe links.

Dark Chocolate Cake with Dark Chocolate Ganache

I used 1.5 times the ingredients in the original recipe and a 9″ (22.5cm) spring form pan.

Link for the cake: http://www.marthastewart.com/281296/dark-chocolate-cake-with-ganache-frostin

Link for the ganache: http://www.marthastewart.com/281300/dark-chocolate-ganache

Sugar Cookies with Sprinkles

http://www.marthastewart.com/338471/basic-sugar-cookies

I have used this dough recipe over and over again over the past decade. It works really well, even on hot days and cheap counter top surfaces. The dough doesn’t stick to the surface, like I experienced with so many other recipes. I have also used this recipe with whole wheat pastry flour and half white/half whole wheat before, and it worked. I use less sugar than the recipe asks for, decreasing the amount by about one third. They come out plenty sweet, especially with the sprinkles or any icing you might use. I egg wash the cookies (whisk together one egg yolk with 1 tablespoon milk and brush it on the cookies) before I put the sprinkles on. Then I refrigerate them on the baking sheet for 10 minutes before sticking them in the oven. This turns them into lovely and crisp cookies.  They keep in a tin in a cool place for a week (if you’re lucky).

Pear, Date and Ginger Crisp

This recipe came about when I was on an elimination diet a while ago. It doesn’t contain any gluten (as long as you use gluten-free oats), no eggs or dairy (ignore the ice cream…) and is sweetened with agave and maple syrup. Technically maple syrup is not “allowed” in an elimination diet, but one can only live so healthy. I named it “Vegan Pear Crisp”, but didn’t think this would be a very enticing blog title and therefore left out the ‘vegan’ bit. I love to come up with food that is enjoyable to everyone, no matter what food preference or intolerance. I now make this crisp even on diet-free occasions and have successfully used the topping over apples and berries, leaving out the ginger and dates.

I used cold pressed virgin coconut oil for the crisp topping. You can find it at health food stores and good supermarkets. The lauric acid in coconut oil is easily digested and is supposed to have antifungal, antibacterial and antiviral properties. The coconut taste isn’t detectable when the oil is used for baking. If you are unable to find it or are not in the mood to go dairy free, use melted butter instead of the coconut oil. Three to four tablespoons or 50g will do the trick. Don’t forget the chill time once you have made your topping (see method below).

I am sorry for not posting anything last week, I have been busy baking and cooking. To make up for my absence I’ll post something delicious every day this week. Stay tuned…

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Mamma Mia Minestrone

I love soups! And it is killing me that the weather is still not even turning the tiniest bit towards fall. I am trying to ignore it as best as I can and at least in my kitchen pretend that it’s time for soups, pumpkin bread pudding and other heftier fair. The pudding will need a bit more practice, although my husband commented (after having his second portion) that it’s made with too much sugar, cream and white bread, all of which we don’t really need. I wanted to strangle him, but he’s right, I have been complaining about my more and more unforgiving waistline since turning the big 40 last year. I guess I’ll be going back to whole grains, maple syrup and almond milk then, which are almost equally calorific as their white counterparts, but a lot better for the conscience.

The recipe of today, for the best Minestrone ever tasted, is nothing to worry about for all my figure conscious friends.  This soup is fantastic, very adaptable to the season you’re in (unless it’s over 30C/86F), full of good stuff and makes a great family dinner. It is a complete meal, so don’t think of this as an appetizer. No one is hungry after eating this soup, besides most will have at least two helpings anyway.

I got the recipe out of Jamie Oliver’s Jamie’s Italy book. I changed it slightly over the years, mainly by adding more pasta and stock. I love it with zucchini and chard or kale, but it’s easily adaptable to any vegetables in season. Instead of the cannellini beans, you could use fresh broad (fava) beans, peas or borlotti beans. Great additions to the soffrito would be leek or fennel. A good quality stock is key, but that’s true for all soups. I used my homemade chicken stock, but if you want to keep it vegetarian, a vegetable stock is equally well suited.

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Kale Salad with Baked Beets, Walnuts, Sprouts and Creamy Goat’s Cheese

I love kale in all forms and shapes and to my credit I did so even before it became fashionable. It is one of my favorite vegetables to grow during our mild Australian winters, because it is so prolific and doesn’t require a lot of attention. We had so much of it last year, I could have sold it at the market. To me, Cavolo Nero is the king of kale, but I also like the curly, rougher kind. As it’s still summer here, although not according to the calendar, I don’t have any left in my garden, but thankfully others do. So far I have mainly cooked with it, except for the baby leaves which I add to mixed green salads. On a recent stay in Los Angeles however, I discovered marinated kale in a salad at the fabulous small chain restaurant “The Veggie Grill“. I tried it out at home and discovered that if I dress the tough and chewy curly kale with balsamic dressing and let it sit for an hour or longer, it turns into a lovely and not at all tough or chewy salad. I have made it almost every day for nearly 2 weeks now and everybody who was lucky enough to taste some agreed with me. It’s divine and a welcome alternative to the good old green salad. I like to dress it up with roasted beets, toasted nuts and a little creamy fresh goat’s cheese. I also had some mung bean and broccoli sprouts which were a great addition. Give rocket and spinach a little break and try this. It makes the loveliest, most satisfying and super healthy lunch or is delicious as a side dish at the dinner table. Best of all, it doesn’t wilt like most green salads do which makes it perfect for the buffet table.

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Amazing Chocolate Cupcakes

My daughter decided she wanted us to make chocolate cupcakes together yesterday. Not really being a big fan of sugary, buttery and frosted baked goods myself, I tried to persuade her to bake muffins instead, but she had none of it. So I started my search for an easy cupcake recipe, which I could change a bit to make it not quite so sugary and buttery. It didn’t take me long until I found a “One-Bowl Chocolate Cupcake” recipe on marthastewart.com. I liked the recipe, because it mentioned ‘one bowl’ in the title and didn’t include butter. It also listed lots of glowing reviews from people raving about these cupcakes. I decided to apply my general rule for Martha Stewart’s baking recipes, using only two thirds of the sugar requested and substituting white flour for whole wheat pastry flour.  It always works.

My daughter requested pink icing and pink sprinkles, but I changed the icing to a chocolate ganache and only stuck to the sprinkles request. We used India Tree’s Nature’s Colors Pink Nonpareils on the kid’s ones, which I love and buy every time I go back to the U.S.

The cupcakes turned out so delicious, I was shocked. The frosting was a delight and I couldn’t get enough of it. I finally understood the cupcake craze and am sure to give these another try VERY soon.

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Millet and Amaranth Pudding

A couple of days ago, I was in the mood for comfort food. The kind that reminds me of my childhood in Germany. Growing up, we used to have one sweet lunch per week. Most frequently it was rice pudding with cinnamon, sugar and sour cherries out of a jar. It still is a hugely popular dish and served in most households. You can buy special ‘rice pudding’ rice in every grocery store. My grandma also loved to make waffles or thin pancakes with apple sauce or bread pudding with vanilla sauce. I loved those lunches and I try to keep this tradition in my family. Admittedly, these are almost the only German things I cook, although I will give “Spaetzle with Lentils” another go as soon as it gets a bit cooler.  

My favorite of all the sweet dishes is rice pudding, which pretty much sustained me through out university and my slightly “larger” years.  It is so easy to prepare, always a crowdpleaser and has the added bonus of giving me a night off from chopping. Yeah! I now cook it with short grain brown rice, maple syrup and vanilla extract and serve it with fresh berries and mangoes. It is so delicious, comforting and easy. Since I try and avoid cow’s milk, I usually make mine with fresh almond milk, which works just fine. I also use almond milk to cook our oatmeal in winter and not even my cow’s milk loving men can tell the difference.

Back to a few days ago, when I had the serious ‘urge’ for pudding. I decided to swap the rice for millet and amaranth which have been begging to be used for months. They have a similar cooking time and require about 2 1/2 cups of liquid per one cup of grain. A perfect match. Both grains are wonderfully healthy, gluten-free, full of protein, b-vitamins and minerals. I still make my own almond milk, as the Australian store bought stuff is absolutely undrinkable. I soak 1 cup of almonds in filtered water over night, give them a good wash in the morning and blend them with 4 cups of fresh water in my blender. I then strain the liquid through a special almond milk bag, which I got at a local health food store. I usually freeze the left-over pulp and add it to muffin or cake batter later on. When in the States, I use the “Whole Foods” brand organic, unsweetened almond milk, but I also like the “Blue Diamond” one.

I like to give the pudding a slight Indian touch by adding a few cardamom pods, ginger and cinnamon. It is best with fresh or frozen berries and toasted almonds. If you have any left over, it makes a delicious and very sustaining breakfast the next day. I add a bit more almond milk as the pudding turns quite solid when cooled, stir it and warm it for a minute in the microwave or on the stove. Shame that it’s all gone now, writing about it makes me want to cook some more already again…

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Super Summer Salad

 

I made this salad for a dinner party last weekend assuming we’d have a typical BBQ dinner. We didn’t, we actually ate wonderful Paella, not exactly a good match to my salad. Nobody seamed to mind however and everybody dug in, young and old. We had a wonderful time sitting outside, eating this wonderful food, drinking sparkling Shiraz and enjoying good company. It really made me appreciate everything summer has to offer and even I didn’t want it to end – at least not on that night.

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