Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Broccoli, Ginger and White Bean Soup

I know what you are thinking. You are thinking: "This chick is addicted to broccoli and ginger".

Could be. I can't go very long without ginger: the fresh stuff in a curry or stir-fry, ginger candies, ginger tea... (for the record, I may also be addicted to scarves, Doc Martens, tattoos and a few records, but that's a whole other ball game). Broccoli is one of my favorite veggies: it's cute, tasty, packed with iron and vitamin C, and it is one of those cancer-fighting veggies. Honestly, broccoli deserves a super-hero suit.

Combine the two ingredients together and you have one immune-boosting combo that can beat the pants off any insipid supplement. Add beans to the mix and your proteins are taken care of. Is this the perfect, healthly, nourishing and tasty soup, or what?!

Spring is almost on our doorstep, but this being Canada, the weather is rather unpredictable and schizophrenic: 10 degrees Celsius one day, minus 7 the next, sunshine and snowfall simultaneously... That never stopped us Montreal girls from getting our short skirts good and ready, but a bit of warm, comforting food can't hurt when spring is having repeated false starts. This soup seems to me like the perfect compromise between a bright summery soup and a warming winter comfort. Ideal for this seasonal limbo we found ourselves in!

1 large head of broccoli (a bit more than 1 pound), stalks and florets chopped roughly
2 large onions, roughly chopped
5 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon of olive oil oil
4 tablespoons fresh ginger, chopped
2 limes, juiced
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 cups vegetable broth
3 tablespoons tamari
1 large pinch of black pepper
1 small bunch fresh coriander, roughly chopped
1 (28 ounces) can of cannellini (or other white beans), drained and rinsed
1 large handful of toasted pine nuts

In a large saucepan, gently fry the onions, garlic, ginger and cayenne pepper in the olive oil for 5 minutes.

Add the broccoli stalks and the vegetable broth. Bring to a boil then cover and simmer over medium heat for 8 minutes. Add the broccoli heads, the beans and the coriander. Add enough water to just cover everything.

After 5 minutes, use a knife to pierce the broccoli: when it’s tender, turn the heat off and allow to cool slightly before you start blending. If you want to keep some whole broccoli florets for serving on top of your soup, remove them now. Add the fresh lime juice, the tamari, pepper and puree with an immersion blender. Taste and check for seasoning. Put back on low heat and make sure the soup is heated through. Serve immediately.

This soup's flavor is very surprising: exotic, hot and... well, green! It's miles away from the boring old cream of broccoli or broccoli and cheddar soups you may be used to. The green vegetable's flavor and the fresh coriander come out the stars of the show, along with the lovely heat of ginger and cayenne. You could garnish it with a scattering of pine nuts, a touch of plain yoghurt or sour cream, and a lovely piece of fresh nan bread to dip! It's a bit thin to be a meal-soup, but it is the perfect appetizer for a Middle Eastern or Indian themed meal. Actually, any meal with bold flavors could second a bowlful of this wonderful soup!

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Roast Pork Tenderloin with Potatoes and Mushrooms

I decided to break the little tofu rut the blog had gotten into lately with a good old meat and potato recipe!

I was in the mood for something comforting and old-fashioned for our Sunday night dinner: it just felt like the kind of night where I wanted to stay home, apron-up and spend the evening in the kitchen while blasting Bad Religion records. The winter's dragging on and it's making me crave rich comfort food and angry political music. I'm quirky like that.

Tenderloin is my favorite cut of pork, mostly because it's affordable, but also because it's really versatile: you can roast it, grill it, chop it up to stew it, slice it thin and stir-fry it... I try to always have one or two in the freezer because there are so many ways of turning it into a plateful of yums. I usually have a lot of Asian-themed recipes for pork, but I wanted to try something a bit more traditional.

This dish has a classic Sunday dinner flair to it, like something you'd see Betty Draper whip up for a dinner-party on "Mad Men": meat, potatoes, mushrooms, a creamy sauce... just classic! The ingredients are mostly pantry-staples I always have around, and the technique is absolutely idiot-proof easy, making it a recipe everyone can pull-off with great success.

You can either mix up regular potatoes and sweet potatoes, or use just one kind, but the sweet potatoes can offer a lovely change of pace texture-wise, and they also boost the vitamin content of your plate.

1-pound pork tenderloin, trimmed
3 medium white potatoes, cut into 3/4-inch chunks (or 2 white potatoes and 1 sweet potato)
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper   
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 package mushrooms, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, chopped
1 tablespoon paprika
1 teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon savory
1 teaspoon ground sage
1/4 cup all-purpose flour   
2 cup milk
1 cup chicken broth   
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard   
Chopped fresh parsley, for garnish

Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter a 13 x 9-inch glass baking dish. Place the pork in center of baking dish, tucking the thin end underneath. Arrange the potatoes around the pork.

Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms, garlic, onions, spices and 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper; sauté for 8 minutes or until mushrooms are brown.

Stir in the broth and mustard. Whisk flour into the milk; stir the mixture into the pan and bring to a boil, stirring. Boil and stir for 1 minutes.

Pour the sauce over the pork and potatoes and roast for another 25 minutes or until a meat thermometer inserted in thickest part of pork registers 160°F.

Transfer the pork to a cutting board; let rest for 5 minutes. Return the potatoes and the sauce to the oven for 5 minutes; stir well. Slice the pork crosswise; serve with the potatoes and sauce, sprinkled with parsley.

As you can see from the picture, I should have used a wider roasting dish. But hey, the sauce helps cook the meat just as much as the roasting does: no problem. The smell is also completely amazing as the dish cooks, and the meat comes out tender and juicy.

It's a nice, easy recipe with a lot of down time, so give it a try next time you are in the mood for a delicious, hearty meal!

Friday, 8 March 2013

Cold Sesame Noodles with Crispy Sesame Tofu

As you can probably tell from the title of this post, I had a craving for sesame. And when I crave a particular flavor, you need to not stand between me and my food fix. Why sesame? No idea! But I read a recipe for cold sesame noodles in my "Chinese Takeout Cookbook" and it tickled my fancy. As did a little recipe for sesame-incrusted tofu I saw on Martha Stewart's website (don't ask me how I ended up there). I couldn't decide which one I wanted to try first, so I said "fuck it" and made both at the same time!

Of course, you can make them separately: just make sure to prepare another dish or some veggies to round up your meal, because on their own, they are more little parts of a big picture (unless you are eating alone, in which case, I am sending you Internet hugs). They are also really quick to make (if your tofu is already pressed), so they are really useful recipes to keep up your sleeve for midnight snacks and random cravings.

Tahini is the most exotic ingredient you will need to get for the sesame noodles: it's basically the sesame paste that you use in hummus, baba ganoush and other delicious Middle Eastern dips. It's also one of the earliest recorded condiments in history! There are tahini recipes that date back 4000 years, a little fact I find pretty cool. When you get your jar of tahini, take a few minutes to mix it because the oil tends to separate, and don't forget to refrigerate it once you're done!

If you do not have toasted sesame oil, you can use regular, but hunting down the toasted stuff is worth it: the taste is rich and smoky and just has a little extra "humph" you totally want to experience.

Cold sesame noodles (from "Chinese Takeout Cookbook", modified):
12 ounces dried udon noodles (regular spaghetti also works)
2 tablespoons peanut oil
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 teaspoons grated ginger
2 carrots, peeled and shredded (optional)

3 tablespoons tahini
2 tablespoons smooth peanut butter
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 1/2 tablespoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons Chinese rice vinegar
2 teaspoons chili paste
2 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon ground Sichuan pepper (optional)

2 teaspoons white sesame seeds
2 scallions, green parts only, thinly sliced

Bring a pot of water to boil and cook the noddles until al dente, or the minimum amount of time according to package instructions. Drain immediately, rinse with cold water, and drain again. Toss with 1 tablespoon of the peanut oil and set aside. Heat the other tablespoon of peanut oil in a small pan over medium heat. Gently cook the minced garlic and grated ginger until just fragrant, about 30 to 40 seconds.

Remove from the heat and set aside. Prepare the sauce: in a medium bowl, combine the sesame paste, peanut butter, soy sauce, sesame oil, rice vinegar, chili paste, sugar, and optional Sichuan pepper. Add 3 tablespoons of water and whisk until the mixture is smooth.

Stir in the cooked garlic and ginger. Pour the sauce over the noodles, add the carrots, and toss. Transfer into bowls and sprinkle with sesame seeds and scallions. You can serve the sesame noodles at room temperature or chill in the fridge for 1 to 2 hours before serving.

I omitted the carrots because I ran out. Shame on me.

Crispy, sesame-incrusted tofu (inspired by Martha's recipe):
1 pound extra-firm tofu, drained and pressed, cut into 8 squares

2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon mirin

1/4 cup white sesame seeds
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
3 tablespoons soy sauce

Mix the marinade ingredients together. Place the tofu squares in shallow dish and cover with the marinade. Let it sit for an hour (up to over night), flipping occasionally. Spread the sesame seeds on a plate. Press both sides of each tofu square into sesame seeds.

In a large nonstick frying pan, heat the toasted sesame oil over medium heat. Cook tofu the tofu squares, until golden brown, 4 to 6 minutes per side, flipping occasionally (use cooking tongs if you want to keep your sesame crust nice!).

Add the soy sauce; continue cooking and turning tofu, until it has absorbed all the liquid, about 1 minute. Serve, cut into fancy little triangles, if you wish.

The final results of both recipes made a quick and filling feast, bursting with that wonderful nutty sesame flavor I had been craving manically. They were also absolutely delicious eaten as a cold lunch the next day, and that kind of stuff is a perfect late-night snack after some partying and drinking!

The sauce for the noodles is gooey and savory and the little chewy bits of sesame tofu complement it very well. Sure, it's not the lightest or healthiest meal ideas, but can all use a little tasty treat now and again, can we? Have a good weekend!

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Kung Pao Tofu

Ah, week night dinners. How unpleasant you can be to prepare when one get back from work tired and grumpy, and yet that poor body still needs to be fed! That's why I love stir-fries: with the exception of pasta, nothing beats a stir-fry when you want a quick, healthy and filling meal that doesn't take too long and doesn't require too much effort and thinking. This dish is simple, delicious, with minimal chopping duties: exactly what one needs for a dull Wednesday evening!

Kung Pao is a traditional Sichuan recipe with the wonderful blend of sweet, salty and spicy tastes that make my taste buds very happy. I had wanted to try it for a while, but I was quite gung-ho on finding actual Sichuan peppers: not an easy feat! No grocery store near my apartment carried it; even my trusted exotic bulk store failed me! Lucky for me, my best friend shops in Chinatown all the time, and she got me a big bag... Woot-woot!

Many food writers specialized in Asian cooking swear by the little red peppercorns, and I was determined to use them in my Kung Pao! Their flavor is described as numbing hotness, and now that I have used them, I confirm that there is something that just makes your mouth feel... well, numbed! They are not spicy in the burning way some chiles (such as my dear scotch bonnets) are: it's really more of a building heat with a very exotic and peculiar flavor.

You gotta taste it to get it, really, but I think it might be an acquired taste for the palate used to Westernized Chinese food. It took a bit of experimenting with the recipe below until I found a way to infuse the dish with the very unusual Sichuan pepper taste, but make it subtle enough that it would not be completely off-putting. I found balancing it with the other more typical flavors of chile, ginger, garlic and scallion to be the best way to integrate it to the dish.

2 tablespoons peanut oil
2 fresh chiles, sliced in long, fine strips
1 tablespoon whole Sichuan peppercorns, or chili flakes
1 pound extra firm tofu, drained and pressed
2 to 3 gloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons finely chopped ginger
1 bunch scallions, roughly chopped, plus some thinly sliced scallions for optional garnish
1 red bell pepper, julienned
1 large handful raw peanuts or cashews
2 tablespoons dark rice vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons mirin
4 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
4 tablespoons soy sauce
6 tablespoons dark rice vinegar
2 tablespoons sesame oil
4 tablespoons water

Cube the tofu and mix in the marinade ingredients. Let stand while you prepare the other ingredients. In another bowl, mix together the ingredients for the sauce and set aside.

Heat a wok with oil over high heat. Before the wok begins to smoke, add the chiles and Sichuan peppercorn. Stir-fry briefly until the chiles are slightly blistered and oil is fragrant.

Add the tofu and stir-fry 5 to 7 minutes, until crispy.

Add garlic, ginger, scallions and bell pepper, and stir-fry until fragrant, about 2 minutes.

Pour in sauce and mix to coat the other ingredients. When the sauce is thickened and shiny, stir in peanuts or cashews.

Transfer to plates, garnish with thinly sliced scallions, and serve with jasmine rice.

Kung Pao generally is a vegetable-free stir-fry, and while I did not want to over-crowd my wok with veggies, I felt the dish needed a minimum of vitamin, and red bell peppers seemed just perfect with the other ingredients and flavor. If you want more veggies, I suggest steaming some carrots or broccoli to add a burst of color to the plate.

The mix of chewy tofu, crunchy peanuts and bell peppers is great, and while the Sichuan peppers might take a bit of getting used to, the spicy, sour and sweet taste of the dish is really delicious. The sauce is meant more as a coating than as something to drown your tofu in, but you can always double it if you want a saucier plate. Who am I to argue against saucy?

If you try the Sichuan peppers and can't get used to their funny sour-spicy taste, you can always substitute them with a tablespoon of good old chili flakes. You'll keep the heat in your dish without the funky aftertaste.

As a side note, I am finally getting more comfortable with Twitter and Instagram, so if you are curious to see what else I ramble about besides food, you can find me there as @punkygabz.