Friday, 28 June 2013

Spicy Ginger-Lime Udon Stir-Fry

A few weeks ago, I made a lovely udon noodle stir-fry. It was very tasty, but it needed a side of protein to make a full meal. I was in the mood for a stir-fry, but I really wanted a one-bowl meal. I was also craving the intricate blend of spicy, hot, sweet and salty flavors that good Thai food never fails to deliver. In such circumstances, what's a girl to do but dig out a whole pile of ingredients from her pantry and throw it all together in a wok?

That's what I did!

There was a bag of shrimps in the freezer, just waiting to be turned into something tasty, so that's what I used, but chicken or pork, cut into thin strips would work very well here, as would some pre-fried extra-firm tofu, for those who swing that way. If you are going to use shrimps, you can definitely use pre-cooked shrimps. They won't need to be in the wok as long; just make sure they are nice and heated through. Mushrooms and bell peppers are some of my favorite veggies to use in stir-fries because they cook quickly. They are also wonderful immune boosters, which I really needed as I have been nursing a cold for the past few days (in June!! what the fuck?!), but if you have snow peas, baby corn or broccoli florets, they are all wonderful with stir-fried noodles.

I basically used the same technique I had used with the previous udon recipe, but with the sort of flavors I usually see in McDermott's "Real Vegetarian Thai". For the sauce, you have to taste and adjust: not everyone handles Sri Racha as stoically as my boyfriend (as I realized when I served my brother some General Tao tofu and he spent most of the meal blowing his nose... he loved it, but it was obviously too spicy for normal people), and since I am used to cooking for him, I can go a little overboard with it without even noticing. Just be careful!

1 1/2 lime, juiced
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, finely chopped
1 to 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 1/2 tablespoon sesame oil
1 1/2 tablespoon soy sauce
1 1/2 tablespoon fish sauce (or more soy sauce and a pinch of sea salt)
2 teaspoons Sri Racha sauce
1 teaspoon cane sugar

1 (8 ounce) package udon noodles
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 small yellow onion, finely minced
1 pound medium shrimps, peeled, deveined
1 small red bell pepper, julienned
1 container cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced

Sesame seeds, for garnish
Fresh cilantro, chopped, for garnish
Lime wedges, for garnish

Mix all the sauce ingredients together in a small bowl. Taste and adjust.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the noodles according to the package instruction. While the noodles are boiling, preheat the peanut oil in a large wok, over medium heat. Stir-fry the onion until it just begins to soften. Add the shrimps, and stir-fry until cooked and pink.

Add the bell pepper and mushroom and cook until the mushrooms have released their moisture and are shiny.

Remove the vegetables and shrimps from the wok and set aside. Remove the wok from the heat, add the sauce and let it get warmed up, stirring it for a couple of minutes until it thickens.

Add the noodles, vegetables and shrimps pan to the wok, put back on the heat and cook for a few more minutes, mixing it all up, until the flavors have blended well.

Serve sprinkled with sesame seeds and cilantro leaves, with lime wedges.

Oh boy, did this ever kick ass! Hot, tangy, slurpy noodles with crunchy veggies and chewy shrimps. On a dull week night, what else could you want? I love this sauce so much that I just can't wait to try it with different veggies and protein. I bet it will be insane with chicken, red onion and baby corn, or with some tofu, sugar snap peas, grated carrots and scallions... Omnomnom!

This recipe would be perfect for those who want healthy lunches that can be eaten on the go. It tastes wonderfully fresh and light, so it's ideal even with hot summer weather, and can be played around easily depending on what you have in the fridge! Enjoy experimenting with it!

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Green (Day) Thai Curry

O.K., so before the purists get their self-righteous panties in a twist, I confess for the record that yes, I do like Green Day. There, I said it. And I also happen not to really give a rat's backside about whether they are real punks or posers. Their music is fun: it makes me feel like jumping up on tables and kicking crockery to the floor. Glorious, mindless, somewhat infantile fun. We all need that every once in a while. Get over it.

Now that we got that out of the way, let's talk about food! And another, equally fun, but somewhat more "serious" punk band.

I had prepared a big pot of this curry not that long ago, when I came back from a long weekend in Toronto, but by some devilry, all the pictures I took of it inexplicably vanished from my computer AND camera... so I had to start all over again... *deep breath* Here we go!

It takes a lot to get me off the island of Montreal, but wanting to see my favorite band live is a huge motivation that will get me into action-hero mode. That's just the kind of crazy I am, so on May 23rd, I packed a bag and dragged my boyfriend to Toronto for the sole purpose of seeing Anti-Flag destroy the Hard Luck Bar two nights in a row. Yup, that's how much I love those guys!

I had a complete blast, pogoed like a maniac, hurt my ankle (still don't really know how I did that...), ate some awesome food, saw the Patti Smith exhibit: really good times! And of course, the two shows were mind-blowing! There is a reason I am willing to travel over 500 km (300 miles, for my American buddies) to see those guys: they are fucking awesome!

But I was less than impressed upon my return, to find my beautiful Montreal under a cold and rainy sky reminiscent of what you'd expect in March... Sigh...

Curries are my favorite comfort food when the weather is chilly, because they are stick-to-your-ribs chunky and the mix of spices is very warming, so I decided to play around with what I had in the fridge and make a Thai curry that would keep me from shivering too much as I unpacked. It got nicknamed the Green Day curry because everything I threw in it (except the tofu and mushrooms) was green.

It got inspired by Nancie McDermott's method in "Real Vegetarian Thai", but the recipe is just as easily adaptable for vegans (use soy sauce) or carnivores (use chicken), but I kept this version vegetarian, mostly because it could be my culinary homage to Anti-Flag, who are vegetarians. By the way guys, if you are reading this and are ever in Montreal, I would be thrilled to whip up a big pot of this green wonder for you! (yes, yes: I am a hopeless fan-girl, piss off!)

1 (15-ounce) can coconut milk
3 tablespoons green curry paste
1 zucchini, cut into half-moons
1 bunch scallions, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup vegetable broth
1 tablespoon cane sugar
2 tablespoons fish sauce or soy sauce
1 lime, juiced
1 pound extra-firm tofu, drained and pressed, cut into small cubes
1 container shiitake mushroom, stems removed, and chopped
1 green bell pepper, diced
1/2 bunch fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped

Shake the can of coconut milk. Open it and spoon about 1/3 cup of it in a large pot and bring to a gentle boil over medium heat. Cook, stirring, until it thickens, about 3 minutes. Add the curry paste and cook for 3 more minutes, mashing, scraping and stirring until the paste is completely combined with the coconut milk (this is where an angled stir-fry spatula comes in handy).

Add the zucchini and scallions, and stir to coat them well in the curry paste.

Add the remaining coconut milk, vegetable stock, sugar, fish sauce (or soy sauce) and lime juice, and stir well.

Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, until the zucchini is tender. Taste the broth and adjust the seasoning. Add the tofu, mushrooms and bell pepper and stir gently. If you need to, add vegetable broth until the ingredients are just covered in liquid.

Let the curry return to a boil and remove from the heat. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving on jasmine rice, sprinkled with the fresh cilantro.

By the time I was done chopping everything, the sun had finally managed to get through the big grey clouds that welcomed me back home, but a big plate of those delicious veggies in a spicy, creamy broth really hit the spot. It was the perfect meal to enjoy after the long train ride and the eventful weekend, because it's easy to make and ready super quickly, which is a huge plus if you are starving because train food is... questionable...

This recipe is great to use up any vegetables that are laying around in the fridge, lonesome and forgotten, so you can adapt it to whatever you have left before going to the grocery store; just remember to add the firmer vegetables first, and the softer ones at the end!

I should also give a spice warning: green curry is the hottest Thai curry (yellow is the mildest, and red is in the middle), and while it has a wonderful and exotic flavor, if you have sensitive taste buds, go easy on the curry paste! There is also no need to add garlic or ginger (or galangal, which is the Thai ginger) to a green curry, because there is already a lot of those (along with lemongrass, white peppercorns and lime zest) in the paste. The heat will be smoothed out by the coconut milk, but you can add a bit of cane sugar if you prefer a sweeter bite.

Enjoy the curry... and up the punx!!

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Will Bake Whiskey Cupcakes for More Ink!

I got my first tattoo when I was seventeen. I had been talking about it for 5 years, so my parents were not really surprised. Little did they know this would be the opening of the floodgate: getting inked is freakishly addictive! Every time I get a new tattoo, it takes me about... an hour to come up with a new awesome idea for another one. Budget restriction is a blessing in disguise sometimes...

While I do occasionally get tired of silly questions (such as "What will it look like when you get older?" - to which my typical response is: "Fucking bad-ass. Go away.") and of random people at bus stops feeling like they can touch my arm without asking, I am forever in love with the art of tattooing, and if I could draw (which I really can't: even my stick-figures suck), I would have loved to learn how to do it! I suppose I must be content with being a walking canvas.

Of course, when you are young and craving a new tattoo, you sometimes come up with ideas that will make you frown a decade later. Such was the case for the astrological symbols I got tattooed on the nape of my neck (as a Virgo with Libra rising, I like to have things clearly labeled, I guess). It was a nice little tattoo, but as I got older, I figured something a bit edgier would probably suit me better and decided to have it covered up. Given my obsession with cupcakes, I started toying with the idea of getting a bad-ass, colorful cupcake tattoo! On a whim, I walked into a tattoo shop near my apartment, and the next thing I knew, I was watching one of their artists sketch the exact wicked cupcake I had in mind!

I was so impressed with how nice and friendly the guys at the shop were, and the artist did such a cool job that I decided to express my gratitude to the Jolly Rogers' crew with a batch of whiskey cupcakes. A boozy dessert seemed an appropriate choice to thank them for my totally rockin' new tattoo!

I had been meaning to try whiskey maple buttercream frosting for a long time, as I had heard nothing but raving praises about the sinful-sounding combo. Technically, this blog entry's title is a lie, because there was no whiskey in the cupcakes per see; I sneaked it all in the frosting! But I did pipe the frosting on some lovely vanilla cupcakes.

These vanilla cupcakes are vegan, and I know I killed the vegan-ness of the ensemble with the butter in the icing, but as far as basic vanilla cupcake recipes go, this one is really one of my favorites because of how simple and straight-forward it is. If you have never baked a cupcake in your life before, this recipe is a good place to start because it will not intimidate the pants off you (I admit, some baking recipes scare me to death... I have been telling myself I will make home-made bread for ages and it still hasn't happened). If you want non-vegan vanilla cupcakes, this recipe is a bit more complicated, but utterly delicious and well worth the extra-effort.

Vegan vanilla cupcakes (from "Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World")
1 cup unsweetened almond milk
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup canola oil
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract and
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and scraped or 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a muffin pan with cupcake liners. Whisk the almond milk and vinegar in a measuring cup and set aside for a few minutes to get good and curdled. Sift the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl and mix.

Beat together the almond milk mixture, oil, sugar, vanilla extract and vanilla bean in a large bowl.

Sift in the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, and mix until no large lumps remain.

Fill cupcake liners two-thirds of the way and bake for 20 to 22 minutes.

Transfer to a cooling rack.

I was 1/4 cup shy of the required quantity of all-purpose flour, so I topped it off with some whole wheat pasty flour, hence the more golden hue of the cakes. My little trick did not affect the taste; it just gave them a slightly "healthier" look.

The frosting is inspired by the infamous Cupcake Royale specialty of bacon cupcakes iced with whiskey-maple buttercream... These people are clearly insane in the best way one can imagine.

1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup whiskey
5 tablespoons maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 cups confectioners' sugar

Using an electric mixer, beat butter, whiskey, syrup, salt, and one cup of the confectioners' sugar together until smooth.

Add the rest of the sugar bit by bit until it has reached the desired consistency (you might not use all of it).

Spread generously on cooled cupcakes. This makes enough frosting for a dozen cupcakes.

Being both a whiskey-girl and a maple syrup addict, I was sold on this icing from the moment I read the ingredients list. While it looks like completely innocent vanilla frosting, one lick of this creamy buttercream packs a lovely sweet and boozy punch. Simply sinful. A clean-tasting cake like the vanilla one is the perfect vessel for such a decadent frosting, but it would also work great on Guinness cupcakes!

Oh, and take it from me: bring your tattoo-artist cupcakes, and they will love you forever!