Love to cook? Read on for professional tips on building flavor without all the calories!

Archive for April, 2015

Let’s Stir Fry!

Want a quick meal that includes healthy ingredients, is simple to make, doesn’t require a lot of equipment and that can be

Chicken with Cashews

Chicken with Cashews

executed in a small space? Learning to stir fry properly might be your answer. All you need is a wok, a sharp knife and a stirring utensil. The Wok is used almost exclusively in many Chinese households for these very reasons. Space is at a premium, especially in poorer households, refrigerators are small and ovens are almost non-existent.

The wok makes up for a lot of these inefficiencies because it is extremely versatile. You can fry, sear, boil, steam and braise – all in one pot.

The shape of the wok concentrates the heat at the bottom. Racks are sometimes attached to the lip and used to store pieces that are done cooking (so you don’t overcook them). When frying, a wide, flat spatula works well for stirring and scooping.

With stir frying, it’s important to prepare and line up the ingredients you will need ahead of time. Each ingredient is chopped or otherwise prepared placed in the order it will be used. Stir fry is a quick preparation and you don’t have time to prep in between each addition. You want to be able to toss in the next layer of ingredients just at the moment you are ready for it.

Steamer Basket

Steamer Basket

Steaming in a wok requires a steamer basket like the one shown in the picture. The steamer is placed over water and the cover is then put on the wok to contain the vapor. You can also use individual serving size steamers, which are about 4” across. Just place them next to each other inside the wok and prepare them all at once.

Meats of choice are nearly always the fattier ones. Fat means flavor, as well as calories necessary to people living on small budgets. For example, when cooking with chicken, dark meat is usually chosen. Breast meat is frowned upon because the meat is more dry.

Cleavers

Cleavers

The knife of choice is the cleaver. They vary in size and weight and have different purposes. Lighter cleavers are for chopping and are used exactly like a French or Chef’s knife. Heavier cleavers are for chopping up bones and other tough ingredients. They are also used for smashing vegetables and garlic. Their wide surface areas are also great for picking up the chopped bits and transferring them to the wok.

In Chinese cooking, typically corn, peanut or vegetable oils are used. Olive oil has too strong a taste for the Chinese palate. Peanut oil with its high smoke point is especially suited for stir frying.

Rice

Oriental Sticky Rice

Rice is a common accompaniment for meals – especially in southern China, where it is grown. There are many varieties, but if you want to eat your dish with chopsticks, be sure and use a relatively short grain rice with high starch content so it will stick together. I use U.S. No. 1 Extra Fancy Hanmi, available in Asian stores.

Stir Fry Secrets and General Facts:

Before you begin to heat the wok, make sure the ring is centered on the heat source. This positions the wok so the heat surrounds its base evenly.

If your wok has metal handles, it’s not a bad idea to have oven mits handy or to get in the habit of wearing one when you are frying. You never know when you will need to grab a handle to stabilize it or re-position it.

Don’t crowd the pan! Too much meat in the pan will cause it to boil, not sear and caramelize (turn brown). As the meat heats up, it releases juices that can create a pool that cools the pan down and keeps the meat away from the hot surface. If you are making a lot, work in batches so this doesn’t happen.

Meat and vegetables both need to sear quickly, so keep them in the bottom of the wok, near the heat source. You can tip the wok around on the ring in different directions to get high heat contact in different places if you need to in order to help with even cooking.

Remove ingredients from the wok with a slotted spoon. This will cause any leftover oil to stay in the pan for the next batch. This also helps you to use as little oil as possible, which will keep the fat and calorie content of your dish lower.

Many sauces for these dishes contain soy sauce. Soy sauce in the U.S.A is very salty. The taste of the salt intensifies with reduction, so be careful to read labels and find the lowest sodium content that you can. If salt is called for in any recipe, taste what you have already cooked before you add it. The reduction of the soy sauce may make it already salty enough.

Marinades are widely used in China because they were originally invented to mask the smell of the meat. Marinate at least fifteen minutes before stir frying so the flavor will penetrate the meat. Stir fry is a fast method of cooking and if you don’t give the marinade a little time, instead of penetrating the meat it will sit on the outside.

Marinade components: Rice wine is added for its fragrance, light and dark soy sauces are for flavor. Cornstarch seals the flavor and thickens the sauce.

Hot peppers

Hot peppers

Peppers are also a common addition. You know your taste buds, so make sure you know your peppers! It’s very easy to make a dish too hot. Lantern shaped ones – shown in the picture – are the hottest.

Here’s a typical recipe, shown above: Chicken with Cashews

2 chicken breast halves (About 1 pound)
cut into large bite-sized pieces

2 cloves garlic, crushed, 3 tablespoons peanut oil

1 cup carrots, peeled and sliced on an angle, into 1/4” pieces

1/4 cup light soy sauce, 1 cup water, 1/4 cup oyster flavored sauce

3 tablespoons corn-starch, 1 cup cashew nuts,

1 teaspoon Szechuan pepper salt (or 1/2 teaspoon salt + 1 teaspoon pepper + several shots of hot sauce)

4 spring onions, sliced on an angle or Chinese garlic stems

  1. Whisk together the soy sauce, water, oyster sauce and corn-starch.
  2. Heat 3 tablespoons of the oil in a wok. On high heat, stir fry the chicken pieces with the garlic. Fry them in batches, until they are white all the way through, about 7 minutes. They should be browned on both sides. Remove with a slotted spoon and hold in a dish close by.
  3. Change to medium heat and stir fry the carrots for about 4 minutes.
  4. Add the chicken back to the wok. Add the cashews and pour in the soy sauce mixture.
  5. Cook uncovered, over medium high heat until the sauce thickens, about 10 minutes.
  6. Mix in the spring onions or Chinese garlic stems. Sprinkle with the pepper salt.
  7. If desired, serve with sticky rice.

Chef Lynn’s Secrets:

  • When a recipe calls for spring (also called garden) onions, use the entire onion. They make a lovely garnish when they are cut on the diagonal.
  • When deciding on the size to cut the ingredients for stir fry dishes, think about how large they need to be in order to pick them up with chopsticks. That’s why I say “large” bite-sized pieces.
  • Remember… don’t crowd the wok!

Creative Cooking

One of my favorite things to do is to look in my refrigerator with the goal of creating something delicious from whatever I find there. Using up leftovers makes me feel thrifty. Often, they even taste better because the flavors have had a little time to develop.

Here’s a perfect example of that. For dinner the night before this project, I had made chicken breasts dipped in egg and sprinkled with cheese. Two were leftover. I had also made corn on the cob and cut off the extra kernels from extra cobs. I found some extra dried cherries, left over from a diabetic cake I had made my mom and a number of staples, like onions. All of this turned into a flavorful chicken salad that could become sandwiches for lunch or a nice side for dinner. Another possibility was to make “deviled” eggs without yolks by filling the eggs with the salad. Believe me; it quickly disappeared! Simply warming up those chicken breasts and over cooking them would not have been the same.

"Deviled" Chicken-Cherry Salad Eggs, with Heirloom Tomatoes and Yogurt Dip

“Deviled” Chicken-Cherry Salad Eggs, with Heirloom Tomatoes and Yogurt Dip

Here is the salad recipe and some tips for using it as an egg filling for a healthy after school snack!

Chicken-Cherry Salad(Makes about 6 cups)

2 large chicken breasts, cooked

½ large yellow onion, diced tiny

½ cup cooked, fresh corn, sliced off the cob

1/3 cup pine nuts

1 cup dried cherries, chopped small

¼ cup cheddar cheese (This was already cooked onto my chicken as indicated above.)

Salt and pepper

Optional Garnishes: Sliced garden onion, red bell pepper, diced small

Method:

  1. Thinly slice the chicken, and then cut across the strips to make a tiny dice. (Chopping all ingredients very small protects your finishing options – especially if you think you want to fill eggs.)
  2. Mix all ingredients together except the garnishes (toppings). Taste it and if necessary add more spices.
Chicken-Cherry Salad as a Side Dish

Chicken-Cherry Salad as a Side Dish. Garnished with sliced garden onions.

Notes:

  1. You can mix the salad ahead and chop the garnishes. Cover and refrigerate. If making deviled eggs, make them up at the last minute. If serving as a side, add garnishes at the last minute.
  2. Older eggs peel better than really fresh ones. Every carton has a sell by date on it. Just make sure you stay within that time frame.
  3. Think of a boiled egg simply as a container. They can be filled with your favorite tuna or any other salad for variety. Make a small slice on the bottom of each egg half so it will sit on a flat surface and won’t go sliding around on your plate.

    Thinly Slice Egg Bottoms

    Make a small slice on the bottom to “anchor” your eggs and keep them from sliding around on the plate.

Squelch your Snack Attack with The Incredible Egg

Looking for a high protein brunch that’s healthy and not so high in calories? Turn to the incredible, edible egg. It’s The Incredible Egginexpensive, has no gluten, is high in protein, and contains choline which promotes liver function and helps transport other nutrients throughout your body. You can also add in a number of vitamins as well as no sugar and no carbs! Add in the right kind of carbs with the recipes you choose – carbs from vegetables.

So let’s choose spinach! Spinach is a super food – providing a very dense nutritional content in relation to its calories. Besides that, its vibrant green color provides a wonderful visual contrast, making the dish colorful and appealing. After that, I’ve added in other nutritious and colorful vegetables that you probably have on hand – making this a “go to” meal that you can prepare in a hurry.

Thinking of leaving out the cheese? It helps you to feel full and ¼ cup only adds 27.5 calories. Worth it to me! Cheese also adds a little more protein. My trainer always told me to be sure to eat something with protein and carbs within an hour after working out. This recipe is the perfect mix – and I’ll mention again – it’s so quick to make! After I work out, I’m hungry and if I head for the omelet pan, I can satisfy that need before I grab something sweet that works against my goals. (I try to keep Jerky around for that reason too – something else that’s quick to grab during a snack attack!)

Here’s the recipe:

(370 calories, 21.3 grams protein, 5.4 grams fiber, 15.4 grams carb)

2 large eggs, whisked

¼ red or yellow onion, diced small

½ red bell pepper, diced small

1-1/2 cups fresh spinach leaves

¼ cup finely grated Cheddar cheese

1 teaspoon olive oil

Pinch each of salt and pepper

Garnish: A few sliced, green garden onions

Method:

  1. Place 2 cups water in a frying or sauce pan. Add the spinach and heat just until the leaves soften. Do not overcook. Remove from the pan and drain well. You can even blot it a bit with a paper towel.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a non-stick omelet pan. Add the onion and pepper and sauté until just soft. Remove from the pan and set aside.
  3. Add the egg and as it starts to cook, scrape the sides of the pan and fold it in on itself (preferably using a heat free spatula).
  4. Just before the egg is completely cooked, add the rest of the ingredients except for the garden onions and sprinkle with spices. Fold together once more. Sprinkle with a few sliced green garden onions and serve immediately.

Concerned about cholesterol? WebMD says it best… “In 2000, the American Heart Association (AHA) revised its dietary guidelines and gave healthy adults the green light to enjoy eggs once again. The AHA’s guidelines now allow an egg a day for healthy adults while still advising a total daily cholesterol limit of 300 mg.

The confusion over eggs stems from their cholesterol content. One large egg contains 213 mg of cholesterol, accounting for two-thirds of the recommended daily limit.

When scientists learned that high blood cholesterol was associated with heart disease, foods high in cholesterol logically became suspect. But after 25 years of study, it has become evident that cholesterol in food is not the culprit — saturated fat has a much bigger effect on blood cholesterol. Full-fat dairy products and fatty meats are examples of foods that are loaded with saturated fat and which trigger the body to produce cholesterol.”

As an aside, it’s well known that you can spread out your nutritional needs over a period of days. So, if you make this dish one day, you can keep your egg limits in check by not eating any on the day following. This applies to most people, but if you have a heart condition and your doctor has advised you otherwise, follow his/her advice!

Gluten Free Baking

The trend toward gluten free baked goods is on the rise. Even my own doctor says there is no reason for anyone to eat wheat in its current non-nutritional state – even if you do not have Celiac Disease. As a result, I’ve tried to take gluten out of my diet. I tested negative for Celiac Disease, but now when I eat gluten, I see by my aching stomach how difficult it is to digest. If you carefully read labels and learn the gluten free buzz words, you can do pretty well. However, baking at home is the real challenge.

A friend suggested that I try the Chebe bread mix for making pizza crust and my daughter-in-law pushed me off the mark Chebe Bun Boxby ordering me some online and handing it to me (God love her. http://www.chebe.com/) At first glance, online ratings are pretty good and it’s not terribly expensive. A box, which makes a small loaf or four buns is three dollars and change. You can find sales as well. The second plus is that making it is very easy. They basically combine the flours for you – not always so easy to find – and you add the other ingredients. So basically, they are making out like bandits, but the ease of making a home baked product is worth the (not exorbitant) cost.

I started with the cheese buns because I had some turkey burgers stuffed with Feta and Spinach that I wanted to try. To make the buns, all I had to do was to follow the recipe on the box by adding two Tablespoons oil, a cup of finely grated cheddar cheese, 2 eggs and ¼ cup of water. You mix this together and knead it. You have to really press it together to get it to mix. I ended up lightly wetting my hands in the end to provide just a bit more moisture. Then you divide the dough into four pieces and form them into balls.

Here are some tricks for you. 1. If you want to divide dough equally, make it into a roll. Then cut the roll in half, then each
half into half again. 2. If you want to get a nice “bun” shape, form the ball and then continue to work it around as you would to make a ball, but cup your hands. That makes a higher more bun-like shape.

Equal Sections

Bun ShapingThe next step is to place the buns on an oiled baking sheet or one that is lined with parchment paper and brush them with oil. Then bake in a pre-heated oven for 20-25 minutes, until – as the package says – they are lightly browned. I used the full baking time, but although they did not brown, I took them out anyway and let them cool. The result was a great bun that was crispy on the outside and delightfully soft on the inside – not terribly large, but decent in size. They do rise a little, but not a lot.

According to the box, these buns are gluten, soy, corn, rice, potato, yeast, peanut, tree nut, egg, lactose/casein, iodine, and sugar free, non GMO and Kosher Certified. Whoa. The only thing that is pretty funny though, is that they tell you to add eggs and cheese to the mix, so go figure. That negates a number of those things! I can’t imagine the buns would be as good without them, especially the cheese.

The result – with the cheese – was pretty good. I would make them again. The crispiness, however, made it a bit hard to Finished Bunseat. You could mitigate this by brushing the hot buns with melted butter to soften them. This does, however and of course, add calories, which brings me to one of my pet peeves.

The box says this mix makes 4 sandwich buns. The calorie count per serving is 70. That sounds pretty good at first, but if you look at the Servings per container, it’s 10. Yes, TEN! So if you make 4 buns, each bun is actually 175 calories. Not only that, the calorie count on the box only includes what is in the box. So let’s add the other ingredient calories and divide that by 4. (2 T olive oil = 238, 1 cup cheddar cheese = 455, 2 large eggs = 156) So our total is 1,024 divided by 4 = 256 per bun. That’s not terrible. Now if we look at what I put on the bun, I had 5 oz. ground turkey breast at 150 calories, 1 slice of red onion and 1 pieces of lettuce that are practically negligible, Spinach and feta cheese providing about 60 calories and 1 Tablespoon low fat mayonnaise at 40 calories. So Burgermy total sandwich came to 506 calories, which really isn’t bad for eating something that really tasted like a hamburger. My point is just that it’s a lot more than it looks like at first glance. I even noticed online that when you look up calorie contents, the Nutrition box will often say “1 serving”, but they won’t tell you how much that serving is. So easy to be deceived! So be careful and look closely.

Long story short. Good buns! You can also use this mix for pizza crust, rolls and other things. It just depends on how you shape them.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Whenever you eat fresh breads, they are not best straight out of the oven. They still need time to rest and develop. I would make these buns in the morning next time and serve them for dinner. Later – and the next day toasted – or simply buttered and sprinkled with salt, they were really, really good. They were also not quite as crispy, which would make them better for a burger. This bread mix will be a staple in my pantry from now on. 🙂

Tag Cloud

%d bloggers like this: