Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Happy New Year -Egg Drop Soup

I love a good egg drop soup.  It’s very comforting.  Due to his food allergies, my son has not been able to have this soup in restaurants (it’s not on the safe list).  I occasionally have it, but you really don’t get a great serving for the price you pay ($3.50-$4.00 for three spoons…really). I decided that for Chinese New Year’s I would make this (I don’t know why it took me this long to make this…possibly because I made it during my freshman year of college, when my culinary skills were minimal…so they didn’t turn out well at all).

Egg Drop Soup Recipe

4 cups of chicken stock
1/8 tsp. ground ginger powder
1/8 tsp salt
1 tsp. soy sauce
1 tsp Marsala wine or sherry
2 eggs + 1 yolk (or 3 eggs and just remove a bit of egg white)
1.5 tbs. of cornstarch
1 tsp. sesame oil (add only at end)
green onion for garnish
tiny tofu (extra firm) cubes (optional)
White ground pepper (optional)

The stock can be either home made or store bought (ready or a consomm√© type made from bouillon…just make sure it’s not too salty-Telma chicken consomm√© is a recent find-not too salty…but it’s hard to find…).

Beat eggs and put on side
Thinly slice some green onion
Cut a small amount of tofu into cubes (optional).
Make a slurry of the cornstarch and water-it should be like a thick liquid, not paste.

Bring 4 cups of stock, soy sauce, ginger powder and Marsala wine to boil.

During a slow boil, slowly add the cornstarch slurry and stir until it thickens.

Once thickened, turn off heat (but leave pot on heat), stream (pour slowly) in eggs and slowly stir with a spoon in a circular motion as the eggs form a nice stream  (I use a wooden spoon to stir).  Once done, add the sesame oil.

Serve (add tofu cubes if using) and garnish with thinly sliced green onion.

Serve yourself some seconds.
There are some variations on this.  Some restaurants add a little corn to the soup or even some tiny vegetables.  I like this pure form.  Also, this recipe turns out as those of better Chinese restaurants, not the cheaper quick type places that now run rampant in suburbia.

Allergen note:   If you avoiding gluten, use a gluten free Teriyaki sauce, if avoiding soy all together-use Umeboshi Vinegar-I used this as a soy substitute when my son was off of soy.  Also, I don't use genetically modified soy sauce. Instead I use organic non GMO soy sauce (I use 365 brand from Whole Foods).

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Sunday, January 22, 2012

Are food allergies, diets and being different causing alienation? Revisited

About a year ago, I blogged about the alienation that results from food allergies and special diets.  So what, if any, changes have I observed since last year?

I think I’ve noticed more of an ego issue with bad food choices people make.  Instead of saying, “bad food choices will lead to bad health consequences, maybe I should learn and alter my habits a bit,” (which seems like a step in the right direction if your goal is not to get chronic disease), it’s become an ‘us vs. them’ climate.

I’ve had a lot of positive comments on my blog.  “Thanks for making us more aware and sharing tips and tricks on how to eat healthier and tastier food.”  Such comments are very encouraging.  My personal goal this year is to spend time and effort only on activities that make a difference.  Time is a scarce resource.  So I’m thrilled that there are people out there that want to improve their lives and just need a little help as they acquire awareness (as I did when I learned all this-it was a fulltime job to figure out how to cook with healthy ingredients, what healthy ingredients even are,  and have the food taste great). 

But, now I sense some of the isolation that people with food allergies, celiac disease, and other special diets face.  It’s as if I came out of the closet – and now it’s public that I refuse to eat in a state of unconsciousness and succumb to peer pressure. 

Surely genetics plays a role in our health.  But if I don’t feed my child processed mac and cheese and sodium nitrite hot dogs every day with a generous helping of factory farmed meat and processed chemicals…. purely from a probabilistic standpoint, the likelihood of him acquiring some chronic disease is reduced.  No guarantees…but at least I’m trying to influence the outcome.  There is no need for me to restate all the great research that one can simply Google (China Study, Reversing Heart Disease, etc.).  Same goes for me, while I can still improve (e.g., be more disciplined about working out), I indulge in conscious eating and choices.  “Conscious Eating” – a term Michael Pollan coined.  Yet, conscious eating is looked down upon by a lot of people.  They continue to say, “I have the right to eat xyz.”   Yes, they have the right, but they also increase health costs for the rest of us.  And again, genetics already plays a role here. 

So my goal with the food related aspect of my blog continues-enable “conscious eating” that doesn’t mean you have to eat cardboard.  Not everything that tastes great has to lead to chronic diseases. Yes, it’s more effort, but most worthwhile things in life are. Is it convenient?  Not for me, full time career, single motherhood and eternal commute would make great excuses for not doing it.  But again, spend time on things that make a difference.

Follow me on Twitter:  JuliannaJ9

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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Crockpots Aren't Just for Beef Stew, as this Delicious Eggplant Dish Proves

Right before it goes into the crockpot base

Crockpots aren’t just for pot roast (I never make), stews or soups.  In fact, a crockpot can render delicious vegetarian dishes.  This is a favorite dish for dinner.  Healthy, tasty and makes for great leftovers.

Note:  for the most flavor I always pan fry (even meat dishes) the ingredients first.  I want a 'main course' flavor not a boiled flavor.  This is not a requirement, but a personal flavor preference.  Even for meat dishes, I never just throw the meat into the crockpot.  Instead I always sear and pan fry first.  This process locks in the juices.

1 1/4 lbs eggplant, cut into 1-inch cubes (about two medium eggplants)
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
1-2 cloves garlic (or more)
1 celery stick
1-2 red peppers diced
2-3 Tbs olive oil (or 365 expeller pressed canola oil)
 ½ cup. tomato sauce
2 cans of organic diced tomatoes (unflavored)
½  cup pitted ripe olives, cut in half
2 Tbs Balsamic vinegar
1 Tbs sugar
1 Tbs capers, drained
1 tsp dried oregano
.5-1.0 tsp. cumin powder
salt and pepper to taste
2 tbs. chopped dill (add right before serving)
1 tbs. coarsely chopped fresh cilantro or parsley at end
For protein, either add pan fried tofu (see other blog entry on how to) or crumbled pan fried seitan.

I have a crockpot that allows frying as well as cooking in the same insert (most don't-but this model doubles up as a dutch oven). 

Add 3-4 tbsp  oil (not extra virgin, but Bertolli Classico, or 365 expeller pressed canola oil)

Fry the onion for a few minutes, then add the eggplant, peppers (I added poblano this time) & celery and fry for at most 5 minutes.  Add the cumin and fry for one minute.  Remove from heat and insert into the crockpot base (or transfer to crockpot).

Add the garlic, tomato sauce and diced tomatoes- cover and cook on Low 3 1/2 to 4 hours or until eggplant is tender. Stir in olives, vinegar, sugar, capers and oregano. Season with salt and pepper (not much salt is needed-it’s already tasty). Cook for about 45 minutes (at this point add optional protein-tofu or seitan). Right before serving add dill and top off with cilantro.

This one is the plate for a Jager Schnitzel lover....but my non meat eating guests were happy too

Since one of the advantages of a crockpot is not having to ‘nurse’ the dish.  If you end up cooking the dish longer and only have 15-20 minutes to cook with the vinegar, tofu,  etc. it will not hurt the dish.

As any dish, this is very pretty flexible and the flavors can be altered. 

Because it’s a saucy dish, it tastes delicious the next day (or could be frozen-but when reheating frozen foods, always add a little extra spice to liven up the flavors).

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Monday, January 16, 2012

Post Commute Chicken Marsala with Orzo

This a relatively simple yet tasty dish and no unhealthy ingredients required for flavor.  Chicken Marsala is festive to some, but here it’s a great after work dinner.

1.5 pound boneless chicken breast (I chose free range chicken)
1-1.5 cups Marsala wine (not the fake one from grocery section)-I like to blend two different brands
¾  cup organic free range chicken broth
¼ stick Earth Balance Soy butter
3-4 tbs. 365 Expeller Pressed Canola oil or Bertolli Classico Olive Oil (NOT extra virgin-EVO is not an ideal pan frying oil and its flavor is too strong)
flour (a light flour, if you are avoiding gluten use rice flour)
3 free range organic eggs-hand beaten (there is a difference between mass produced eggs-the omega 3s) - if you are avoiding eggs...use Ener G egg replacer mixture 

Cut the chicken breast lengthwise
Pound the chicken with a mallet

Dredge chicken breast into flour
Then dip into egg
Then dredge in flour again

(you can slightly season the flour with garlic powder – not garlic salt)

Put oil and Earth Balance Soy butter into a frying pan and heat….brown the chicken about 5 minutes on each side.

Turn once, but due to uneven heat, keep an eye on each piece...you may need to move it around to get consistent results.

Pour Marsala wine into the frying pan and deglaze.

This is why you should NOT use a no stick pan....this is perfect for deglazing

Simmer chicken in wine about 15-20 minutes (covered)-this really tenderizes and flavors the chicken.

After 20 minutes, remove the chicken breast and put aside.
Pour in some chicken stock (this is based on preference-I like more wine than stock….so it has more marsala flavor)

Reduce the liquid (this will thicken in slightly)

Add salt (a pinch is enough) and pepper and a slight amount of Earth Balance Soy butter to make it creamier – whisk.

Return chicken to pan and slightly heat up.

Serve with orzo tossed in olive oil.  I’ve also served this dish  with roasted diced potatoes, rice or other side dishes. The sauce should NOT be overly thick.

You can garnish with parsley. 

Some people like mushrooms to be part of their Marsala.  I don’t like my Chicken Marsala to try to be too many things….the mushroom takes away from the Marsala flavor.

If there are any leftovers, they will taste great the next day (my son calls leftovers on this one).

I’ve had this dish in restaurants, but I like the flavor of this version the most.  Light sauce with a nice Marsala taste.

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Thursday, January 5, 2012

Buche De Noel-it's not just a pretty name

Do I thrive on stress and multitasking?

2011 concluded and as I look back on this blog, I have one comment:  I didn’t blog enough.

As I reflect on why I didn’t blog-it’s because for each entry I wanted to have all the photos, the story, and the exact recipe with all the key ingredients/substitutions.  I was too busy to make such complete entries as frequently as I would like.

So here’s my ‘incomplete’ entry – more to follow later.

For years I loved the way “Buche de Noel” sounds and looks.  Yes,  I could have bought a ready made one, but then my son wouldn’t be able to eat it due to cross contamination and allergens.  Even before his food allergies, I chose not to buy one because I knew the ingredients weren’t the best.

So I finally made it…. and it tastes as good as it looks and sounds.

As the first step, I watched the hilarious Julia Child video on how to make it (with the falling stump-I love her casual attitude when things don’t go perfectly).  But she didn’t cover the rolling part.  I researched at least 10 different recipes for ingredients, baking technique and rolling technique (there are many).

Mostly, this Yule Log (another name for it) is like my holiday mocha cake (prior blog entry).  I separate the eggs the same way I do for my cakes and the frosting was identical to my mocha frosting (except I added a bit of Kahlua).  But the rolling in towels and so forth gets a bit tricky (or at least stressful).  I always say holidays are not the time to experiment, but then I always do. Decorating the Buche de Noel was very easy.  So again, I tried to add a few new dishes to my holiday repertoire.    While creating new recipes and food items around the holidays is a bit stressful (what if it doesn’t work-disaster), it does provide me with some sort of accomplishment.

Apparently stress may be a killer, but it also fuels one’s creativity in all areas.

As usual I didn’t write the recipe and technique down (and I really should for something I make a few times a year).  So I will add this at a later time.  I’ve even found my blog useful to look up my own recipes. I also have many more to add from the recent holidays.

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