Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Guacamole with Naan

Why would I mix those two, you say? Well... they were there. And they were delicious together.

A trip to Costco meant that I finally got my avocados. Yay! Apparently, this year is a bumper crop. I got my hankering for them after I went to a Latina friend's birthday party and her mum served little ones. I don't know much about avocados, but the ones we got were practically twice the size (huge!) and not as flavourful. Will have to investigate. I find that smaller varieties of fruits are tastier than the larger ones; berries are the most marked example.

Maybe it's the Asian in me, but I don't feel like enough people talk about prices online. Personally, I was surprised to find out that a bag of 5 avocados (Peruvian) was $ 5.49 (Canadian). I guess I expect veggies to be cheaper than $1.10 per. I'm finding, though, that I have expensive taste in vegetables. I knew a chef who didn't eat meat because her buying priorities leaned more to things like portobello mushrooms (she made burgers with them, it was awesome); I think I may follow her lead on that one. So many vegetables, so little time, y'know?

When I checked avocado prices online (mostly American, which doesn't help much because their stuff is so much cheaper), it didn't seem like we'd gotten a bad deal. There were all the crowers getting them for 50c, but prices went as high as USD 2 - 2.50, so I'm grateful for the price we got. Especially since it led me to this recipe for roast avocado and couscous salad. Vegetarian and delicious! I'm hoping my sis 'll be my partner-in-crime on that one, though I'm not sure how she feels about couscous.

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Tonight, my sis aided and abetted in the making of guacamole. Only 3 avocados left now. The links above have so many recipes that we're going to run out quickly!

Easiest Guacamole Ever
2 avocados, 3 4T fresh salsa, 1T lime juice (or juice of 1/2 lime)

1. Halve the avocados, dig out the pits, halve the halfs, and peel the skin away from the flesh (may not be possible depending on the cultivar of avocado).
2. Mash it!
3. Mix in the salsa and lime juice.

Everything was so much easier than I expected, the cutting and the peeling especially. Avocados are the best! They even put a halt to my trials with our ridiculously-acidic pico de gallo; turns out it mixes perfectly with avocado, and it added to the flavour of the guacamole.

Once we had the whole thing, we heated up a piece of naan bread (again, Costco is to thank) and tore off pieces and spooned guacamole on top. I think I like using naan even better than tortilla chips; my sis took the rest of the bowl with her when we finished the naan, LOL, and ate it by the spoon for a while, then remembered the tortilla chips and ate it with those. But there's something about the thick chewiness of naan that made it incredibly satisfying to eat with fresh guacamole, especially since one was hot and one was cold.

That much guacamole costs between $5-8, from what I've seen (which isn't much). Our was 2x$1.10 avocadoes, $1 worth of salsa, and maybe $0.20 of lime juice, so $3.40. Budget win!

Just checked the nutritional data for 1 avocado. Oh crap. Should not have let the sis abscond with that much of it. On the bright side, it's probably the best way to get 45% of your daily fat intake at once? No wonder it costs a dollar each.

I'll have to save it for any days all I'm eating is rice and veggies (hey, it happens). I'll figure something out to work it into my diet because damn it is too fantastic to give up!

So yeah, second opinion, from my sister, was favourable. My parents didn't like avocado, so they wouldn't even try the guacamole.

There's a 4-pack of red peppers that's been in the fridge for a week that I think my dad's counting on me to use up, so I'm planning on cooking them tomorrow. I'm thinking 2 as roasted red peppers to stuff in the other ones (cannibals!), maybe with avocado. I have tomato paste and brown rice that I can fill them with, too. We'll see how that turns out.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Chili Ranch Toast & Ice Cream with Papaya

I stumbled upon this scrumptious-looking appetiser the other day and had no choice but to ruin it for my own purposes:

Chili Ranch Toast

I bear an unholy love for mixing ranch and anything flavoured with chili powder, so the pot of chili heating on the stove was on my radar right away.

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This is what my own version, Chili Ranch Toast, consisted of:
butter, bread, ranch dressing, cheddar, chili from a can

1. Melt 1t butter and spread it onto bread (I used the ends, no other way to salvage those as delicious).
2. Toast the bread until crunchy.
3. Add 1T ranch dressing and spread onto bread.
4. Grate cheddar on top until bread is covered.
5. Bake in oven for 350F for 5-10 minutes (my sis was waiting to do nachos in the toaster oven, so one of my slices didn't get much time; the longer the better).
6. Drain chili (with a spoon) and layer it on top of the toast.

The ranch does a great job of keeping the chili and bread apart, which makes things less messy. As you can see by the pic, it wasn't as drippy as one might expect.

Improvements for next time: use actual baguette; less ranch, more cheese; addition of parsley (as in recipe) and 1t chili powder; add tomato/avocado/guacamole under the topping; cook for longer, possibly broil for a bit.

Otherwise, it made a great meal/snack. The second opinion, from my sis, was favourable. We'll probably do it again sometime.

I put avocado on the grocery list last week, so I was a little surprised when Dad came back with this green American-football-sized thing that he kept comparing to a papaya. Long story short, turns out that's what it actually was. I think the grocery store had their labels somewhat mispositioned.

Never a family to turn down our tropical fruits - not after so many years living where they were plentiful - we chopped it up and have been eating it. Tonight I mixed papaya with french vanilla ice cream over top. After a week of sitting on the counter, the papaya was fairly soft; getting it and the ice cream in the food processor/blender for a short whirl would yield some pretty delightful papaya ice cream, I think.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Got that Eggy Sambal Pasta Goodness on... with Pics!

I actually wanted to make these fish tacos today, but it turns out we already ate our leftover fish. Bummer. If there was one thing I should've gotten in the States, it was definitely a fish taco. So I made that sambal with pasta I'd been thinking about ever since I made it with rice. My ancestors are probably not thrilled.

So I finally brought the camera to the table, looking like a freak and all. Apparently, I've had flickr since 2007. Who knew?

Sambal Pasta with Egg

Also, I finally used that mythical object that had been but a distant memory to me: the stove. If there's one thing I never want to cook in the microwave, it's pasta, not sure why. I think it's because it's in there for so long, and I've learnt that anything in the microwave for over five minutes at a time will explode. The automated nature of hopping up every minute and punching another minute in again is no fun, either. I guess you could say it compares to having to check your stove stuff just as frequently, but doing that's more spontaneous and fun.

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I do plan on using my rice cooker to make pasta, though. Apparently, you don't even have to drain it!

You know, one of the things I adore about Malaysian cuisine is the indiscriminate use of eggs in, like, everything. Fried rice and noodles just aren't the same without it! My fave fried rice here is Yang Chow fried rice, just for that eggy kick. So it was guaranteed that I was going to use egg. Especially once I came across this comment on Allrecipes from Leo in NJ:

"Leo in NJ
Apr. 30, 2010 11:50 am
Cheaters' "poached" eggs: I make them this way whenever I want eggs sunny-side up. Break eggs into a buttered skillet as for fried eggs (med-low heat). Sprinkle seasonings quickly, then add 1-2 tsp water and cover. Steam over very low heat until whites glaze over the yolks. Much less trouble than poaching."

I've never, ever been able to poach an egg; how could I resist?

Unfortunately, I don't think I waited long enough for the butter to heat up, though it melted, because the egg spread across the entire pot. Still delish.

So without further (and further. and yet further) ado, let me skip back to the beginning and explain my one-pot dish.

Eggy Sambal Pasta
1 egg, single serving of pasta (1-2 handfuls), 3T sambal paste, 1T ranch dressing, 0.5T t hoisin sauce (added too much), 0.5t butter, 1T water
  1. Cook and drain pasta (preferably in non-stick pot). Lay aside for now.
  2. Put butter in pot on med-lo heat and wait until it is melted and sizzling.
  3. Crack an egg in, add 1T water, and cover. Add sambal after 1 minute.
  4. Once egg is done, remove from heat and break it up. Add the pasta back in.
  5. Add ranch and hoisin sauce. Serve when hot.
Second opinion: Mum said it "wasn't bad" - her top compliment for family members - though she thought it was spicy.
My spiciness rating (this sambal's not that strong): 1 bottle of water, 15 minutes for burning in mouth to stop.

I added the hoisin sauce to mine while eating, actually:
Sambal Hoisin Pasta with Egg

The dish needed some sweetness to it, and I didn't want to use sugar or cross cuisines even further. Good thing I wasn't daring enough to add our ridiculously sour pico de gallo at the beginning! Maybe pico de gallo + hoisin sauce can be my next sauceperiment. I love hoisin sauce; I added it to plain chicken wraps (this was at my boyfriend's, where there are never any cooking basics like tomato sauce) and it was fantastic and got me craving Peking duck ever since.

I added the ranch for creaminess, though coconut milk/cream is really what you want to use. I just like ranch and didn't want to open a full tin or, you know, gain a pound in one sitting.

I really like the fusion of pasta and Asian sauces. I made a neat peanut butter-salsa-Kraft Dinner (it adds smokiness somehow) sauce that actually tasted Thai. If I revisit it (and find a way to cut out the KD), I'll post it. But yeah, this dish was a success. Only thing it needed was veggies. We're sort of low on vegetables right now. I considered roasting some red peppers to go with but ultimately didn't want to bother.

Vegetable thoughts for next time: sautéing any of onion, eggplant, pumpkin, and/or spinach with the sambal would be great (maybe lentils, too). The aforementioned roasted peppers. Adding frozen mediterranean veggie mix. Mushrooms. Avocado (even more fusion, haha). Corn or one of the more stringy/liquidy squashes in place of the hoisin sauce for sweetness. Um.... I don't think I know many vegetables. I better start hanging out in the fruit & veg section of the supermarket.

Microwave Mug-Brownie & Thaw Soup

Today, I made microwave brownies in mugs for my sister and I. My mum was interested enough to want one too, but she lost patience with me making my sister's. Maybe another time. I don't like there to be too much sugar in it, so this is the recipe I use, though I find it needs a longer heating time in our 700W microwave. We spooned french vanilla ice cream on top.

This would've been the perfect dish so far to snap a pic of, but after setting up 16 GB of photos onto my previously-unopened digital photo frame (and them still not all showing up!), I'm pictured out.

Thaw soup is what I came up with to describe a special heating (I don't think I'm audacious enough to call it cooking) method of mine. Sure, you can boil quick-cooking/precooked frozen stuff in a bowl of hot water in the microwave like you do in a pot, but frankly, most of the stuff you do that with looks gross wet, and is usually less appetizing that way. Plus what do you do with the water? It has nutrients you don't want to lose but looks gross, too. Yeah, for someone so blasphemous about food I get weird peeves.

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My scientific approach to these dilemmas is to let the frozen food cook suspended in a bowlful of soup/broth, which will boil anyway in the amount of time it takes to heat up. This principle extends to my instant noodles, which are truly my masterpiece, but they deserve a post dedicated solely to their magnificence.

So I start with condensed soup, usually tomato because cream soups are lumpier and fattier. I don't add the full can of water, if only because eating an entire can (you can try half, too, but there's less fluid to heat in) of soup, especially tomato, is tiring. Then I plop in whatever frozen premade stuff is in the freezer. This includes:
  • frozen tortellini/ravioli (thanks again, Costco!)/pierogies
  • precooked shrimp
  • frozen vegetables: I like Meditteranean/Spaghetti mixtures. I'm picky when it comes to veggies.
  • fresh vegetables (I just heat everything for longer)
  • Chinese dumplings: the pastry ones, not the palm-leaf ones... Ten Ten Dim Sum is our regular brand, but Google's not forthcoming, so I'll have to take a pic sometime. Regular flavour is pork & shrimp/veg.
  • pinto beans:  got a big container of them in the freezer
As you can see, there are lots of choices. Personally, I find Chinese dumplings much tastier than the European ones. Much more generous filling : flour ratio. And yes, I know I'm testing a bunch of frozen processed foods against each other, and I'm biased. Chinese ones still win. Ravioli is more fun to play with and dip, though.

Then, I microwave the soup for at least 3 minutes, with a paper plate on top to avoid splatter (microwave covers are short, get in the food, and suck). Whatever you do, read the instructions on your frozen food and try to follow cooking times. It's less important if there isn't meat in it, but if there is, you can't always be certain that it's cooked. Frozen chicken nuggets (not that it would ever occur to me to have them in the house, let alone stick in soup. They can be tasty, though) are usually uncooked.

So heat for as long as it says. Then again for another minute or two. Our usual Chinese dumplings are precooked and only need 2 minutes to boil, and the tortellini I use is the size of my thumbnail, otherwise I never would've come up with this method of making them at all.

Whew. I was never this concerned with our 1200W microwave, but now we're on a 700W one. Whenever I need to buy my own, you can bet it's going to be a powerful sucker.

Nachos & Banana Split

Gee, I really experiment a lot, don't I? Part of it is that my mum doesn't enjoy cooking, but also my little sis encourages me. She's always up for more food and takes a special interest in vegetarian/piscitarian meals (we don't have much variety in them otherwise). Also, I like to try and get healthier food into her diet, like vegetables or fibre.

You'd think someone who's mainly vegetarian would be eating lots of veggies, but you'd be wrong. My sis eats lots of pasta salad and frozen pierogies. On the slightly-veggied up side, she also has pizza and nachos. She actually really likes the kind of giant salads you get at A&P, though.

In order to get more veggies in her diet, I raided CostCo for some solutions earlier this year. They have 1-pound tubs of bruschetta, around CAD 8, and tubs of fresh salsa that are almost 1-litre (ain't Canadian measuring great...ly inconsistent!), around CAD 9.

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Another thing I incorporated into our household was pinto beans, though no one was a fan outside of my sis & I. I cooked them from dry in the slow cooker, no pre-soaking or anything, then froze them. One $2 bag of beans filled three 500g (~1 lb) tubs. I'm so keeping up with my beans in college.

And this is where the nachos come in. I also get the huge bags (these ones I measure in kilograms!) of Kirkland Organic Tortilla Chips. I like that they're organic, although the ultimate factor in choosing which tortilla chips to get was price/volume, I'll be honest. But they seem less salty and more robust than Tostitos, and I like them. My sister must too, because we always run out sooner than I expect. They're really big bags.

So we microwaved nachos last night. You know how I talk about things best done in the microwave? This is not one of them. But I didn't feel like getting out the toaster oven. We'll do it that way next time.

We laid out 2 layers of chips, pinto beans, salsa (1T), chilli powder (1t), and cheese (indiscriminate amounts). Then, we zapped it until the cheese melted. The beans were still a little frozen, so we just stuck it back in for another minute.

The next bout we tried had more salsa and wasn't as good because of that. For one, this one's too spicy for my sister (that's why there was only 1T the first time). Also, this isn't our regular kind. This was Peggy's Pico de Gallo, and we usually get Jack's Fresh Salsa. Or something. I like to imagine Costco trying to push starcrossed lovers Peggy & Jack into divorce over the bitter stress of the salsa biz.

The problem with this one is that it's hotter and a lot more sour/vinegary. Last time I added it to pasta, I had to add a spoonful of sugar to make the salsa go down. It's due to the jalapeño, I'm pretty sure. Whenever burrito places (at least in Canada) serve pico de gallo, they neglect that certain apparently-important ingredient. I have a love-hate relationship with jalapeños, and you can guess what side of the divide this falls on for me. My boyfriend loves jalapeños, though, so I think the lion's share of this batch of salsa will fall to him.

Since the nachos were so hot - and also because we bought 2 things of ice cream yesterday - I made a simple banana split for after. I didn't feel like going down to the deep freeze for the strawberry ice cream (our family's buying habits are such that when it rains, it pours), so I stuck with french vanilla.

Weird thing I find with me and dairy is that they taste better when they're in glass. Is that just me?

Anyway, I pulled apart the banana with my hands and lay each half at the bottom of the dessert dish, then I spooned the ice cream on top and squirted caramel syrup over it. Quickest assembly ever. No idea why places charge an arm & a leg for this.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

To America and Back Again (+ Rice & Beans, Breakfast Shepherd's Pie)

Back from the States! I was with people who wanted clothes and electronics, so I didn't always get all the time I wanted to look at housewares, but they were pretty patient with me dragging them to the opposite end of the store. Most of the relevant things I got were from the Dollar Tree. Here's what else I got for the household:
  • collapsible storage ottoman, damask pattern, from Bed, Bath & Beyond for $20
  • 24-pc set of Tupperware from Wal-mart, $10
  • 2-qt Crockpot from Wal-Mart, $10
  • hanging file storage from Target, $10
We had a fine time. Going to White Castle was a shock, though; I wouldn't have been able to imagine a burger at any size being that awful. The meat was only 1-2mm thick, the bun was porous and doughy, and the cheese wouldn't melt. Harold and Kumar lied! Then again, it felt like one would have to be high to be willing to ingest one of those things.

Other food experiences in the States were mainly pretzels. Overall, getting food out was well-priced, but I wish it had come with half the amount for a cheaper price. There was always more than I expected, and it was always too much for me to finish - and if my strange cooking has taught me anything, it's how to be a champ at finishing my food.

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I bought Wal-Mart's $3 wine to try (Oak Leaf White Zinfandel). Travelling with Europeans meant that no one else would drink it, so I valiantly made it through the whole bottle solo. It smelt kind of like rotting fruit, but fortunately I have allergies so it didn't hinder my experience. The prevailing taste was water, which I found pretty awesome for something with 12% alcohol. Wines often taste like petrol to me, so I have to be careful and pick sweet ones (hence getting the zin).

I've continued my food dabbling now that I'm back. Last night, I made rice and beans: Minute Rice made using beef broth, with pinto beans, onion and cooked frozen shrimp all in the bowl with it. I added chili flakes after. We used brown rice, so my parents didn't like it, but my sister and I did. My sis is vegetarianish (piscitarian, really), so eating it like that suited her fine, but I added a sausage to it, which added a lot of flavour.

After my field course in the Bahamas, I'm in love with rice and beans, but I can never make it properly even when I'm actually cooking. At least I have this sham version, which is still good. Maybe I'll have Caribbean next time I eat out.

This morning, I made a total mang of a breakfast shepherd's pie. There's really no good way to describe it, and it kind of looked like vomit. It was:  leftover potato, salsa, egg, cheese and bacon. I mashed the potato with a pat each of garlic butter and cream cheese. Then, I made my one mistake and added milk (too liquidy). I added the salsa, cracked the egg over top, covered it with plastic wrap and cooked it in the microwave. Then I added crumbled bacon and shredded cheese, burst the yolk, and stirred it all together for a glorious feed.

It tasted really good, though no one else in the house would try it. This was sort of a trial-run for college breakfasts. I've been planning a potato-salsa-egg-cheese mix (all the food groups!) that could mostly be done the night before. I'm big on breakfasts, if not mornings, and I like starting the day with a big meal more than finishing that way.

Four-and-a-half hours later and I'm still kind of full. Maybe I'll have one of those anti-engineered soups in our cupboard - you know, the ones where they have as few calories as possible? They're a bit silly, but I really like soup. Saw a neat recipe for Creamy Broccoli soup on Martha Stewart that uses oats as a thickener instead of cream. I like that idea, though I'd probably food-process the veg & oats before adding, rather than puree after.